By Aaron Coe
SEATTLE — Jamie Moyer made a lot of Cleveland Indians look awfully silly Monday afternoon.
But then, he’s done a lot of that for the Seattle Mariners the past few years. Until the past few days, he just hadn’t done it in the playoffs.
On Monday, he beat the power-laden Indians for the second time in the American League Division Series with a now-famous changeup that seems to make hitters swing a couple of decades before the ball crosses the plate. He used superb control to make five of his six strikeout victims watch strike three glide by without taking a swing.
He used moxie, poise and experience during his six innings to beat Cleveland 3-1 in the decisive fifth game and send the Mariners to the American League Championship Series.
"I don’t think we could have had a more perfect guy out there to throw Game 5," said relief pitcher Jeff Nelson, who took over for Moyer to start the seventh inning. "This guy, even though he might not light up the radar gun, he’s a gamer and he doesn’t let things rattle him. When you need a game, he’s the guy to go to."
Moyer faced the minimum number of batters in the first and second innings. When No. 2 hitter Omar Vizquel reached base on Mariner shortstop Mark McLemore’s fielding error in the first inning, he eliminated any conceivable damage by inducing a double-play ball out of Roberto Alomar, one of the American League’s top hitters during the regular season.
The only bump in Moyer’s road to the ALCS was the third inning.
The left-hander allowed a leadoff double to Travis Fryman and a one-out walk to Einar Diaz. Kenny Lofton hit a ball back up the middle to drive in Cleveland’s only run, and Vizquel put Moyer in a precarious position by loading the bases with a bunt single.
Moyer’s first pitch to the next batter, Alomar, was a low, outside pitch that Alomar probably should have left alone. He bounced it right to Seattle third baseman David Bell, who began the second inning-ending double play of the game off Alomar’s bat.
After getting through the third, Moyer struck out six of the last nine batters he faced, including three in the fourth inning. He did not allow a Cleveland batter to reach base during his final three innings.
"For some reason I felt like in the fourth inning I got a second wind," said the 38-year-old Moyer, who also won Game 2 for the Mariners on Thursday. "I really don’t know why or how that happened. I thought I made some pretty decent pitches, and they chose not to swing."
Moyer had the same expression on his face during the biggest game of his career as he has any day of the week: None.
Just another day at the ballpark.
It didn’t matter that he had never started a playoff game in his career before Thursday’s 5-1 triumph in Game 2. He missed his chance last year when he fractured his kneecap just a few days before he would have pitched against the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
The man who began his major league career in 1986 wanted to make the most of the opportunity.
"It’s exciting to be able to contribute," said Moyer, who has played for 16 different professional teams, including six major league clubs. "I think the way we played all year long, everybody contributed … and it’s great to be a key factor in that contribution."
It was the Indians’ second look at the off-speed specialist in four days, but they looked no smarter the second time around. They watched strikes go by and swung at bad pitches. They argued with home-plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck on several occasions and walked back to the dugout, grumbling.
"You know, Cleveland has got some really good fastball hitters," M’s manager Lou Piniella said. "And unless you can throw the ball up there 93, 94, 95 miles an hour, you’re going to have problems.
"But good fastball hitters invariably are a little more susceptible to the off-speed stuff, and Jamie exploited that exceptionally well."
Piniella isn’t surprised at Moyer’s recent success. He’s seen Moyer win the highest percentage of games in the majors since 1996 (.692). He owns the team record for career winning percentage (.680) since coming to Seattle on June 30, 1996 for outfielder Darren Bragg.
Anyone heard from him lately?
On Monday, Moyer simply did what he has done for the Mariners for the better part of six seasons. He kept Cleveland’s slugging lineup off-balance and did not give in. Seven times, he worked the count full, but only once did the hitter reach base.
Ho-hum stuff for Moyer.
"I really tried not to put any more pressure on myself with (Monday’s) outing just like Game 2 or any other game during the course of the season," Moyer said.
Just another game.
Just another win.
Just another series or two left this season for Seattle because of Moyer.