NEW YORK — I sat where Roger Maris hit his 61st home run.
Right field, Yankee Stadium.
Tough crowd, this right-field bunch.
For the opponents.
For the Yankees.
For the writers.
Like that song says, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.
If the Mariners can make it in the opening game of the American League Championship Series, as they did with a 2-0 win over the two-time defending World Series champion Yankees Tuesday night, does that mean they can make it anywhere?
Like in the World Series?
They’re not there. Yet.
But it’s one down, three to go.
Cool, unflappable, tough.
That sums up the M’s in this game on a cool night in the South Bronx.
Tough place to play?
M’s starting pitcher Freddy Garcia looked like he was pitching in his backyard.
"Nervous?" he was asked on the eve of the game.
"No," he said.
Biggest game of his young life and he resembled some of the legendary pitchers who have worked here. He made the Bronx Bombers looked like the Bronx Bambis. They couldn’t have hit him with shovels. With bats, they were hopeless — three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
"Freddy has the potential to one day be like a Pedro (Martinez) because he has three dominant pitches," said shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who made Garcia’s job easier with a leadoff homer in the sixth for a 2-0 lead. "And the one thing we all emphasize when we talk to Freddy and try to help him is he has to establish all three pitches, and don’t fall in love with just the fastball or the breaking ball or the changeup."
The Yankees didn’t fall in love with any of them. They just swung and missed (eight strikeouts). Or hit them to somebody.
On Monday, he said he was ready to go. "I’m here," he said. "So let’s do it."
He did it.
Nobody expected this kind of dominance of the Yankees. But they’d been forewarned by the M’s 3-0 sweep of the Chicago White Sox in the Division Series last week, a series that starred the M’s bullpen.
"This bullpen was hideous last year," was a remark heard after Tuesday night’s game.
This bullpen has been magnificent this year. It’s now gone 14 innings without giving up a run in the playoffs, including 2 1/3 Tuesday night.
Manager Lou Piniella doesn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and make the call he dreaded to make last year. "Get (Jose) Paniagua up." "Get Arthur (Rhodes) up." Get (Kazuhiro) Sasaki up."
They get up and set the other team down. Tuesday it was the Yankees.
It’s getting to the point where they’re almost automatic. Oh, this trio gave up three hits. For this, the Yankees are to be congratulated. That’s as many hits as the White Sox got in three games against Mariner relievers.
Sasaki walked a tightrope in the ninth when he gave up two hits. But then he got the last two batters on fly balls.
That was big for Mr. Sasaki. A year ago, he was only reading about the Yankees back in Japan. This year, he’s frustrating them.
This moment was a big growth spurt for the 32-year-old rookie. The next time he goes out there, it won’t be just another team, but it won’t necessarily be the Bronx Bombers, either.
He knows he can get them out in a tension-filled game before 54,481 raucous fans. If he can get them out here, he can get them out anywhere.
If the Yankees are to win this series, they must figure out the M’s bullpen.
That may be impossible. Hardly anyone else has this season. Now that the M’s have struck first in this series, the Yankees, who usually put the pressure on other teams, have the heat squarely on them.
Let’s see how they like it. How they respond.
The M’s needed this win badly. Now they come back with John Halama today. Halama has pitched big in the postseason. He seems almost nerveless. Which should serve him well in this place.
The loonies in right field will be on him from the moment he steps out of the dugout.
They bombarded Rickey Henderson, the ex-Yankee, with that chant.
Maybe he heard them. (How could he not?) Because he spanked a run-scoring single to give the M’s a 1-0 lead in the fifth.
Rhodes said he heard the chants when he was warming up in the bullpen. "You don’t want to argue with them," he said. "You just put on the same mean face you always have and go out and do the job."
The faces of the M’s bullpen are looking nastier and nastier.
They sent a message to the Yankees Tuesday night:
It doesn’t get any easier.
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