It was not his most sparkling game of the season, but Seattle ace Randy Johnson, a.k.a. the Big Unit, came up with another XXXL performance Friday night to keep the Mariners alive in the American League division series.
Relying more on finesse than force, displaying more precision than power, the 6-foot-10 left-hander gutted his way through seven innings, yielding two runs on four hits to lead Seattle to a 7-4 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 3 before 57,944 at the Kingdome.
The Mariners made economic use of seven hits, including a two-run homer and RBI single by first baseman Tino Martinez, to pull to within 2-1 of the Yankees in the best-of-five series, which resumes today at 4 p.m. when Seattle's Chris Bosio faces New York's Scott Kamieniecki in Game 4.
Johnson struck out 10, including Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly three times, the last on three pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth and Seattle clinging to a 2-1 lead. It was only the sixth time in Mattingly's 14-year career that he has struck out three times in a game.
But unlike Johnson's last game, when he used a 99-m.p.h. fastball to overpower the Angels in Monday's 9-1 victory for the AL West championship, Johnson mixed his slider and changeup to--yes, this sounds difficult to believe--keep the Yankees off-balance .
Johnson, who has stopped 14 Seattle losing streaks this season, walked four and fell behind on counts to numerous hitters, but four of his strikeouts came on called third strikes, as he fooled several Yankees with off-speed pitches.
"I was physically and emotionally drained from my last start and was pitching mostly on adrenaline," Johnson said. "I didn't have my best stuff, but this shows I can pitch without it."
The 6,500 miles the Mariners traveled in the last week, the pressure of another must-win game and the astronomical expectations of Mariner fans who equate Johnson with automatic victory seemed to have a cumulative effect on the favorite for the AL Cy Young Award.
"I had the weight of the entire state of Washington on my shoulders," Johnson said.
Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner provided some relief, though. With the Yankees leading, 1-0, on the strength of Bernie Williams' fourth-inning homer, and starter Jack McDowell cruising through the first four innings, Tino followed a walk to Edgar Martinez in the fifth with a two-run homer to center.
Buhner provided the defensive play of the game in the top of the sixth, preventing the Yankees from scoring the tying run, and Seattle blew the game open with four runs in the bottom of the inning.
Randy Velarde had walked with one out in the sixth and had thoughts of going to third on Williams' single to right--not the best idea, considering Buhner has one of baseball's best outfield arms.
Velarde seemed to realize this after he rounded second and was about 20 feet beyond the bag. He put on the brakes and retreated back to second, but Buhner fired a one-hop, back-door bullet to shortstop Luis Sojo, who applied the tag for the second out.
Mike Stanley followed with a single to center that would have scored Velarde, and Ruben Sierra walked, but Johnson struck out Mattingly, who began the game with a .381 career average and only two strikeouts against Johnson.
"I think that gave Randy a little breathing room," Buhner said. "Instead of New York having guys on second and third with one out, there's a runner on first with two outs. It shut down a possible big inning real quick."
Vince Coleman started the Mariners' big inning with a triple to right in the sixth. No. 2 batter Joey Cora then walked and stole second as Ken Griffey Jr. struck out.
Edgar Martinez was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Yankee Manager Buck Showalter summoned left-hander Steve Howe to pitch to left-handed Tino Martinez.
Howe threw only one pitch, which Martinez drilled to left for an RBI single and a 3-1 lead. Showalter went to his bullpen for right-hander Bob Wickman. Backfire II: Buhner lined a single to right for another run and a 4-1 lead.
Mike Blowers' infield single and Sojo's sacrifice fly to left made it 6-1, and the Mariners added an insurance run in the seventh on Velarde's throwing error in left field.
Williams and Stanley hit consecutive homers off Mariner reliever Bill Risley in the eighth, but Norm Charlton struck out pinch-hitter Paul O'Neill to end the inning and retired three in a row in the ninth for the save.
"Even when he's not carrying the stuff he usually has, he's still tough," Showalter said of Johnson. "That's a testament to the pitcher he has become compared to the thrower he was. He was the difference in the game."