Curveball puts his infield to work as M’s ace pitches impressively
By BOB BOLERJACK
SEATTLE — Come playoff time, jitters are only natural. Yet before Friday’s third game of the American League Division Series, there was a sense of cool confidence among the Seattle Mariners.
A 2-0 series lead no doubt had something to do with that, but so did the fact that their hottest starting pitcher, Aaron Sele, would be on the mound.
"I felt complete calm with him out there," Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price said. "I’ll tell you, we played so many tough games in September that I haven’t been able to say that every time our pitchers went out there."
Price had good reason this time. Sele led the team in victories (17) and had gone 4-0 with a 2.63 earned run average in his previous six starts, a span that included a complete-game shutout of the Texas Rangers on Sept. 26.
He didn’t disappoint.
Sele retired 17 of the 20 hitters he faced, holding the Chicago White Sox to one run in 7 1/3innings and keeping the Mariners in a game they eventually won 2-1 to sweep the series.
Sele did what he knows he must do to be successful: He threw his curveball for strikes and trusted his defense.
"You can’t say enough about this defense," Sele said. "The guys have been playing great defense all year, and as a starting pitcher, if we go out and let them hit the ball, we’ve got a great chance of the ball being caught for an out or fielded and thrown over to first for an out."
Time after time Friday, Sele got the White Sox to hit the ball. Time after time, the defense came through.
After a shaky start in the first inning, when Sele walked two of the first three batters, he fielded a sharp grounder by Magglio Ordonez, wheeled around and made a low throw to shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who caught the ball for a force at second and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
With a runner at first and one out in the fourth, second baseman Mark McLemore fielded a slow grounder by Harold Baines and in the same motion tagged Herbert Perry going by. McLemore then threw to first to complete another double play.
First baseman John Olerud and third baseman David Bell also made slick plays to help Sele.
"When you know you have a supreme defense behind you, you’re just kicking yourself if you don’t make the other team put the ball in play," Price said.
Playing a key role in one of the franchise’s biggest victories was especially sweet for Sele, a Poulsbo native and former Washington State University star who came home to join the Mariners as a free agent this season.
"The Northwest doesn’t get enough credit for being baseball fanatics," Sele said. "And you saw from the large crowd today (a Safeco Field record 48,010) and the support we’ve been getting all year long that the Northwest really enjoys its baseball.
"It’s fun to come out and play in front of strong crowds, and even more special to have grown up here and have that kind of support from my wife and my daughters.
"It’s a storybook season so far. Hopefully it will just continue."
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