McLemore does the little things

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Sunday, October 15, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – The baseball sits atop the shelf in his locker.

It looks like an ordinary ball, but it isn’t. It’s made of marble.

On the base of it are inscribed these words: Sometimes you just have to play hard ball.

Playing hard ball isn’t a sometimes thing for Mark McLemore. It’s an every-inning-of-every-game thing.

His is a simple philosophy. You put on the uniform and you play the game as hard as you can every day.

Some days you play it well, some days you don’t.

Whether you go hitless or 4-for-4 is irrelevant.

Only one thing matters: winning.

McLemore doesn’t say it to look good in the newspaper or on TV.

He says it because he means it.

Winning burns inside his soul.

His eyes are hot little coals of fervor. I am here for one thing and one thing only, they say. I am here to beat you. I will do it fairly and squarely, but I will find a way to beat you.

And he does. He finds ways to beat you.

Often, they are small things that don’t make headlines.

The walk. The sacrifice hit. The stolen base. The head-first slide. The catch. The throw.

The hustle. The day-in, day-out hustle.

Sunday, he found a way to beat the New York Yankees.

Oh, he didn’t make the game-winning hit or anything quite so dramatic.

No, his contribution was a mere 50-foot chip shot.

A bunt, to be more precise.

A bunt that set off a five-run fifth-inning uprising that led to the undoing of the mighty Yankees and kept the Mariners alive in the American League Championship Series.

With that 6-2 win, the Mariners narrowed New York’s lead to 3-2, moved the series back to Yankee Stadium for Game 6 on Tuesday. And it prevented the Yankees from performing the ultimate humbling act: a celebration of a pennant on the Mariners’ home turf.

“Oh, – no, you never want that to happen, especially to these guys,” right-fielder Jay Buhner said. “They’re one of the teams you love to hate.”

Buhner dislikes them intensely. And reminds them of it every chance he gets. This year, with a .526 batting average against them.

Sunday, he got his first two hits of the ALCS against the Yankees. Said he got tired of seeing those three zeros on the scoreboard every time he came to bat.

McLemore hadn’t exactly been torching balls when he stepped into the batter’s box in the fifth with the Mariners behind 2-1.

He was batting .200 with two hits in 10 at-bats for the series. Besides that, he had made errors in Games 2 and 3.

The Mariners were having the same frustrations they had had throughout this series: making hits, scoring runs.

In his first at-bat Sunday, he had struck out with a man on second in the second inning. Now it was the fifth and he was leading off.

McLemore took a ball with the first pitch. On the second, he bunted down the third-base line. A bunt that started out on a rope, then plopped down in the grass. Third baseman Scott Brosius charged, got his hand on the ball, but couldn’t come up with it.

A soft little hit that allowed loud things to happen. A Rickey Henderson walk, a Mike Cameron sacrifice, an Alex Rodriguez single, an Edgar Martinez home run and a John Olerud home run and the Yankees were staggered.

Quietly, Mark McLemore had done his job.

The bunt wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. Nor was it something someone told him to do.

“Actually,” he said, “I started thinking about it when the last out was made in the fourth inning. The opportunity came up leading off the next inning.”

That’s something else he brings to the game: a cerebral approach.

McLemore had played against Brosius enough during his career to know what kind of fielder he is.

“He’s probably the best in the game at coming in on that ball,” he said, “but I got a good hop and some spin on it and that made it difficult for him. I’ve seen him make that play before, I’m sure he’ll make it again, but he doesn’t make that one (today).

“I was just trying to get something started, get on base any way I can, that’s my job.”

McLemore had sat out Saturday’s game and he didn’t like it one little bit. “I was chomping at the bit to get in there yesterday,” he said.

McLemore seems very cool, as if he is in complete control of his emotions, which is not always true when he comes off the field.

“Oh, believe me,” he said, “there are some bat racks that have my name on them.”

McLemore wore shower sandals with the name “Shady” chalked on them. “My father,” he said. “He died four years ago.”

It was his mother, though, who took him to his ballgames.

Did she teach him to bunt?

“No,” he said, “she just taught me never to quit. If you start something, you finish it. It applies to life more than anything.”

Right now, he has some unfinished business in New York.

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