Work in Sports
Mariners call on 'Sodo Mojo,' live to see a Game 6
By David Vecsey, CNNSI.com
SEATTLE -- There is a ghoulish man carousing around behind the left-field stands at Safeco Field. He is big and he is tall. Maybe 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 at the tip of his black top hat. He is dressed all in black, including his cape, and he carries a thick wooden staff like that of a voodoo priest. His face is painted white, like a skull.
Big deal, New Yorkers might scoff, we've got one of those in every subway stop between 181st and Canal Street.
But he is a spectacle in low-key Seattle. He is a believer of Sodo Mojo. ("Sodo" as in "South of the Kingdome"; "Mojo" as in the mystical life force championed by blues musicians and international men of mystery.)
After three straight loses, including a 15-strikeout, 1-hit debacle against Roger Clemens in Game 4, the Mariners needed a triple dose of Sodo Mojo in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday.
Paging Doctors Rodriguez, Martinez and Olerud.
The heart of the lineup drove in five runs on three consecutive hits in the fifth inning, resuscitating Seattle's offense as the Mariners won 6-2 to cut New York's series lead to 3-2 and send things back to New York for Game 6 on Tuesday night. The five-run inning matched Seattle's total output from the first four games of the series.
"We just knew it was going to happen," insisted center fielder Mike Cameron. "We just needed that one big inning."
Holding a one-run lead, Yankees manager Joe Torre pulled lefty Denny Neagle with runners on second and third with one out in the fifth. The Mariners had their best two right-handed hitters -- Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez -- coming up, so Torre brought in hard-throwing righty Jeff Nelson.
And just as Mariners manager Lou Piniella may have left Paul Abbott in one batter too long in Game 4, Torre just may have pulled Neagle a tad too early. Rodriguez greeted Nelson with a two-run single to give the Mariners a 3-2 lead.
Then Martinez crushed a 2-0 pitch to dead center to make it 5-2.
Having already failed to get the right-handers out, Nelson was left in to face lefty John Olerud, who proceeded to drive a 0-1 pitch to right-center field to make it 6-2. The two homers allowed equaled Nelson's total from 69 2/3 regular-season innings this year. And it was sweet revenge for Olerud, who had a potential game-tying homer pulled back into the park by Bernie Williams in the previous inning. Back when the Mojo was flowing the other way.
Torre said he thought about walking Rodriguez to load the bases for Martinez, who touched Nelson for a game-winning grand slam here in late August. But he let Nelson pitch to Rodriguez, who had recorded his first RBI since the sixth inning of Game 1.
"Alex got the biggest hit of the game," said Cameron. "Yeah, I think he [needed it psychologically]. We relied on the guy the whole season and here he came up in a big situation and he answered the call."
There is no doubt that New York still is in control of the series, what with Orlando Hernandez and Pettitte coming up in the rotation. But think of the moral momentum that was gained in Game 5.
The Yankees, who have made six cross-country flights in the past couple of weeks, now must fly home again and win another game instead of having two or three days off to rest while the Mets and Cardinals wear each other out in the NLCS. Not to mention, it likely knocks El Duque out of a Game 1 World Series start, a factor that could prove critical ... especially if the Yankees end up meeting the pitching-heavy Mets in a Subway Series.
And, of course, the Yankees haven't won anything yet. The Mariners showed again Sunday they are capable of mustering up instant offense when their backs are to the wall, capable of mustering up a little Sodo Mojo.