Big Apple tastes sweet as Garcia leads Seattle to 2-0 win in Game 1
By KIRBY ARNOLD
NEW YORK — The left-handed hitters lined up like taxi cabs on Fifth Avenue and Freddy Garcia looked like a pedestrian caught halfway through the crosswalk.
The New York Yankees had runners on first and second, nobody out and a back-to-back-to-back opportunity to pound the Seattle Mariners into the Yankee Stadium turf in the sixth inning.
And, left-handers be damned, Garcia made it to the other side of the street.
Garcia, left on the mound by manager Lou Piniella to pull out of his own dire situation, struck out Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams, then got David Justice on a 407-foot fly ball … to the 408-foot center field fence.
That crucial moment of truth, plus three more shutout innings by the pitching staff, gave the Mariners a 2-0 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
With an RBI single in the fifth inning by Rickey Henderson and a home run high off the left field foul pole by Alex Rodriguez in the sixth, the Mariners’ offense produced more than enough for Garcia and friends.
"Freddy can pitch," manager Lou Piniella said. "Last year he won 17 ballgames for us. He’s got a pretty darned good feel for what he wants to do and not do with that baseball. When he’s on his game, he can spin you a good one."
On Tuesday, he had the New York players spinning back to the dugout with a fastball-changeup-sinker combination that seemed, to the Yankees, nearly unhittable.
"He pitched well when he had to," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He pitched pretty well when he didn’t have to."
When he had to the most, in the sixth inning, Garcia was at his best.
Alex Rodriguez had just given the Mariners a 2-0 lead with his home run high off the foul pole down the left-field line, but the Yankees came right back when Chuck Knoblauch led off with a double. Garcia walked Derek Jeter, and then stared down a string of left-handed Yankees.
O’Neill, Williams and Justice had combined to hit .288 with 47 home runs and 190 RBI this season off right-handers.
Piniella made a slow stroll to the mound and asked one question: You OK?
"I felt he still had really good stuff," Piniella said.
Just the same, Piniella had left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes warm in the bullpen.
"I thought I was coming in," Rhodes said. "Freddy must have seen me warming up, I guess."
"I wasn’t surprised at all that Lou left him in," catcher Joe Oliver said. "Freddy still had his good sinker. His ball was moving all over the place."
Garcia struck out O’Neill with a sinker, then Williams with an 85 mph changeup that broke down and in. The best thing he did with Justice was to keep him in the ballpark.
Justice stroked a towering fly that center fielder Mike Cameron caught with his back to the wall.
"When he hit it, I got myself ready to climb up the wall," Cameron said. "He hit it well, but I knew he didn’t hit it well enough to get out of the park."
Garcia got two quick outs in the seventh before Piniella pulled him, and the relievers stepped forward the way they have the entire postseason.
Jose Paniagua struck out three of the four hitters he faced. Rhodes came on to face O’Neill in the eighth and wound up facing right-handed pinch-hitter Glenallen Hill, and struck him out as well to end the inning.
Then closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, enduring the taunts of 54,481 fans in his first postseason in the majors, nervously gave up two singles in the ninth before getting Jorge Posada and Luis Sojo to fly out.
That gave Seattle relievers 14 straight innings without allowing a run in the postseason.
Mariner pitchers struck out 13 Yankees, and the 22 strikeouts by both clubs broke the 1999 ALCS record held by the Yankees and Red Sox.
Even from all the way in center field, Cameron was impressed.
"We’re pitching with Pedro-like stuff," he said, referring to Boston’s Pedro Martinez.
When the pitching is that good, two runs are enough to win.
Even against the Yankees.