By KIRBY ARNOLD
SEATTLE – They step to the free throw line with no time on the clock and a championship dependent on their smooth delivery.
They lean over a putt on the 72nd hole knowing a major tournament can be won with a proper read of the green and a steady stroke.
They take the baseball to the mound and gladly allow an entire region of fans to feel the anxiety that they purposely don’t.
How do athletes do it? How do they stay so cool during those career-defining moments when nerves would wreck the motor skills of almost anyone else?
Here’s how, courtesy tonight’s man on the spot, Seattle Mariners pitcher Aaron Sele.
“It’s repetition. You keep yourself in a routine,” said Sele, who will start tonight’s game against the Texas Rangers.
First place in the American League West Division will depend, in essence, on Sele not getting caught up in the excitement of a boisterous crowd and the heat of a division race. Having pitched on two division winners in Texas the past two seasons, Sele says he knows what to expect and how to keep his adrenaline in check.
“You do all the little mental tricks to get beyond the anxiety levels that keep you from saying that this is just another game,” he said.
This, however, is not just another game.
It’s the first of a six-game stretch run that could give the Mariners their third AL West Division championship since 1995. Win and the Mariners remain alone in first place for at least another day. Lose and that hot breath they’ve felt for a week from the Oakland A’s will feel even steamier.
Anyone getting sweaty palms now?
“For me, no,” Sele said. “That’s why you create routines between your starts and routines in your bullpens and your warmups. You treat things like it’s the same old, same old.
“Just go out and pitch. You hear it from me all the time. Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. Just stay steady and stay in your optimum work range.”
The biggest thing, the Mariners say, is to enjoy the situation they’re in.
Second baseman Mark McLemore had a great time in Sunday’s victory over Oakland, which gave the Mariners a one-game division lead. But there was fun, in a different sort of way, even in the three losses to Oakland that tightened the race.
“For me, this is fun,” McLemore said. “You can’t ask to be in a better position than this. Go ask about 25 other teams if they’d want to trade places with me. How many would want to be in this situation?”
Center fielder Mike Cameron also isn’t oblivious to the joy and sorrow that’s felt in the grandstand. He loves that part of a pennant race.
“You see everybody get emotional in the stands,” he said. “They’re all standing up, oohing and aahing with every pitch. This is fun, man.”
Cameron rides the emotional peaks and valleys by telling himself one thing.
“It’s just a baseball game,” he said. “Since I went through it last year (with the Reds), it makes it better. It gives you the opportunity to relax. There are some intense moments but still, it’s just a baseball game.”
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