M’s mojo madness

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Friday, October 6, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Guillen’s perfect bunt in ninth lifts M’s to series-clinching win

By KIRBY ARNOLD

Herald Writer

SEATTLE — The play took less than six seconds to accomplish, from the pitcher’s windup to the game-winning squeeze bunt that set off a wild celebration.

As Carlos Guillen pulled off his drag bunt to glory, time stood still in the Seattle Mariners’ dugout.

Of all the ways to get home the winning run, Paul Abbott never imagined doing it by bunt.

Bench coach John McLaren remembered the pressure games Guillen had played in his native Venezuela, where he learned to shut out the crowd’s euphoria and accomplish the little things necessary to be successful.

Jamie Moyer thought back to the tireless bunting drills at spring training that are the root of such heroic moments.

And manager Lou Piniella stood at peace with his strategy, no matter the outcome.

Piniella’s gutsy call, and Guillen’s perfect execution, drove in Rickey Henderson with the winning run that gave the Mariners a 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Friday, clinching their American League Division Series in a three-game sweep.

It sent the Mariners into the next round of the playoffs, the American League Championship Series, against either the Oakland A’s or New York Yankees. The ALCS will start Tuesday in Oakland or New York.

A game of sturdy starting pitching — Seattle’s Aaron Sele and Chicago’s James Baldwin matched each other nearly pitch-for-pitch before handing a 1-1 tie to their bullpens — and clutch defensive plays carried into the bottom of the ninth with nothing decided.

Then the Mariners got the break they needed.

John Olerud started the bottom of the ninth with a line drive off pitcher Kelly Wunsch’s midsection, then reached second base with nobody out after Wunsch threw wildly to first.

Two dozen baseball minds in the Seattle dugout shifted into high gear.

"I had no idea what we would do," Moyer said.

Piniella knew precisely what he wanted.

He turned to McLaren and said, "Get me Guillen. I want to talk with him."

And then, McLaren knew what was up.

"Lou had this all planned a couple of batters ahead of time," he said.

Rickey Henderson stretched his legs after replacing Olerud at second, David Bell was in the process of drawing a walk and Stan Javier loosened up in the on-deck circle knowing he would lay down a sacrifice bunt that moved Henderson to third.

Piniella, meanwhile, had taken Guillen aside and told him, "I want you to push the ball toward first base and give Rickey a chance to score."

McLaren knew it was a huge gamble — Guillen, in only his first full major league season, hadn’t played in the entire series — but also the perfect call.

"He’s a young kid," McLaren said. "But he has played in some big games in Venezuela, playoff games where their fans are as noisy as it was here. There was a lot of pressure, but Carlos is used to pressure situations. I knew if he executed, it would be impossible for them to get Rickey."

Piniella stood back and calmly watched his players carry out the chess move.

"I was relaxed because I’m older and wiser," he said. "Maybe not wiser, but I’m older."

Guillen fouled off the first pitch from reliever Keith Foulke ("I was expecting him to bunt on the first pitch," Piniella later revealed), took the next for a ball and then did what he was told.

"I wanted to make sure to follow what Lou told me," Guillen said, "and I did."

Foulke then threw a pitch Guillen could drag toward first baseman Frank Thomas, the White Sox slugger who was playing in the field for the first time in the series. Guillen got the ball down, Thomas lunged to his right and missed it. Second baseman Ray Durham raced toward his left, too late.

"He laid it down perfectly," Piniella said.

When he did it, Guillen’s teammates were both surprised at Piniella’s bold move and reflective about the discipline and work it takes to accomplish one of baseball’s most elementary actions.

"A bunt? I never thought of that," Abbott said.

"When I saw it go down," Moyer said, "I thought of all the extra bunting we did in spring training. This is a human game and we all make mistakes, but when it is practiced, it’s great to see it be executed when it means something. It’s the little things that mean a great deal in this game."

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