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Suddenly, batting champ can't buy a hit


CLEVELAND -- Maybe Lou Piniella should have seen this coming. It was, after all, not even seven weeks ago that Edgar Martinez failed to get a hit in two consecutive games. It was even more recently, only a month ago, that in a span of six games, Martinez went hitless three times.

No surprise, then, that the Seattle Mariners' designated hitter slumped his way through the first three games of the American League Championship Series. Surely, Piniella must have someone else he could use as the DH, someone who might get a hit or two before this series ends.

On the contrary, the remarkable ramification of Martinez's three hitless games against Cleveland pitching is that it is the first time this entire year that he has played three consecutive games without getting a hit.

Twenty-three times during the season and once in the first-round playoff series against the New York Yankees (though they walked him three times), Martinez went one game without getting a hit. But pitchers shut him down for two games in a row only three times. He went 0-for-5 against Kansas City on June 13-14, 0-for-4 (with four walks) against Texas on June 30 and July 1 and 0-for-7 against the Yankees on Aug. 27 and Boston on Aug. 29.

His ability to avoid lengthy hitless streaks is one reason Martinez won the league batting championship for the second time. That he hit .356 during the season and .571 in the playoff series against the Yankees makes his zeros against the Indians all the more puzzling.

"I'm human," Martinez said after the Mariners' 11-inning, 5-2 victory over the Indians on Friday night. "The guys over there are trying to get me out. I'll just have to keep trying and give my best. I got myself out a couple times today. These guys are a very good pitching staff. They're pitching well. They're playing the defense also."

Martinez did not have a hit in 11 times at bat in the first three games. He batted six times with a total of eight runners on base and did not get a hit. He batted four times with runners in scoring position and did not get a hit.

In the third inning Friday night, he went to bat with Ken Griffey at third base and two outs, and he hit a routine grounder to third. That should have been the third out, but Alvaro Espinoza bobbled the ball for an error and Griffey scored.

"I think a few times I hit the ball, it always finds somebody," Martinez said Friday night, though not including that grounder in those times.

In the Mariners' Game 1 victory, Martinez twice made outs leading off innings and grounded into a double play with runners at first and second and one out. In their Game 2 loss, he twice made the third out with a runner on base each time.

Then he encountered Charles Nagy in the third game. During the season, Martinez managed only one hit in 10 at-bats against Nagy, and in their latest confrontation he popped to second with two on for the second out, he hit the ball that Espinoza didn't field cleanly and he took a third strike.

Eric Plunk was the pitcher when he batted the last time, in the 11th inning, but with Griffey at first and one out, he lofted a foul pop near first. It was after Martinez made the second out that Griffey stole second, Plunk walked Tino Martinez intentionally, and Jay Buhner hit the three-run home run that decided the game.

"They're pitching him tough," Piniella said. "I don't think they're staying with any one pattern. They're pitching him in, they're pitching him away, they're throwing him off-speed pitches. They're pitching him tough, but they should. The guy led the league in hitting. He's well-respected. But if there's a pattern up there, he'll figure it out."

By struggling at bat, Martinez prompted recollection of other hitters who experienced nightmarish postseason series. Dal Maxvill holds the ignominious distinction of batting the most times without getting a hit. He went 0-for-22 for St. Louis in the 1968 World Series, eclipsing the undesirable standard Gil Hodges established with his 0-for-21 performance for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1952 World Series.

"Edgar looks fine to me," Griffey said. "He hit the ball hard. They made plays. He's going to come out of it. He'll come out of it when we need it."

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