By KIRBY ARNOLD
CHICAGO – Pitching got them into the playoffs, and now it’s one step from carrying the Seattle Mariners into baseball’s final four.
The Mariners beat the Chicago White Sox 5-2 on Wednesday when Paul Abbott and three relief pitchers silenced one of the American League’s best-hitting teams, plus more than 40,000 fans at Comiskey Park.
The victory gave the Mariners an improbable 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series over the AL Central Division-champion White Sox, who finished the regular season with the league’s best record and had beaten the Mariners seven times in their 12 regular-season meetings.
After a day off today, the series moves to Safeco Field in Seattle for Game 3 at 1 p.m. Friday, with the Mariners needing one victory to advance to the American League Championship Series against either the Oakland A’s or New York Yankees. Game 4, if needed, would be at Safeco Field at 1 p.m. Saturday.
A fifth game, which seems a lot less likely now than it did two days ago, would be at Chicago on Sunday.
“We wanted to come in here and break serve,” said Mariners right-fielder Jay Buhner, who clubbed a solo home run in the fourth inning. “To win the first two, take it back to our home field and have a home-field advantage, it’s going to be pretty sweet.”
Buhner’s homer, plus a two-run burst in the second inning and single runs in the fifth and eighth, gave the Mariners their first opportunity for a sweep in the fourth playoff series in franchise history.
It was the pitching, however, that carried Seattle for a second straight day. The Mariners shut down White Sox slugger Frank Thomas and a supporting cast that included six players who hit 24 or more home runs in the regular season.
Abbott allowed five hits in 5 2/3innings, and the relief threesome of Arthur Rhodes, Jose Mesa and Kazuhiro Sasaki didn’t allow a hit the rest of the game. Mesa and Sasaki, in fact, struck out the final five White Sox hitters.
As the teams left the field, there was little doubt which one is on the verge of clinching the series.
“We have three more chances to win one game,” Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez said. “That’s a very good position to be in.”
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