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SEATTLE Mariners
Stephen Cannella
October 16, 2000
Last Thursday afternoon, the off day between Games 2 and 3 of the Division Series, Seattle Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki sat in a nearly vacant Safeco Field clubhouse. The team had finished its workout two hours earlier, and now clubhouse attendants were unfurling thick rolls of plastic sheeting, tacking the makeshift tarpaulins above each locker so they could be quickly dropped if any celebratory champagne-spraying broke out over the next two days. Seattle had swept the first two games from the White Sox in Chicago and was on the brink of its first trip to the American League Championship Series since 1995. Pointing to the plastic, a visitor asked Sasaki, a folk hero and popular product endorser in his native Japan, if he would add a bottle of the sake brand that bears his name to the party. "That's what the plastic is for?" he asked through an interpreter. "We celebrate if we win this round?"
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October 16, 2000

Seattle Mariners

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Both of Seattle's Game 3 runs were set up by bunts, including one by Alex Rodriguez in the fourth inning that Piniella didn't call. "That's how you have to play at Safeco Field," said Rodriguez, who had 41 homers and zero sac bunts during the regular season. "I wouldn't try that play in any other ballpark."

Piniella's fingerprints were all over everything else the Mariners did—Guillen's game-winning bunt past first baseman Thomas, for example. White Sox skipper Jerry Manuel acknowledged after the series that his team was "outmanaged." Added Seattle outfielder Jay Buhner, who hit one of the Mariners' four homers in the series, "This year Lou has had things he hasn't had here before: veterans on the bench, a bullpen, veteran starters. Lou was way ahead of every situation in this series. It was awesome to watch him manage."

Piniella also has experience, having relied on a strong corps of relievers to guide the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series tide in 1990. In fact, only that Reds bullpen and the bullpen of the Yankees' 1981 ALCS-winning team, on which Piniella played, matched the Mariners' run of scoreless innings in a postseason series. "Oh, I don't know," was Piniella's answer when asked if this team reminded him of the Cincy squad. "One thing that is similar is that I had a bullpen with power arms over there, and we have a power bullpen here."

Piniella made that observation after Game 3, between celebratory sips of vodka from a Styrofoam cup. Sasaki's sake—a bottle of which stands in Buhner's locker-stayed on the shelf for this party. Better that it's conserved. He wasn't expecting to crack it open until later in October anyway.

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