Still in the lead, barely

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

M’s shut out Texas to stay ahead of A’s in AL West

By KIRBY ARNOLD

Herald Writer

SEATTLE — Three months ago, Joe Oliver figured the closest he’d get to baseball in October might be his television set. He sat in the minor leagues wondering if he’d ever get a call to the majors again, ready to tell himself it’s been a nice career.

Today, he’s a huge reason the Seattle Mariners remain in first place.

Oliver, a 35-year-old who was the odd catcher out when the Mariners broke spring training, continued his amazing resurgence Tuesday in the Mariners’ 5-0 victory over the Texas Rangers.

He singled and scored the Mariners’ first run in the third inning, threw out a base-stealer in the fourth inning and hit a leadoff home run in the fifth, providing a kick-start that the M’s desperately needed in a must-win situation.

The teams that drew the attention of the scoreboard watchers — Oakland and Cleveland — also won Tuesday. Oakland, which beat Anaheim, remained 1/2game behind the Mariners in the American League West Division. Cleveland beat Minnesota to stay alive for the wild card, a last-resort ticket to the postseason for the Mariners should Oakland overtake them.

Aaron Sele pitched his best since the All-Star break, throwing only the Mariners’ fourth complete game this season and continuing an impressive run down the stretch. Sele (17-10) is 4-0 this month with a 2.55 earned run average.

Of the 10 hits by the Mariners, the one that carried the most hope for the final five games was a seventh-inning triple by Alex Rodriguez. It ended an 0-for-17 slump for Rodriguez, whose only hit this homestand was a first-inning single Thursday against the A’s.

It was Oliver, however, who came through Tuesday like he has all season. He’s hitting .272, has 10 home runs and has invigorated not only his own career, but the Mariners as well

"The man is huge," second baseman Mark McLemore said. "We wouldn’t be where we are without him."

And Oliver isn’t sure where he’d be without the Mariners.

When the M’s invited him to spring training, getting this kind of production was one of their last expectations.

"We brought him in as an insurance policy, but also to give him a chance to work with our young pitchers and give other organizations a chance to see him," said manager Lou Piniella.

Oliver had a good spring, but with Dan Wilson and Tom Lampkin ahead of him, there wasn’t room on the Seattle roster … or anyone else’s. Oliver accepted a demotion to Class AAA Tacoma only because his solid spring convinced him he could still play at the major league level.

"If I’d fallen on my face at spring training, I’d have taken it home and told myself this game has been good to me," Oliver said. "Deep down, I knew I had a lot left."

Lampkin’s elbow injury became Oliver’s full-time ticket back to the majors, and he has delivered on a team that has badly needed a dose of offense deep in the batting order. He did it again Tuesday.

Oliver singled to right field with one out in the third inning, advanced to third on McLemore’s double and scored on Rickey Henderson’s line-drive single off the glove of Rangers third baseman Mike Lamb. Both McLemore and Henderson scored on Mike Cameron’s double to left-center, giving the Mariners a 3-0 lead.

A half inning later, the Rangers’ Ricky Ledee drew a one-out walk and wasted no time testing Oliver’s right arm. Ledee broke for second and Oliver threw him out easily.

In the fifth, Oliver cranked Ryan Glynn’s 1-0 pitch deep into the bullpen area for his 10th home run and a four-run lead. It became 5-0 after McLemore walked and scored on a double by Edgar Martinez, who pushed his career-high and league-leading RBI total to 140.

With Sele mastering the Rangers from the mound, the Mariners cruised to a victory that kept them in first place.

And the 35-year-old behind the plate clutched another sweet memory.

"It would be more satisfying if I could play in October again," Oliver said. "This has been a good run, but we haven’t won anything yet. I just want to finish it."

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