Work in Sports
How sweet it is
Piniella's late talk inspires Mariners in 10th
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
Let’s face it -- the Mariners’ Lou Piniella isn’t the cuddliest manager in the game. Yet there he was in the top of the 10th inning of Game 1 of this American League Division Series, with the Mariners and White Sox tied at four, whispering in a baserunner’s ear like a Little League coach giving midgame instructions to a nine-year-old.
Mike Cameron, who stole 24 bases this season, led off the inning with a single and had drawn a few throws to first from White Sox closer Keith Foulke. With one ball and no strikes on Edgar Martinez, Piniella wandered out of the first-base dugout, called time and put his arm around Cameron near the first-base coach’s box.
“I thought he was going to talk to the umpire to say [Foulke] was balking or something,” said righthander Brett Tomko, who wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth inning and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings. “When he started talking to Mike I turned to Aaron Sele and Jamie Moyer and said, ‘You ever seen that before?’ They both shook their heads.”
If Piniella’s own players were confused, imagine what was running through Foulke’s mind.
The White Sox pitched out as soon as Piniella returned to the dugout; Cameron stayed put. He took off on the next pitch, a changeup that Martinez swung at and missed, and easily beat catcher Josh Paul’s throw to second. With the count 2-and-1, Foulke tried to slip another changeup past Martinez, who hammered it into the left field seats for a two-run homer. John Olerud then smacked Foulke’s next pitch for a home run to center, giving the Mariners a 7-4 lead and sealing their win.
“I told him the Nasdaq was down 113 points today and that Cisco was a great buy,” Piniella, doing his best impression of a Kremlin press secretary, said after the game when asked what he said on the field. “I just wanted to talk to Cameron about something, and I really can’t speak further than that. I really can’t.”
Cameron was equally coy. “It’s secret,” he said. “Whatever we do we have to keep under the sheets.”
If the Mariners win this series -- and, after taking Game 1 on the road, they’re sitting pretty --managerial visits to baserunners might become as commonplace as pitching coach conferences on the mound.
Piniella’s maneuver was a fitting end to a game he managed aggressively from the start. In the third, with the Mariners up 3-2, he asked Olerud to bunt with runners on first and second and nobody out. The ploy backfired when Olerud took the pitch and Chicago catcher Charles Johnson picked Alex Rodriguez off second. In the seventh Piniella emptied his bench, using a pinch runner and two pinch hitters to squeeze out a run that tied the game at four.
“We basically threw everything we had at them,” the manager said after the game. “We used all of our roster except for one player, and basically i had only one pitcher left. We were fortunate to pull it out when we did.”
Much has been about the experience gap in this series: The Mariners are a veteran team, the White Sox a collection of youngsters with virtually no postseason time under their belts. On Tuesday, Piniella, who managed the Reds to a world championship in 1990, showed there’s no substitute for experience in the dugout as well. He took over the game in the tenth inning.
Was Foulke, already distracted by Cameron, rattled by Piniella’s 10th-inning shenanigans? Chicago’s young closer said no-though he did admit that Martinez was “one step ahead” of him in expecting another changeup.
Two weeks ago Piniella said his team had been winning with “smoke and mirrors all season.” In Game 1, the magician pulled a win out of his hat.