ALCS at a Glance
Defending champs face maybe biggest test yet in Seattle
Updated: Tuesday October 16, 2001 12:48 PM
Hate 'em all you want. Go ahead. A lot of people do. It's old stuff for the beautiful. They're used to it.
But make no mistake. In pure baseball terms, where wins and titles are what really count, the New York Yankees are just that -- flat-out beautiful.
Three-time defending World Series champs, going for their fifth Series title in the last six years, the Yankees are simply unflappable. They are in their 41st playoffs. They've won 26 World Series titles. They are the baseball gold standard.
For sure, they've played it a tad closely at times. Monday night, the Yankees became the first team to lose the first two games at home and come back to win a divisional series.
But not since 1997 when they lost to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series have they lost a postseason series.
Now they face a familiar foe, the Seattle Mariners, in the ALCS. It is a matchup that pits the history of the Yanks vs. the historical Mariners, who tied a major-league record with 116 wins this season.
Is this where the Yankees' run stops?
Who's gonna bet on it?
The Mariners, who pulled out a Game 5 heart-stopper of their own Monday in beating the Indians, won six of the nine games this season against the Yanks. But the Mariners were favored by some last year against the Yankees when the two teams met in the ALCS. The Yankees wiped them out 4-2 in the best-of-seven series, holding Seattle to a .215 batting average while the Mariners' team ERA floated to 5.37.
That was a turnaround from the memorable 1995 AL Division Series. The Mariners won that one in five games when Ken Griffey Jr. slid in with the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning.
The Yankees are a veteran team filled with familiar names: pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, closer Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter. The Mariners are no youngsters, but they've been powered this year by the not-so-familiar: pitchers Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele, Freddy Garcia and Kazuhiro Sasaki, right fielder and leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki and second baseman Bret Boone.
Suzuki, the seven-time Japanese batting champ, hit .286 against the Yanks, well below his .350 average. But he scored 12 runs in the nine games and may be the single biggest threat on the field in this series. Boone, who led the AL with 141 RBIs, had nine of them against the Yankees. New York hit .169 off Moyer, who went 2-0 in three starts against the Yankees.
Jeter, who played marvelously in the five-game ALDS win over the Oakland Athletics, scored seven runs and drove in five against the Mariners, hitting .306. Catcher Jorge Posada (.351) and first baseman Tino Martinez (.314, seven runs, seven RBIs) were also big for the Yanks.
Pettitte was 0-2 in three starts and Clemens 0-1 in two against the Mariners, but Clemens had a 15-strikeout game last postseason in a shutout win over the Mariners in Game 4. Pettitte won Game 3.
What makes the Yankees the Yankees, though, is their experience. It can't be overstated. It's what beat the Mariners last season. It's what beat the A's -- who had the second-best record in baseball, behind the Mariners -- Monday night.
The Mariners, too, are managed by an old Yankee, Lou Piniella, who knows plenty about winning. He guided the 1990 Cincinnati Reds to an upset win over the A's in a sweep of the World Series.
This is, arguably, the best team the Yankees have faced in the playoffs. The Mariners are well-balanced, patient, playoff-tested and hungry.
But the Yankees are ... well, the Yankees.
This one is close. Very close. The pitching is deep on both sides, with the two best closers (Rivera and Sasaki) in baseball. Both offenses are potent. The Mariners had the best defense in the league, but the Yanks aren't far behind.
The Yankees have the edge in postseason magic. But the Mariners don't figure to fold under pressure, like the A's did Monday night. Down 2-1 to the Indians, Seattle won the final two games to take that series.
It's a coin flip. We'll take the Mariners in seven.
But we won't bet on it.