Yankees, Mariners Set for ALCS

Tuesday, October 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — While the New York Yankees fought off the pesky Oakland Athletics, the Mariners sat on a runway in Seattle deciding where to go next for the AL championship series.

The Mariners enter the ALCS on Tuesday night rested following three days off. The Yankees are drained following back-to-back cross-country flights.

``Once they hear 56,000 screaming fans at Yankee Stadium, that should get their adrenaline going,'' Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. ``I'm not feeling sorry for them.''

Piniella knows that feeling, having to endure a similar travel schedule in 1995 after eliminating the Yankees in a tense five-game series.

Seattle won the opener of the ALCS that year in Cleveland before falling to the Indians in six games.

``They've had to make that trip twice now,'' Piniella said. ``We were caught in a similar situation in 1995. But they're not the world champions for nothing. They showed it. It's fitting to play the defending world champions to go to the World Series. We're going to go in nice and relaxed.''

They'll also go in with their pitchers in rotation. Freddy Garcia (9-5) starts for the Mariners against Denny Neagle (15-9), who didn't even pitch in the first-round against Oakland.

Piniella will follow up Garcia with John Halama, Aaron Sele and Paul Abbott, while Yankees manager Joe Torre counters with Orlando Hernandez in Game 2, followed by Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.

There are few similarities between the teams that will meet in this year's ALCS and the ones who played that thrilling division series in 1995.

Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson left Seattle. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have become full-blown megastars. Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson and Luis Sojo shed their Mariners' uniforms for Yankees pinstripes.

Perhaps most importantly is that the Yankees have the mystique of winning three World Series titles in four years and the Mariners have undergone an overhaul from a power-hitting team to a club that relies on pitching and situational baseball.

``It's a different Yankees club and certainly a different Seattle club,'' said Piniella, one of the few holdovers on either team. ``I don't think you can go back to 1995 and draw any comparisons.''

Many of the changes the teams have undergone stem from that memorable week in October 1995. The series featured two extra-inning games, including Jim Leyritz's game-winning homer in the 15th inning that gave the Yankees a 2-0 series lead.

Then Griffey, Johnson and Edgar Martinez took over, with the Big Unit winning two of the next three games — one in relief — and Griffey scoring the winning run on Martinez's double in the 11th inning of the deciding fifth game.

``It was so dramatic,'' Rodriguez said. ``We were serious underdogs. Nobody expected us to do anything.''

Buck Showalter lost his job following that series, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in one of his best moves, hired manager Joe Torre. Jeter became the starting shortstop in 1996, Martinez took over Don Mattingly's spot at first base, and Nelson helped give New York the best postseason bullpen in history.

``Losing that series was such a huge disappointment for us,'' said Paul O'Neill, one of five Yankees still on the roster. ``When you lose like that, it's something you never forget. But that experience has made this team better. We learned you don't take any year for granted because you know it can go so quickly.''

The Mariners' changes took longer to develop. Their dramatic playoff run helped spur state legislators to approve funding for a new stadium, which opened last season. But Seattle was unable to keep Johnson and Griffey, losing their ace pitcher and star hitter.

Part of the reason is a new philosophy that coincided with the opening of spacious Safeco Field and the closing of the homer-happy Kingdome.

``What's made this ballclub better is the fact that their pitching is better,'' Torre said. ``I think (Lou) has a lot more depth in the bullpen than he ever had.''