M’s are down to the final day

  • LARRY LaRUE / The News Tribune
  • Saturday, September 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By LARRY LaRUE

The News Tribune

ANAHEIM, California – The media crushed into his office, more than 25 of them in a space built for half that, and demanded that Lou Piniella explain all the scenarios for the final day of the 2000 season.

He started to talk about what would happen today if Cleveland wins, if Oakland wins, if either of them loses – and gave up quickly.

“Who the hell cares?” he finally said. “We won today. We win one more, we’re in.”

And that’s about where the season lies for the Seattle Mariners after their 21-9 rout of the Anaheim Angels on Saturday.

After 161 games, 90 of them wins, the Mariners have work to do today.

“We knew we had to win today,” said Alex Rodriguez, who hit two home runs and had seven RBI. “And now the challenge is (today). We have to win one more.”

Well, yes and no.

There are enough contingencies to overwhelm most anyone, but the

shorthand version is this:

If the Athletics and Mariners win and Cleveland loses, Seattle is in the post-season — but could need a one-game playoff with Oakland Tuesday to determine whether they’re in as the American League wild card team or a division champion.

If the Athletics win and the Mariners and Indian lose, Seattle is the wild card team.

If the A’s lose, the Mariners win and the Indians win, Oakland would have to play a makeup game in Tampa Bay on Monday. If the A’s won that game, they would fly to Seattle for a one-game playoff Tuesday – with the winner taking the AL West and the loser going home while Cleveland grabbed the wild card spot.

If the Mariners and Indians win today and the A’s have to play in Tampa on Monday and lose, they’d be tied with Cleveland. The Mariners would then win the West, and the Indians and A’s would have a one-game playoff for the wild card.

“I think there are a few more possibilities, too,” Piniella said.

Well, yes. But they’d make you dizzy.

“Bottom line,” Jay Buhner said, “we’ve got to win today.”

To do that, they may not need a season high in runs or 22 hits or five home runs like they got Saturday. What they’d loved to have is a start from Aaron Sele – who was 4-0 in September – like the one John Halama gave them.

And Halama was almost gone after facing one batter.

Given a 2-0 lead by the first of A-Rod’s two home runs, Halama was hit by a one-hopper up the middle off the bat of Darin Erstadt. The ball was hit so hard it caromed off Halama into shallow left field, and dropped Halama on the mound.

“It hurt and it put me down,” Halama said. “But when I started moving around a bit the pain went away. Lou asked me how I felt and I said I was OK. He said, ‘Go get ‘em.’”

Halama got ‘em, giving the Angels just two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, the Seattle offense did something it hadn’t done down the stretch. It annihilated an opponent.

Rodriguez hit two home runs, giving him at least 40 in each of the last three seasons and establishing a new single-season high for RBI (131).

John Olerud had four hits and five RBI, pushing his season total to 104 – the third time in his career he’d reached the 100 RBI plateau.

Edgar Martinez had two hits, including his 37th home run, and a pair of RBI that gave him 145 for the season.

And to a man, each would trade those glossy numbers for a one-run victory today.

“We knew this was going to be a tough race, but damn – the last day?” Buhner said, laughing. “I can’t figure out all the possibilities, so I guess we’d better just win. I know if we win, we keep playing.”

When someone suggested Rodriguez was probably relieved to snap out of a 3-for-29 slump, Buhner’s anger flashed.

“He’s a great player, a great hitter, but you expect him to carry the team every day, do you?” Buhner shot back. “If he’s been trying a little too hard lately, we may all have been doing the same thing. It’s a game of peaks and valleys and you don’t see players without valleys, not even Alex.

“What he did today was make up for a lot in one game. Seven RBI? Man, that’s a good week.”

Someone asked Olerud if he thought getting seven RBI in a game would boost Rodriguez’s confidence.

“I wouldn’t know,” Olerud said. “It would boost mine, if I ever did it.”

There was a lot of laughter in the clubhouse, the kind that a desperately needed victory produces. Had the Mariners lost Saturday, the scenarios would have been considerably darker.

“We know what we need to do,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve played 161 games and it comes down to the last day.”

“Is that fun?” Buhner asked, repeating a question. “Well, it’d be more fun if we had a five-game lead, but still having a shot is fun, yeah. We just need to have a little more fun (today).”

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