Mariners finally get untracked thanks to a Boone bloop
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- This is how these things start. A bloop hit here. A sacrifice. An error by the other guys. Some timely hits. Maybe a little luck.
That's how things started for the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night, anyway. So now the Mariners, suddenly all full of themselves after a had-to-have-it 14-3 win over the New York Yankees, stand on the verge of something beautiful.
"Tonight was pretty crucial, being down 0-2," Mariners second baseman Bret Boone said. "You go down 0-3, you're in big trouble."
In the early stages of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, the Mariners looked like they were in big-enough trouble. In fact, they looked pretty much like they did during losses in Games 1 and 2. Bad. Really bad.
Through 4 2/3 innings, they had already blown at least a couple of scoring opportunities and were trailing 2-0.
But then Boone, the Mariners' struggling All-Star, came up with the bases loaded. Boone had more RBIs than anyone in the AL this season, 141 of them, but he'd been living in a hitting vacuum in the playoffs. He had four singles in 28 at-bats, a .123 average, and nary a run driven in the two Mariners' losses in Seattle.
He'd already been up twice Saturday, in fact, popping up in the first and flying out with men on first and second to end the top of the third.
In the fifth inning, though, with two outs and David Bell on third, Ichiro Suzuki on second and Mark McLemore on third, Boone stepped in against Yankees starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and turned his postseason -- and maybe the Mariners' -- around. In a fluky kind of way.
"Sometimes when you get that chinker," Boone said, "sometimes things open up and you feel a lot better about it."
On a 2-1 pitch from the righty Hernandez, Boone took a huge swing and popped the ball into short left field. The Yankees' Chuck Knoblauch bolted in on the ball, but he was playing deep, deep left.
Knoblauch dove, stretched out toward the infield and snagged the ball in the air.
Unfortunately for Knoblauch and the Yanks, the impact of hitting the Yankee Stadium turf jarred the ball loose. As Knoblauch tumbled onto his side and, finally, onto his knees, the ball fell onto the grass and two runs scored.
All the sudden, the Yankees' lead was gone, and the Mariners -- for the first time this series -- had some life.
"When they tied the game up," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "it sort of had them breathe a little bit."
The Mariners came into Saturday's game 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position during the ALCS. And by the time Boone stepped up against Hernandez in the fifth, they already had pushed that to 0-for-12.
But Boone's bloop shook the Mariners out of their slump. They scored seven runs the next inning and five more in the final three. The 14 runs were the most ever scored in an ALCS game. The seven runs in the sixth tied an ALCS record for most runs in a single inning.
The Mariners, hitting .223 in the ALCS before Game 3, had 15 hits in 45 at-bats Saturday. They had only 10 in the first two games combined.
"It relaxed us," Mariners manager Lou Piniella said of the Boone blooper. "We got those two runs in and, all of a sudden, we started really swinging the bats."
The start of something special? Maybe. The Mariners still have one huge historical mountain to climb. No team ever has come back from losing the first two games at home to win a seven-game series. Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday night.
Game 3 may not turn out to be that start of something special that the Mariners need.
But for the Mariners, it is at least a start.