M’s hang on to the lead

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, September 27, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By KIRBY ARNOLD

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – The race to baseball’s postseason has become an hour-by-hour proposition for the Seattle Mariners.

Three hours after Oakland had won to pull into a tie for the division lead, the Mariners stole it back for themselves Wednesday night with a tense 6-4 victory over the Texas Rangers.

Kazuhiro Sasaki strengthened his grip on Rookie of the Year honors by escaping a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth inning, then finishing off his 35th save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

The victory didn’t change the standings, or the space between the first-place Mariners and their pursuers. The M’s remain 1/2game ahead of Oakland atop the American League West and 2 1/2 ahead of Cleveland, which can only hope for a wild-card playoff berth.

What it did, however, was to shorten the opportunity for those teams to catch the M’s.

And, it shifted the pressure to win back on the A’s and Indians.

In a few more hours today, the race resumes with a triple-header of vast importance to the Mariners.

Oakland finishes its four-game series against Anaheim at 12:35 p.m., the Mariners face Texas at 3:35 and the Indians play the Twins at 4:05.

Hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute, the drama builds and subsides.

Hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute, Freddy Garcia’s pitching did as well Wednesday.

In his first start after an adrenaline-induced meltdown in the first inning against the A’s, Garcia was a much-improved pitcher this time. That’s not to say he was the pitcher the Mariners want him to be, however.

He gave up a leadoff walk and two singles in the second inning as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead.

The Mariners erased it in the bottom of the second with two runs off Rangers starter Doug Davis. David Bell started his three-hit night with a single, Dan Wilson singled and Mark McLemore drove in Bell with a base hit that caromed off the pitcher’s leg. Mike Cameron drove Wilson home with a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Mariners a 2-1 lead.

Garcia gave it back in the third. He walked Ricky Ledee to start the inning before Ruben Sierra and Scarborough Green each singled to drive in the tying run.

Bell gave the M’s a fourth-inning jolt with his ninth home run on a towering fly down the left-field line, and the Mariners scratched out another run when Wilson walked, went to second on McLemore’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Cameron’s single to left.

That 4-2 lead seemed to relax Garcia, who struck out Ledee and Sierra to start the sixth. However, Mike Lamb singled and Randy Knorr hit a liner down the left-field line for a single that pushed Lamb home after Rickey Henderson booted the ball for an error. And a one-run margin at 4-3.

McLemore quickly made it a 5-3 game in the bottom of the sixth when his double to left-center scored Wilson.

The Rangers made it 5-4 in the seventh off M’s reliever Jose Paniagua, who allowed a leadoff double to Royce Clayton and an RBI single to Curtis.

Sasaki relieved Paniagua with one out and two runners on base in the eighth, and promptly walked Royce Clayton on an 11-pitch at-bat that loaded the bases. Sasaki then got Rafael Palmeiro to fly to shallow center and he struck out Chad Curtis.

The Mariners added a huge insurance run in the eighth after Wilson led off with a double and pinch-runner Al Martin scored on a wild pitch.

Three hours, 37 minutes of tension finally ended when Sasaki cruised through the ninth.

The Mariners finally could enjoy some memorable individual moments. Cameron finished with two hits and two RBI, Bell had three hits in four at-bats and Wilson went 2-for-3, scored three times and was on base four times.

And Edgar Martinez, 0-for-2 with two walks, drew the biggest ovation of all by simply being there. It was his 1,536th game in a Seattle uniform, pushing him past Ken Griffey Jr.’s club record.

Most of all, it was the victory that kept them in first place that they were able to savor … at least for a few more hours.

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