By BOB BOLERJACK
SEATTLE – Much as he tried to play the cool, unflappable veteran, the expression on Paul Abbott’s face as he entered the media room gave him away.
Abbott appeared momentarily stunned as he emerged through the door for the pregame press conference, a staple of the postseason but something he’d never faced during the regular season. The media group, which included the traveling horde from New York, numbered about 40, plus national TV cameras.
“Have you ever had this much attention paid to you before a start?” a reporter asked.
Abbott could only shake his head and let out a nervous laugh.
Today he’ll be under an even bigger microscope when he starts for the Seattle Mariners in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
At 33, Abbott has pitched his share of games, but he’s pretty much a raw rookie when it comes to the pressure of the national spotlight. A variety of injuries over the years have slowed Abbott, who was 9-7 this year in his first injury-free season in the majors.
Yet as Abbott faces the imposing New York Yankees today, he’ll be buoyed by the confidence he gained in beating the Chicago White Sox last week in Game 2 of the Division Series.
“We were playing in the last two weeks in must-win situations,” Abbott noted. “My last two starts (of the regular season) were against Oakland and Anaheim, and they were playoff-type games. And in Chicago, obviously, if you don’t win that series, you don’t get to here.
“It’s all the same. Same intensity, same anxiety, same everything.”
New York’s starter today, 38-year-old Roger Clemens, may feel his own share of anxiety, having lost twice to Oakland last week in the Division Series.
The future Hall of Famer struggled in both games, yielding 10 earned runs and walking eight batters in 11 innings. During the regular season, however, his 3.70 earned run average was second in the league only to Boston’s other-worldly Pedro Martinez.
Against the Mariners Clemens was 1-1, allowing just one earned run in 13 innings. Both of his starts against Seattle were at Safeco Field, a loss on April 9 and a 9-1 victory on Aug. 28 in which he pitched seven shutout innings.
Clemens said he’s not worried about shaking off the frustration of the Oakland losses.
“I just need to be sharp early,” he said. “Sometimes it gets to the point where you lose ballgames, but you still feel that you pitched well, and it can come down to one or two pitches.”
Abbott faced the Yankees three times this season, twice as a starter. He had one of his best performances of the year on Aug. 6 at Yankee Stadium, going eight innings in an 11-1 victory. The Yankees got the better of Abbott three weeks later at Safeco Field in a 9-1 New York victory.
Abbott, a right-hander, has an arsenal that includes a changeup that breaks down and away from left-handed hitters, which could give him an edge against the mostly left-handed Yankee lineup.
“Like us, they need to put the ball in play, make things happen, score runs,” Abbott said of the Yankees. “They are going to bunt, they are going to move the runners up and try to make things happen.
“Mainly you just make sure you throw strikes and get ahead and not put guys on base and give them an opportunity to do that.”
And try to forget you’re in the national spotlight.
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