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No Unit. No Junior. No A-Rod.

No problem, mon.

Fans in the Emerald City think the Mariners are destined in 2001, but do the players share the same sentiments?

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The quick answer is, well, no.

Yet Seattle’s incredible success in 2001 has much to do with the “no” in that question than anything else.

It’s not like the Mariners don’t play with emotion. Heck, their manager, Lou Piniella, is as fiery as they come. But Emerald City’s boys have “been here and done it” – and simply don’t get ahead of themselves.

“I think it’s the personality of the team,” said first baseman John Olerud, a long under-rated veteran who helped Toronto to World Series titles in the early 90s. “It’s just a business-like atmosphere. Guys are having a good time and we’re joking around, but we plan to go out there and play a good solid game.”

Every game.

“As you can see, our clubhouse is pretty subdued, very business-like,” said Piniella, after yet another Mariners victory. “We’ll go out and play hard again tomorrow, but we have been playing good baseball. And for us to continue to do that we have to keep our level of intensity up and go out there and be there aggressive.”

Seattle’s style of play is very much a throwback to yesteryear: strong pitching and defense, and timely hitting, especially when the opposition makes a mistake. It’s the latter that has really put the Mariners over the top.

Make a mistake against the Mariners – an error here, a bad pitch or throw there – and you are going to pay dearly.

“It’s that right there,” explained starting pitcher John Halama. “We have a veteran team. We’re doing the little things. We’re playing defense. We’re stealing bases. Every day it seems like there’s a certain person in the lineup that steps up. You mix that in with the guys that are doing what they’re supposed to - we’re scoring in bunches, and that’s something we’ve been doing all year. We haven’t stopped.”

And with this focused approach and attitude, it seems little can stop the Mariners except maybe themselves. Sure that’s possible, but unlikely considering most of Seattle’s roster has been here and done that before.

From the hill with Freddy Garcia and Aaron Sele to the bullpen with Kazuhiro Sasaki and Jeff Nelson, Piniella’s bunch has a wealth of diverse and post-season experience. That experience extends into the lineup where each player brings something different to the table, from versatile second baseman Brett Boone to outfielders Mike Cameron and Stan Javier.

Only fan favorite Edgar Martinez survived the Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez roster shuffle, and what a job Seattle’s brass has done.

“I think the difference in Toronto (is), we had some superstar guys,” Olerud commented. “You’d come in and you’d look down the lineup and you’d say, ‘Wow, they’ve got some dangerous hitters.’”

“You know, with our ball club, I don’t know that necessarily our lineup is that intimidating (on paper), but we’re going to give a lot of quality at bats – battling, scraping,” Olerud added. “We don’t hit a whole lot of home runs. We’re not flashy.”

When you think about it, the Bronx Bombers - who the Mariners will try to unseat come October – haven’t won three of the last four World Series with much flash either. Consider that no Yankee has led the American League in home runs or hitting.

But New York does have outstanding pitching, great defense with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, and – surprise! – the Yankees invented the notion of “make a mistake and you will pay.”

And it’s the Yankees that the Mariners use as Exhibit A that the 2001 season is not necessarily one of destiny, but rather of timing and execution combined.

“A good example of that was the Yankees last year. What did they wind up losing, 17 of their last 20 games the last month?” Halama asked. “No one predicted them of doing anything in the playoffs. They play a good one against Oakland (to win the division series), they played a great one against us, and they wound up winning the World Series anyway.”

To get to the Yankees, the Mariners will need to patch the few leaks that remain in their armor. Jose Paniagua has occasionally been in Piniella’s doghouse because of his erratic control. Yet with gritty lefties Arthur Rhoades and Norm Charlton also available out of the pen, Seattle’s problems are minimal indeed.

“With the way our bullpen is capable of throwing the ball and the way we’ve been throwing all season, five innings for a starter is great,” Halama said. “They’re going to come in and shut the door anyway.”

Well, you would think that would continue into the post-season.

Stay tuned.

“Well, we have been playing well,” Piniella said recently, as he imbibed a Coors Light. “Yeah, we’ve been scoring runs early in ball games lately. Our guys are swinging the bats and our pitchers are doing a good job.”

“You know, it’s been a good run for us here,” Piniella continued. “But we’re not dwelling on it too much though, and just focusing on the game tomorrow.”

And it’s unlikely the Mariners will be dreaming of Game 1 of the 2001 World Series until they’ve made the last out of the American League Championship Series.

But don’t tell that to fans in the Emerald City. They’ll keep on believing their team is destined.

They just might be right. But, psst, just don’t tell the players.

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Mar 31 2002, 21:30:58
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