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Mariners almost came south

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


SEATTLE -- Had it not been for the Yankees, Safeco Field might not have been built -- and Tampa Bay might have had major-league baseball a few years earlier.

In 1995, King County voters narrowly defeated a proposal for a new stadium to replace the dingy Kingdome, and the team's owners began talking about possibly moving the franchise. Tampa Bay was among the prospective new homes.

Then the Mariners got hot, made the playoffs and beat the Yankees in a dramatic playoff. The state legislature, riding the emotional momentum, overrode the county vote.

"It saved baseball in this town," Mariners manager Lou Piniella said of the series with the Yankees. "It got us a new stadium. They had that vote that didn't pass ... and the state legislature got involved. (The series) was intense, but the final outcome is Safeco Field.

"It will give (the ownership) the extra revenue that it needs to go out and continue to put good ballclubs on the field that can compete and get to the level of play we're at now."

In fact, 1995 was the team's second flirtation with Tampa Bay. Before Jeff Smulyan sold the team to the current Microsoft-backed owners late in 1991, he was negotiating to move the team to the Florida Suncoast Dome, now Tropicana Field.

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE: New York's Denny Neagle, today's starter against the Mariners, said he has learned something from the other Yankees pitchers since being traded to the team July 12, just as he learned from Braves pitchers when he was in Atlanta.

"I stole a little bit from Andy Pettitte as far as watching him pitch like he did (Friday night) against these guys -- what he had success with, what he didn't, and I think I can take that into my start," Neagle said.

"And you watch somebody like (Roger) Clemens, who is one of the hardest-working pitchers the way he prepares himself for starts. I've tried to follow his workout program, but I don't think anybody can do that.

"And El Duque (Orlando Hernandez), just watching his intensity and the way he goes out there and doesn't let anything bother him. ... If you can take a little from each guy, I think it can definitely help you out," Neagle said.

JUST IN CASE: It wasn't until the Yankees beat Seattle on Friday night that manager Joe Torre decided to go with Neagle today.

"To me, in evaluating everything -- and of course I talked to my two pitching coaches (Mel Stottlemyre and Billy Connors) -- my feeling was that if there is a Game 6 and Game 7, I would rather have El Duque and Pettitte at full strength in those two games," Torre said.

"The reason I was hesitant about naming (today's) starter, I'm not sure what I would have done if we were down 3-1. I'm not saying it would not have been Neagle, but I can't tell you for sure."

GETTING BETTER: Connors is the Yankees' acting pitching coach. He took over Sept. 11 when Stottlemyre left to have a stem cell transplant in his battle with multiple myeloma, cancer of the blood plasma.

"I spoke to him about 20 minutes ago. I talk to him every day and he's doing very well," Torre said of Stottlemyre a few hours before Saturday's game.

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