Sele went 8-7 in '94 and filled in for the injured Clemens as the Opening Day starter in 1995. But his career in Boston derailed when he developed tendinitis five starts later. There were whispers that the Red Sox were peeved that Sele had spent his time during the players' strike going to school—he's about 10 credits shy of a degree in psychology—instead of working out, and that he was unwilling to pitch through pain during his recovery. Then there was criticism of his less-than-fiery mound presence. "To be a competitor you don't have to pump your fist or rip your shirt off," Sele says. "I pitch best when people say, Aaron, you look like you're going to fall asleep out there.' "
Sele spent the rest of 1995 on the disabled list, then slogged unhappily through two disappointing seasons during which he was a combined 20-23 with a 5.35 ERA. By the end of the '97 season—during which he led the league in opponents' on-base percentage (.361) and base runners allowed per nine innings (14.8) and, though healthy, worked past the sixth inning just once in 33 starts—his relationship with the Red Sox had soured beyond repair. He had spent much of the year bickering with new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who didn't want him throwing his curveball to lefthanders. That November, Boston shipped its onetime future ace to Texas.
Sele blossomed in Texas, winning his first five starts and finishing 1998 with 19 wins. Working with pitching coach Dick Bosman, he again began throwing his curve with impunity and started busting hitters inside with his fastball. Midway through last season he added a cut fastball, which bores in on the hands of lefties, to his fastball-curve-changeup repertoire. Lefthanded hitters, who hit .326 off Sele in '97, batted .286 against him last year. After throwing four complete games in his first 108 starts, Sele has five in his last 66, and last season his ERA after the All-Star break (4.08) was nearly 1� runs lower than his first-half mark (5.51). "When Aaron came up, he gave major league hitters too much credit," says one American League scout. "He's grown as a pitcher in the big leagues."
" Aaron's always had that great big curve, one of the top two or three I've seen," says Cleveland slugger Jim Thome. "Now if you lunge for it over the plate, he'll throw that cutter in on your hands."
As Sele piled up the wins in Texas, the accusations that he lacked heart died, even though his mound presence is still about as energetic as Poulsbo's rush hour. That calm, once seen as tentativeness, is now viewed more positively. "I don't think there was one time in two years that I went out to the mound and Aaron wasn't in total control of his emotions," says Bosman.
Sele thinks his peaceful aura will fit well in the Pacific Northwest. "There's such a laid-back attitude here," he says. "People are fired up about baseball, but it's not the end if the Mariners don't win. People say the Mariners lost, but we can still go boating or kayaking or fishing today."
He'll learn soon that Seattle manager Lou Piniella, whom Sele met for the first time in February, probably doesn't have the same roll-with-the-kayak attitude. With Griffey gone, it's unlikely that Sele will enjoy the same plush run support he received in Texas last year (7.5 runs per start). But he will have the advantage of pitching in spacious Safeco Field and the comfort that comes with being home. His parents still live in Poulsbo, where his mother is a secretary at his old high school and his fattier a sheet metal technician. During the season Aaron will split time between a lakefront home in Buckley, about an hour south of Seattle, and a condo in the city.
"Creating an environment that I function well in and that I'm happy with is important," Sele said last month, looking out over Puget Sound. "I'll have that here."