By KIRBY ARNOLD
NEW YORK – Amid the sting of a late-inning lead that turned into a loss on Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners emerged from the first two games of the American League Championship Series with no less faith in their two second-year starting pitchers.
John Halama, like Freddy Garcia the day before, kept the New York Yankees guessing at the plate in a six-inning performance that confirmed his status as a pitcher who performs best when the Mariners absolutely need him.
Halama pitched six scoreless innings, scattering five hits by the Yankees, and left the game with a 1-0 lead that the bullpen couldn’t protect.
He did his part, just like he had in September when he beat Oakland and Anaheim in the final week of the season, and in August when he lasted nine innings in a 19-inning victory over Boston.
“It seems to me he performs better in adverse situations,” pitching coach Bryan Price said. “His best performances this year were the nine innings he gave us against Boston … when he knew we had no bullpen and we ended up having to cover 10 innings. Secondly, the most recent games were the one against Oakland and the one against Anaheim. Must-win situations, and he delivered.”
Halama’s greatest delivery may have been the first inning Wednesday, when the Yankees loaded the bases on two walks and an error with nobody out.
Halama got Bernie Williams on a swinging bunt that catcher Dan Wilson turned into a double play, then Tino Martinez on a groundout that ended the inning with no runs.
Halama also got Jorge Posada in the sixth inning on a ball that dropped dead in the dirt in front of the plate.
“I have yet to see two balls hit in front of the plate like that,” said Halama, who is scheduled to pitch in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday if the series goes that far. “I got lucky there in the first inning. That lifted my spirits up and helped me regain my focus.”
Price said Halama’s secret was that he remained aggressive and got ahead in the count, a pattern he hopes all the Mariners pitchers will continue in the series.
“I anticipate we’ll go back home and pitch well and pitch aggressive,” Price said. “If we back down to their hitters, that’s when they’ll kill you.”
It didn’t happen while Halama was on the mound Wednesday.
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