Home runs by Edgar, Olerud, plus clutch hit from A-Rod, key big inning in Game 5
By AARON COE
SEATTLE — The obituary had been written, and the King County coroner was warming up in the bullpen.
The New York Yankees held a slim 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning Sunday, but the way the Seattle Mariners had been hitting in the American League Championship Series, the quieted crowd of 47,802 believed that a Seattle run was about as likely as Martha Stewart exiting the concession stand with a hot dog and a beer.
Then came the fifth inning. The Mariners would score five runs, allowing Lou Piniella to cancel his casket-shopping plans.
Trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Mariners were very aware of the situation they faced. Score some runs in Game 5 or there would be no Game 6.
"Obviously, you don’t want another team celebrating on your own field," said Alex Rodriguez, who put Seattle ahead 3-2 with a single that scored Mark McLemore and Rickey Henderson. "We were due for a breakthrough. Hopefully, we can take that momentum to Yankee Stadium."
McLemore opened the fifth inning with a bunt single, which at the time seemed harmless enough. Rickey Henderson, who has drawn more walks than anyone in baseball history except Babe Ruth, followed with a walk from Yankee starter Denny Neagle.
Mike Cameron moved both runners ahead with a sacrifice bunt to give the middle of the lineup a chance to knock in a run or two.
Enter Rodriguez, who was so nervous about the possibility of Sunday being his last day in a Seattle uniform that he didn’t fall asleep until 4 o’clock the morning of the game.
He would face former Mariner Jeff Nelson, who has made a career of feasting on right-handed batters.
"Nellie can be very tough," Rodriguez said. "I committed to one side of the plate, and he gave me a pitch I could handle."
Rodriguez swung at Nelson’s first pitch of the game, and the ball floated just over the top of third baseman Scott Brosius’ glove, allowing McLemore and Henderson to score.
After Rodriguez gave the team a pulse, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud gave the Mariners a reason to believe. Martinez hit Nelson’s 2-0 fastball over the center-field wall, and Olerud followed with a solo home run. Suddenly the Mariners had scored more runs in less than an inning than they had in four-plus games of the ALCS.
"Today was an example where, in these big games, you need the middle of your lineup to come through for you," manager Lou Piniella said. "That’s exactly what happened."
The difference, said Rodriguez, was that the other guys in the lineup got on base, forcing Nelson to give the heart of the lineup some pitches worthy of a swing. Rodriguez, Martinez and Olerud, who entered Game 5 a combined 10-for-42, finally had someone to hit home.
Martinez thinks the fifth inning outburst can lead to more good things Tuesday, and perhaps Wednesday, in New York.
"We got a little momentum back after this win," Martinez said. "Hopefully we can continue to swing the bats like that, because we hadn’t swung them well at all."
Except for one inning, at least.
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