Yankees 3, Mariners 1

Monday, October 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Alfonso Soriano's drive soared to right-center field and this time there were no mistakes.

The rookie ran hard.

He didn't have to.

As the ball went over Mike Cameron, over the wall and into Yankees' history, it dawned on the 23-year-old Dominican: He had become another of New York's postseason heroes, another of those players who comes up big in the clutch and keeps the pinstripes in a postseason that never seems to end.

``I was thinking that this was a very big moment,'' Soriano said after the Yankees' 3-1 win Sunday night gave them a 3-1 lead over the Seattle Mariners in the AL championship series.

With one more victory, New York becomes the first team to win four straight pennants since the Mickey Mantle-Roger Maris Yankees of 1960-64.

One more loss, and Seattle's record-tying 116 regular-season wins become merely tiny type in the record book, an appetizer with no dessert, much like the 116 victories of the 1906 Chicago Cubs, who lost the World Series to the crosstown White Sox.

``I think we're just blessed,'' Bernie Williams said.

Seattle probably felt a bit cursed.

On a night when starters Roger Clemens and Paul Abbott each pitched five wild but strangely effective innings, Bret Boone broke up a scoreless game with an eighth-inning homer off Ramiro Mendoza.

The Mariners moved six outs from fulfilling the promise of manager Lou Piniella, who pledged his team would stretch the series to six games and force more baseball this year at Safeco Field.

But Williams answered right back with an opposite-field drive in the bottom half.

``There's a certain amount of magic that's tied to him,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. ``We all expect it, and he's never let us down.''

It came off Yankee favorite Arthur Rhodes, who lost Game 2 last year, then gave up David Justice's go-ahead, seventh-inning homer in the Game 6 clincher.

``Off the bat, I thought it was a deep fly ball,'' Rhodes said. ``Once I saw the wind take it, well, nothing you can do about that.''

Mariano Rivera, Mr. Automatic, then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth _ as in three pitches, three outs.

After Scott Brosius reached on a one-out infield single off Kazuhiro Sasaki, up came Soriano, the rookie second baseman whose strong spring training caused the Yankees to find a spot for him in their lineup.

He took a pitch. He deposited the next into one of those Yankees' highlight films.

``We just jumped off the bench,'' Tino Martinez said. ``We knew it was gone when he hit it.''

In Game 1, Soriano was criticized by the Yankees for failing to run out a ball he thought was a home run and then getting only to first base when it clanked off Safeco's left-field wall. And in Game 3, he was slow to cover second base in New York's 14-3 loss.

No mistakes this time.

``As I was rounding the bases, I was thinking about my family in the Dominican Republic who was watching the game,'' Soriano said.

Cameron went back and jumped, but the ball was helped by a stiff wind and landed about 10 feet past him.

``They used the elements very well today,'' he said. ``For a minute, I thought I had a play on it, but it didn't seem like it wanted to be played.''

Yankee Stadium rocked as fans jumped up and down.

Seattle slumped, coming so close and missing by so little.

``This puts us in a rather precarious position,'' Piniella said. ``It was a great ballgame. We didn't lose. We just got beat.''

Andy Pettitte will try to close it out for the three-time defending World Series champions on Monday night against Aaron Sele in a rematch of Game 1 starters.

``I don't know if you can get any higher than this,'' Torre said. ``We're going to have to calm down for a game tomorrow.''

Clemens and Abbott were pulled following the fifth inning because of their wildness, even though Abbott allowed no hits and Clemens gave up just one.

Abbott walked eight, one short of the LCS record and became the first postseason pitcher pulled with a no-hit bid since Baltimore's Mike Cuellar departed after 4 2-3 innings and nine walks against Oakland in the 1974 AL playoffs. Nearly half of Abbott's pitches were out of the strike zone: 48 balls and 49 strikes.

``Just like when I was walking a high wire in Vegas one time,'' he joked.

New York stranded eight runners over the first seven innings, and former Yankee Jeff Nelson escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth when Brosius hit into an inning-ending double play.

There were just two hits in the game before the drive over Death Valley by Boone, who had five RBIs Saturday.

``In that situation with our bullpen, the job that they have done all year, you almost bank on it being a win,'' Abbott thought to himself.

Not in the postseason. Not against the Yankees.