By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE — It took Chuck Knoblauch one pitch to reach first base. Ichiro Suzuki needed 13, and nine innings, to get that far.
Anybody wonder why the New York Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners 4-2 Wednesday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series?
Mike Cameron doesn’t.
"Chuck came out of the box and kind of set a tone for them right away," Cameron said. "When we don’t hit, we don’t win."
By falling into an 0-1 hole in the best-of-seven series, today’s outing by Mariners starter Freddy Garcia becomes huge. The Mariners don’t want to face three games in New York at an 0-2 disadvantage.
"I wouldn’t say it’s life and death," Mariners left fielder Jay Buhner said. "But you don’t want to get yourself in too big a rut because they’ve got good starters. If we can score some runs, if we can get the timely hit, we can play with anybody."
Knoblauch had hits in his first three at-bats, including one in the second inning that drove in New York’s first run, and the Yankees held Suzuki hitless until they already had a three-run lead in the ninth inning.
As a result, the hitters behind Knoblauch took advantage of their opportunities against Mariners starting pitcher Aaron Sele and the Mariners never got anything going against Andy Pettitte.
They got just three hits and a run off the left-hander in eight innings and had their leadoff man reach base only twice. Suzuki was a weak 0-for-3 on two groundouts and a strikeout until his double in the ninth.
"That was huge for us," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "When we got him out the first few times up, it made pitching to the rest of the lineup a lot less stressful."
The key, as the Mariners showed when it was too late with a run in the ninth, was to get their catalyst on base.
Suzuki didn’t have an impact until the Yankees had a three-run lead. He dumped a double into left field in the ninth inning and scored on two wild pitches by Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
"It’s an advantage to us when Ichiro gets on base two or three times a game," Bret Boone said. "But it’s not about one or two guys. You don’t win 116 games without a core of key people."
OK, but none of those guys did much, either, Wednesday.
Carlos Guillen, a career .467 hitter against Pettitte, went 0-for-3 in his first game after being diagnosed three weeks ago with tuberculosis.
Boone, with an .095 average in the postseason, had a hit and a walk, signs that he is coming out of his first big slump of the year.
Edgar Martinez had a hit and scored once, but struck out twice against Pettitte and grounded out weakly to first base off Rivera to end the game.
Cameron walked and doubled, then showed in the seventh how thin the line is between a run-scoring double down the line and an inning-ending double play. Boone had led off with a single and, after Martinez struck out, Cameron worked himself into a three-ball, one-strike count.
"I saw the pitch in an area where I like to hit it at," Cameron said, "and he just got it in on me."
Cameron hit a high hopper to third baseman Scott Brosius, who started an inning-ending double play.
"Pettitte did a good job keeping us off base early. He pretty much kept all the leadoff hitters off base," Cameron said. "When you do that, you give yourself a pretty great opportunity to have success."
Tell that to Sele, who allowed seven hits and three runs in six innings but pitched in peril throughout. The Yankees got their leadoff man on base in five of the six innings against Sele, and it burned him twice.
Jorge Posada started the second with a walk, went to second on Alfonso Soriano’s flare single to right and scored when Knoblauch hit a sharp one-hopper off David Bell’s glove at third.
Posada began the fourth with a double off the right-field wall that nearly became a spectacular defensive play by the Mariners. The ball caromed back to Suzuki, whose throw beat Posada to the bag. The tag didn’t. Guillen drifted off the bag to catch the throw and tagged Posada high on his body after his foot reached the base.
Four pitches later, Sele left a pitch thigh-high over the middle of the plate and Paul O’Neill yanked it into the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
"In these playoff games, to score early has been so big," O’Neill said. "Obviously, when Andy is throwing the way he was, we score some runs, then we’ve got a good shot."
And when Suzuki doesn’t reach base, it has become fairly obvious in the postseason, the Mariners’ chances diminish.
"Everybody wants to have a good result and get on base," Suzuki said. "I try as hard as I can and I don’t have anything to be ashamed of."