SEATTLE -- The American League championship and a ticket to the World Series are at stake, but so is something else. The Yankees and Mariners are fighting for the right to tell their grandchildren they played on the greatest team ever.
"I don't want Seattle to go 125-50 or do better than we did in '98," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "I don't want the Mariners to go to the World Series. This is the way it should be, us against them."
The Mariners went 116-46 in the regular season, two games better than the 1998 Yankees. The '98 Yankees went 11-2 in the postseason to finish with a 125-50 record and cast the words "Best Ever" on their championship rings.
"I don't think we worry about that," said Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson, who worked for the Yankees in 1998. "I think only in New York, because of the media ... they want you to win 162 games, instead of 114. So they kept reminding you that you won 114."
The 1906 Cubs went 116-36, but never lived down losing the World Series. The 1954 Indians went 111-43, breaking the AL record of the hallowed 1927 Yankees, but they lost the World Series to the Giants and, for history's sake, were ridiculed.
Yankees players laughed off the notion they need to beat the Mariners to preserve the legacy of the 1998 team.
"We have nothing to prove," reliever Mike Stanton said.
The 1998 Yankees closed the deal. They swept the Division Series, fell behind the Indians 2-1 in the ALCS before winning the last three games, then swept the happy-to-be-there Padres in the World Series. The Yankees followed with two more World Series victories and, though they won a pedestrian 95 games in 2001, believe the championship is theirs until they are beaten. Never was their tenacity more in evidence than in the Division Series, when they lost the first two games at home, then beat the A's, winners of 102 games, three in a row.
"The Mariners have been the best team in baseball all year," Derek Jeter said. "So it's only going to get tougher."
The Mariners have already faced a postseason crisis, losing Games 1 and 3 of the Division Series to the Indians, but winning the last two to advance.
"It wouldn't have looked good -- we won 116 games and got knocked out in the first round," Nelson said. "Now we're in the ALCS, and the five game series, in my opinion, is the toughest."
The Mariners got off to a torrid start that included a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium in April. In May, the Yankees won two of three in Seattle. In mid-August, the Mariners came to New York for a much-hyped series and, after losing 4-0 to Mike Mussina, won the next two games to beat the Yankees 6-3 in the season series. The Mariners have built their team much like the Yankees, spreading their resources to acquire a deep bench and bullpen, with offensive weapons 1 through 9 in their lineup.
"I think we match up very well with them," said Tino Martinez, a former Mariner who led the Yankees with 34 homers and 111 RBI. '1They have great starting pitching and a great bullpen, and so do we. They don't win games with a lot of three-run homers, they just put together good at-bats inning after inning."
(Optional add end)
The Yankees beat the Mariners in six games in the ALCS last October, after which Seattle lost superstar Alex Rodriguez as a free agent but added Nelson and Ichiro Suzuki. It helped that second baseman Bret Boone had a career year, replacing the rare middle-infield power A-Rod provided. The Yankees also improved, adding Mike Mussina to the rotation. Mussina turned the Division Series around with a 1-0 victory in Game 3.
"Well, when you win 116 ballgames in the course of the year, you can play under any type of situation," Mariners Manager Lou Piniella said. "We rely on pitching and solid defense. That's a constant, almost every day. And it's a good formula. ... This is fun. This is not pressure, it really isn't."
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.