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Under pressure

White Sox staring at possible sweep

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Latest: Friday October 06, 2000 01:02 AM

  Frank Thomas Chew on this: Frank Thomas had 43 homers during the regular season but is 0-for-7 in the divisional series. AP

SEATTLE (AP) -- The best record in the American League now means nothing.

If the White Sox don't win Friday, their season is over.

And Chicago will be sending sore-armed James Baldwin to the mound against the Seattle Mariners.

"I guess I'm on a respirator," White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said Thursday. "Things haven't gone our way. If the season ends tomorrow, obviously I would be somewhat empty."

Aaron Sele (17-10) tries to make it a three-game sweep for Seattle and put the Mariners in the AL championship series against the New York Yankees or Oakland.

Seattle, which wasn't even assured of a playoff spot until the final game of the regular season, has outscored the White Sox 12-6, outhit them 22-14 and outhomered them 4-1.

During the regular season, Chicago scored a major league-high 978 runs. During the playoffs, the heart of its order is 2-for-22: Frank Thomas 0-for-7, Carlos Lee 1-for-8 and Magglio Ordonez 1-for-7.

During the regular season, Thomas had 43 homers, Ordonez 32 and Lee 24. In the playoffs, it's 0, 0 and 0.

Thomas has stranded nine runners with four flyouts and three popups. And that's at Comiskey Park, his home stadium.

At Safeco Field, he was 1-for-20 in six games this season.

Still, Sele will be concentrating on him.

"He's one of the superstars," Sele said. "You pitch those guys carefully."

Baldwin is doing everything carefully. Sunday's start in the regular-season finale was his first since Sept. 8, and he gave up five runs and six hits in three innings at Kansas City.

"James Baldwin probably will be pitching with some pain, but cannot damage his shoulder any further," Manuel said. "It's a matter of him dealing with the discomfort."

Manuel said he would pull Baldwin in the first inning if he wasn't effective. And he might even replace him with Sean Lowe, Chicago's scheduled starter for Game 4 Saturday -- if there is a Game 4.

"Obviously, it's a very critical game for us," Manuel said. "I won't be saving anybody for Game 4."

Baldwin (14-7) had 11 wins before the All-Star break, winning his first seven starts of the season and his first three of the second half.

"I'm going to go out tomorrow and give it everything I've got," he said. "It might be four innings and it might be nine."

If there is a Game 4, Seattle's probable pitcher is expected to be left-hander John Halama, who won his last two starts, against Oakland and Anaheim, to help the Mariners get into the playoffs.

In winning the first two games 7-4 (in 10 innings) and 5-2, the Mariners got 10 scoreless innings from their bullpen. Kazuhiro Sasaki, who set a major league rookie record with 37 saves this season, had two saves. He struck out the side Wednesday.

Brett Tomko, Jose Paniagua, Arthur Rhodes, Jose Mesa and Sasaki have given up a total of three hits.

"They've done a good job," Manuel said. "They've got good, hard throwers out there, and normally we watch up pretty well against them."

While Seattle's bullpen has been solid, Rickey Henderson has been anything but. Henderson hit .183 in the final month of the season, then went 1-for-3 with a run scored in the opener. In the fifth inning of Game 2, with Seattle leading 3-2, he led off the fifth inning with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third and then scored on a ground ball to third that didn't reach the infield dirt.

But Henderson jammed his left index finger sliding into third base on his steal, came out of the game and had his finger heavily bandaged.

He took batting practice Thursday and expects to play.

"We'll determine tomorrow what our lineup is going to be," Mariners manager Lou Piniella said.

It will be the first postseason game ever at Safeco Field, which opened during the 1999 season. The Mariners would like to make it a celebration.

"You'd like to get it over with as soon as possible," manager Lou Piniella said. "We could use some rest."

Related information
Mariners hold off White Sox to take 2-0 series lead
Closer Look: Abbott's moment
M's Jay Buhner
Postcard: Big Hurt slumping
Mariners OF Mike Cameron says his team took the emotional wind out of the Sox. (110 K)
Chicago 2B Ray Durham says his squad needs to loosen up and have fun. (112 K)
Alex Rodriguez says the Mariners have come a long way, but need to finish the job. (138 K)
Mariners skipper Lou Pinella says his team cannot let the White Sox hang around. (130 K)
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