Chuck Finley warned Angel pitcher Allen Watson what to expect tonight in Seattle's Kingdome, where a huge, title-hungry crowd will gather in anticipation of a Mariner clinching celebration, but Watson didn't seem to grasp the gravity of the situation.
"No problem," Watson told Finley. "I've pitched in front of 50,000 in Coors Field before."
No, Allen. This is a big problem. A packed house in an open-air stadium in Denver is one thing. A capacity crowd in the echo chamber that is the Kingdome is an entirely different matter.
"I told him he'd better pitch with cotton in his ears," Finley said.
Finley should know. He took the Kingdome mound in the last week of the 1995 season with the Angels needing a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive, and he was there a few days later for the one-game playoff to determine the American League West champion.
His ears are still ringing.
"It was so loud, the sounds were echoing in my head," said Finley, who teamed with Troy Percival to shut out the Mariners, 2-0, in that 1995 regular-season game. "You just had this pulsating, vibrating feeling. You couldn't decipher any one sound. They were all bouncing off each other."
As if that isn't enough to contend with, Watson must also square off against one of baseball's most dominant pitchers, Mariner left-hander Randy Johnson, in a game the Angels must win to keep their slim title hopes alive.
"This is what you work all season for," Watson said. "It's a big game, there will be a lot of people there, Randy Johnson is pitching. The whole team will be pumped up."
Rickey Henderson, hitting .188 since the trade that brought him to Anaheim on Aug. 13 and benched during the three-game weekend sweep of Texas, will be back in the lineup tonight, either in left field or as designated hitter.
Manager Terry Collins has loaded his lineup with right-handers against Johnson this season, so he probably will play Jim Edmonds or Garret Anderson in center.
Anderson is hitless in six at-bats against Johnson, and Edmonds is two for 13 against Johnson but hasn't faced him since the 1995 one-game playoff.
ON DECK Opponent--Seattle Mariners, two games.
Site--The Kingdome, Seattle.
TV--Channel 9 tonight.
Records--Angels 82-74, Mariners 88-69 .
Record vs. Mariners--5-5.
ANGELS' ALLEN WATSON (12-10, 5.03 ERA) vs. RANDY JOHNSON (18-4, 2.26 ERA)
* Update--It will be like old times for the Mariners--Johnson on the mound against the Angels with a chance to clinch the division title, just as Seattle did on Oct. 2, 1995, when the Mariners whipped the Angels in a one-game playoff for the West title. "The only thing weirder would be if Mark Langston was pitching for Anaheim," Johnson said. At least this time, the Mariners have a safety net. Even if the Angels sweep them, Seattle can wrap up the title against Oakland this weekend, and the Angels would have to sweep a four-game series from Texas to have any hope. The Angels were also in Texas when the Rangers clinched the West title in 1996, and they don't want to witness another celebration.
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.--Ken Hill (8-12, 4.67) vs. Jamie Moyer (17-4, 3.66).