Yankees Feel Safe at Safeco

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) — When the Kingdome was blown up, the only disappointment for the New York Yankees is that they didn't get to flick the switch.

``We had such nightmares of the Kingdome,'' Andy Pettitte said Thursday, a day before starting against Seattle in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series. ``It was like a vacation to come to this ballpark and play.''

With the series tied 1-1, the Yankees aren't about to break out the surfboards and swimsuits. Still, it's a lot less mentally taxing than playing the ballpark where they blew a 2-0 lead in the 1995 ALCS.

``If I look back to list our disappointments, that would be at the top of the list,'' Paul O'Neill said after a relaxed workout on a sunny, but cool afternoon.

Following a seven-run eighth inning that carried the Yankees to a 7-1 win Wednesday, the Yankees are brimming with confidence again. Pettitte, 7-4 in postseason play, pitches against Aaron Sele, 0-2 with losses to the Yankees in 1998 and 1999.

The Yankees were just 67-62 at the Kingdome, where the Seahawks' new stadium currently in under construction, and that doesn't include the playoff debacle, which led to Buck Showalter's departure as manager and Joe Torre's arrival.

``A lot of the guys on our team had so many bad memories of 1995 especially, and just dreaded going to the Kingdome,'' Pettitte said.

At Safeco, the $517.6 million, retractable-roof stadium that opened a block away in July 1999, the Yankees went 4-0 in its first season and 3-3 this year. Unlike the Kingdome, the power alleys are spacious.

``At the Kingdome, you had AstroTurf and fences you could drag-bunt home runs at,'' Sele said.

In his first season with the Mariners, Sele was 9-5 at Safeco and 8-5 on the road. The big stat Seattle points to is his record in the last month: 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in six starts.

``Down the stretch, when we really needed somebody to step up in September, he did that big time,'' Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. ``In fact, right now, he's our only experienced starter in the rotation. We need a big game from him, obviously.''

While the Yankees' batting slump has become front-page news, the Mariners aren't doing well at the plate, either, scoring three runs in the first two games of the series. They averaged 5.2 runs at Safeco during the regular season and 6.0 on the road.

For Mariners' pitchers, the difference was even bigger: a 5.20 ERA on the road shriveled to 3.84 ERA at home.

``Our pitchers, they relaxed more,'' Piniella said. ``At the Kingdome, you can make a good pitch and give up a three-run homer. Pitchers became a lot more aggressive when we got this ballpark, and it has continued this year.''

While Friday's game starts at 5:12 p.m. local time and Saturday's a half-hour earlier, shadows won't be a factor. Because of the way the ballpark was built, the entire infield is covered with shadows by 4 p.m.

Pettitte is coming off a poor performance in Game 5 of the division series against Oakland, when he was given a 6-0 lead before throwing a pitch, then was chased after 3 2-3 innings with New York ahead 7-5.

He pitched on three days' rest and didn't have nearly the bite on his breaking pitches that he did in Game 2, when he threw 7 2-3 shutout innings in a 4-0 win. He'll be pitching with a full four days' rest Friday.

Pettitte is 7-5 in his career against the Mariners, including 1-2 this year.

``They have got several guys in their lineup that individually have given me a lot of trouble,'' he said.

It's a lengthy list: Jay Buhner (8-for-25 with three doubles and two homers), Rickey Henderson (8-for-21), Edgar Martinez (10-for-28 with two doubles and two homers) and Alex Rodriguez (just 8-for-35, but five home runs).

Pettitte still considers himself fortunate to be with the Yankees. He still thinks back to last year, when Torre and general manager Brian Cashman persuaded owner George Steinbrenner not to trade him to Philadelphia.

``I'm almost positive that Mr. Steinbrenner was ready to get rid of me last year,'' Pettitte said. ``Skip stood by me and others in the organization stood by me and didn't want it to happen. And I'm still here, and for that I'm very grateful.''

Notes: After Orlando Hernandez beat Seattle in Game 2, the Yankees celebrated El Duque's birthday on the plane ride. Hernandez told teammates he was 31, not 35, as a document in Cuba says. ... Piniella will revert to his Game 1 lineup against the left-hander, starting Henderson in left.