By RICK GANO
CHICAGO — Paul Abbott pitched like a playoff veteran and Seattle’s bullpen was unhittable. That’s why the road-tough Mariners are headed home with a 2-0 lead over the Chicago White Sox in their division series.
Shutting down Frank Thomas and Chicago’s high-scoring offense for a second straight game, the Mariners beat the White Sox 5-2 today, putting the team with the AL’s best regular-season record on the verge of a quick exit.
Game 3 in the best-of-five series is Friday at Safeco Field in Seattle.
"Right now, obviously, we’re in some trouble," Chicago manager Jerry Manuel said. "I think if any team can do it, we can. We won 95 games and feel we can find a way to win three more."
The Mariners won eight of their final nine road games in the regular season, including a wild card-clinching win at Anaheim last Sunday. And now they’ve carried it over into the postseason.
Seattle stung the White Sox 7-4 in the opener Tuesday when Edgar Martinez and John Olerud hit 10th-inning homers off Chicago relief ace Keith Foulke.
Abbott, who started the season in the bullpen, gave up just five hits and two runs over 5 2-3 innings to win in his first postseason appearance in a pro career that began in 1985.
Seattle’s bullpen took over as Arthur Rhodes, Jose Mesa and Kazuhiro Sasaki didn’t allow a hit the rest of the way. Sasaki struck out the side in the ninth for his second save of the series.
"It’s everything," Abbott said of the Mariners bullpen. "They’ve been lights out. You go out there and know once you’ve done your job, you have three or four guys who are going to come in and shut them down."
On Tuesday, Mariners relievers gave up just three hits over 6 2-3 scoreless innings.
"We have some good power arms in our bullpen," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said.
"Rhodes gives us something we haven’t had in a couple of years, a very solid left-handed pitcher who can equalize left-handed hitting.
"Mesa has an excellent arm and all that experience. And Sasaki has done the job for us, he has all the experience closing in Japan. He’s unflappable. He likes being out there at the end."
The White Sox, who led the majors in scoring, stranded eight runners, giving them 18 in the first two games. Thomas was 0-for-4 today and is hitless in seven series at-bats.
Chicago’s 3-4-5 hitters — Thomas, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee — were a combined 0-for-9 today after going 2-for-13 in the opener.
"I sense they are pressing somewhat. Obviously, what they need is a bloop hit and not a home run," Manuel said.
"It seems with all the fly balls and popups, we are probably going about it the wrong way. We should be hitting a few more ground balls and line drives."
The White Sox have lost nine straight postseason home games since beating Los Angeles in Game 1 of the 1959 World Series.
Thomas, an MVP candidate who hit 43 homers and drove in 143 runs during the season, came up with runners at first and second in the seventh but flied out against Mesa for the second out.
Mesa deflected Ordonez’s shot through the box, and Mariners second baseman Mark McLemore made a spectacular diving stop. He somehow flipped the ball to shortstop Alex Rodriguez, just beating Jose Valentin in a close play for a force to end another Chicago threat.
"That was the ballgame right there," Rodriguez said.
Jay Buhner’s 400-foot homer to left in the fourth off losing pitcher Mike Sirotka gave Seattle a 3-2 lead.
"We’re up 2-0 and playing a lot of confidence," Buhner said. "I think going down the stretch we had very pressure packed games. Definitely that helped. Those games, they felt like playoff games."
Appearing in his 56th postseason game, Rickey Henderson manufactured a run for the Mariners in the fifth. He walked, moved up on a sacrifice and stole third. He then scored on Rodriguez’s slow roller to third as Herbert Perry elected to go to first instead of home.
In the next inning, Henderson left the game with a jammed left index finger after being shaken up sliding head-first into third.
The Mariners added an insurance in the ninth when McLemore drew a two-out walk, Raul Ibanez singled and Mike Cameron singled. Cameron, formerly of the White Sox, had two key hits and a stolen base in Game 1.
The White Sox tied it at 2 in the third as Valentin bunted for a single, stole second and went to third on catcher Dan Wilson’s overthrow. Valentin scored on Lee’s sacrifice fly with Buhner making a nice catch in deep right.
Game 1 hero Martinez doubled to start the second. Sirotka, who’d been initially scheduled to start the opener before hyperextending his elbow last week, hit Olerud with a pitch.
Buhner hit a grounder in the hole to short and Valentin, who had 36 regular-season errors, fielded it but threw off-target and high to second for an error, loading the bases.
David Bell hit an RBI single and Wilson a sacrifice fly to put the Mariners up 2-1.
The White Sox got consecutive doubles from their first two hitters Durham and Valentin but again couldn’t get a big inning going. They were 2-for-14 with men in scoring position in Game 1.
With Valentin at second, Thomas popped out. After Ordonez walked, Abbott got Lee on a popup and Paul Konerko on a short comebacker, throwing him out even after he fell down fielding it.
Notes: The Mariners are 3-5 overall on the road in the postseason. Their win Tuesday was their first ever in a Game 1 in four postseason series.. … The teams have a workout day Thursday and the series resumes Friday with James Baldwin facing Seattle’s Aaron Sele.
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