SEATTLE -- The Cleveland Indians may have won 100 games this year. They may have swept the Boston Red Sox in the divisional series. They may have the most dangerous offensive lineup in the game. But they were just another Mariners' miracle waiting to happen.
Seattle rookie Bob Wolcott somehow held the Indians to two runs and Luis Sojo delivered a tie-breaking RBI double in the seventh inning last night to carry the Mariners to an improbable 3-2 victory before a roaring sellout crowd of 57,065 in the first-ever American League Championship Series game at the Kingdome.
This is the kind of thing that has been happening for weeks in Seattle, where the Mariners strung together unlikely win after unlikely win on the way to one of the biggest comebacks in AL history, then pulled off another exciting comeback against the New York Yankees.
But this may have been the most unlikely of all, considering the strange set of circumstances that put Wolcott on the mound for Game 1. The three-game comeback in the first playoff round left the Mariners' pitching staff without a rested starter, so manager Lou Piniella and general manager Woody Woodward took a tremendous gamble and activated the 22-year-old right-hander, who had made six starts at the major-league level this year.
If Wolcott could work into the late innings, the Mariners would have a rested staff for Game 2. If Seattle won -- yeah, right -- then the chemistry of the whole series could change.
That's what happened. Wolcott didn't exactly outduel Indians starter Dennis Martinez, but he found a way to outdo him.
Wolcott pitched seven innings and turned the game over to the only rested pitchers in the Mariners' bullpen. Catonsville native Jeff Nelson got a couple of outs and turned it over to closer Norm Charlton, who would retire the last four batters and send the Kingdome crazies through the roof.
If Seattle's Tim Belcher can come through against former Dodgers teammate Orel Hershiser tonight, the Indians would go home to face Randy Johnson down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series.
"I don't think it's as important to win tomorrow night as it was in the five-game series, but it's something we need to do," said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. "We don't want to go home 0-2, especially with Randy Johnson coming up. The Mariners have a very good ballclub. They are getting good pitching from Nelson and Charlton, so I don't think anyone should be surprised they are where they are."
For three days this past weekend, the Mariners had played a nonstop game of Can You Top This, leaving room to wonder what they could do to maintain the tremendous energy level in the stands. The answer came in the first inning, when Wolcott walked the bases loaded and then staged his own Mariners-like comeback to get out of the inning.
"It was definitely nerve-racking," said Wolcott, who missed the strike zone with 12 of his first 13 pitches. "I didn't want to give it away."
It looked as if that was just what he was going to do.
Kenny Lofton walked, then Omar Vizquel and Carlos Baerga, bringing home run champion Albert Belle to the plate with a chance to bathe the Kingdome in quiet. He obviously was thinking that way, because he lunged for the first pitch at a point when it was clear that Wolcott could not find the plate.
The crowd went crazy and, as unbelievable as this might sound, it seemed to have a calming effect on Wolcott, who went on to strike out Belle and get veteran Eddie Murray on a popup to third. Joey Cora's diving stab of Jim Thome's grounder got the third out.
"I think more than anything we just got impatient," Hargrove said. "Albert swung at a slider that was out of the strike zone and then we popped one up. We were just a little impatient."
Martinez was far more composed than Wolcott, of course. He was pitching in the ALCS when Wolcott was in the first grade, though that didn't make him any less vulnerable to the early-inning Mariners magic. A two-out walk to Jay Buhner in the second inning cost him two runs when Mike Blowers lined his first home run of the postseason over the center-field fence.
Piniella had said before the game that the Mariners would need to get some production out of the bottom third of the lineup to be in the series, a reference to the fact that Blowers, Sojo and catcher Dan Wilson batted a combined .182 in the divisional series.
Sojo would step up in the seventh. He came to the plate with the game tied and drove the ball over the head of Belle in left-center field to bring home Buhner.
Wolcott tempted fate inning after inning. He worked out of trouble with two runners on in the second inning and allowed four of the first five Cleveland batters to reach base in the third. The Indians got on the board on a one-out RBI single by Thome, but the Mariners got out of a bases-loaded situation when Paul Sorrento bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Cleveland tied the game in the top of the seventh when Belle got his revenge -- a 450-foot shot to center.
Wolcott stranded 10 runners through seven innings, but that isn't the number they put up on the scoreboard.
Now Piniella has a decision to make. Does he start Wolcott in Game 5 or go back to veteran Chris Bosio? He isn't ready to say.
"We've got a lot of options for Game 5," he said. "We'll just wait and see what happens."
Seattle Mariners vs. Cleveland Indians
+ (Mariners lead series, 1-0)
Day .. .. .. .. .. .. Site/Result .. .. .. .. .. .. Time
Yesterday .. .. .. .. Mariners, 3-2
Tonight ... ... .. .. at Seattle .. ... .. . .. ... 8:07
Friday .. .. .. .. ...at Cleveland .. .. .. ... ... 8:07
Saturday .. .. .. ... at Cleveland .. .. .. ... ... 7:07
Sunday* .. .. ... ... at Cleveland .. .. .. ... ... 7:07
Tuesday* .. .. .. ... at Seattle .. .. .. .. .. ... 8:07
Oct. 18* .. .. .. ... at Seattle .. .. .. .. .. ... 8:07
* -- If necessary