By KIRBY ARNOLD
CHICAGO – Paul Abbott has heard for three weeks about his next game being the biggest of his life.
That’ll happen when a man pitches in a pennant race, and now the playoffs, for the first time.
Abbott just wishes that people would remember the games that really meant the most to him.
Like the one on Sept. 9, 1998, when he made his first major league appearance in five years after a series of shoulder and elbow injuries. Or the 25 appearances he made last year, when he went out to prove he could still cut it in the bigs after undergoing major knee surgery.
Game 2 of the American League Division Series?
“This is a chance to have fun,” the 33-year-old veteran of one complete major league season said Tuesday.
Abbott (9-7 with a 4.22 earned run average) will get the ball today against the Chicago White Sox, knowing he must throw first-pitch strikes, change speeds and dominate the inside half of the plate against one of baseball’s most dangerous offensive teams.
He’ll also step onto his biggest stage knowing he has persevered through his greatest challenges.
“I had my biggest games two years ago when I was just trying to put myself in a position to be here,” Abbott said. “The start I had in 1998, that was for my career.”
Today it’s for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Against a White Sox team that hit .286 in the regular season with 216 home runs, Abbott knows how careful he must be.
“You’ve just got to get ahead and make sure that you’re in pitcher’s counts instead of putting them in hitter’s counts,” he said. “That’s the whole key to pitching anyway, but a lot of teams are overly aggressive and you can get away with getting behind every once in a while.”
The Sox aren’t one of those teams. Unlike the jump-at-the-first-pitch Oakland A’s, Chicago is willing to wait for a mistake deep in the count.
“That’s kind of a Catch 22 with this team,” Abbott said. “They’re a patient team with a lot of sock.”
To nullify that sock, Abbott knows he must mix his fastball with a changeup that he has struggled with all season.
“It’s there somewhere,” he said. “The change will show up, but he hasn’t shown up lately. I’ve gotten some outs with it, but it hasn’t been a go-to pitch. You can tell by my numbers if I’ve got my good changeup. When my strikeouts are up, I’ve got the good change.”
Abbott has the repertoire to quiet the Sox. That’s one reason the Mariners chose him to start instead of left-hander Jamie Moyer, who has struggled in his past two starts.
“They’re all great hitters, one through nine, and it’s more of a right-handed lineup,” Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price said. “I like to go with right-handed starters against this team in this park. Balls that get up in the air can get out of here. It’s not that way at Safeco.”
So Abbott got the call, and he’ll go out to have fun today knowing he already has played high-stakes games.
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