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Soriano homer lifts Yankees

Rookie second baseman connects off Seattle's Kaz Sasaki in the ninth.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 22, 2001


NEW YORK -- The championship series record 15 walks were hard to forget. But it was the way Alfonso Soriano sprinted around the bases Sunday night after hitting the winning home run that the Yankees will most remember.

Soriano hit a two-run home run with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Yankees to a 3-1 victory against the Mariners and within one win of another World Series appearance.

"A very big moment," the 23-year-old rookie said.

With a 3-1 AL Championship Series lead, the Yankees have three chances, starting with Game 5 tonight, to get the one win needed to secure their fourth consecutive trip to the World Series and fifth in six years. Of the 10 teams to take 3-1 ALCS leads, six advanced to the Series.

The Yankees would like to wrap it up tonight and avoid a trip to Seattle for a sixth and possibly seventh game, and they are confident with big-game hunter Andy Pettitte on the mound.

"Of course it's in our minds to go and try and end this thing (tonight)," Bernie Williams said.

The Mariners, who won a record-tying 116 regular-season games, face three consecutive must-win games to salvage their season.

"This puts us in a rather precarious position," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. "Outside of that, we gave it the best we could. We played a good ballgame. Actually, it was a great ballgame. We didn't lose; we just got beat."

Either way, the defeat was especially cruel for the Mariners, who were five outs from a 1-0 win that would have tied the series.

"We had a win in our back pocket and the world champs came back and snatched it," said pitcher Paul Abbott, who walked eight in five innings.

After the teams managed one hit apiece through the first seven innings -- as much a product of the their pitchers' wildness as their effectiveness -- the Mariners took the lead when Bret Boone homered off Ramiro Mendoza with two outs in the eighth.

"I think we were feeling pretty good about it," Boone said. "Especially with the lack of offense to that point. We felt pretty good about our chances."

But the Yankees struck right back. In the bottom of the eighth, Bernie Williams drove a 3-and-2 pitch from Arthur Rhodes over the rightfield fence to tie it at 1. It was the 15th postseason home run of Williams' career.

"Bernie looks like he has some at-bats that don't make sense for his ability, and then all of a sudden when something needs to happen, it's like there's a certain amount of magic that's tied to him," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

"We all expect it, and he's never let us down."

With the score tied at 1, both teams turned to their closers.

Mariano Rivera needed just three pitches to set down the Mariners, with Soriano making an excellent play on Stan Javier's bunt. "I'd never done that before," Rivera said. "They were hitting it and making outs."

After Seattle's Kaz Sasaki got one out, the winning rally started with a great play by shortstop Mark McLemore, who dove to his left to snag a ball scorched by Scott Brosius but threw wide of first.

Then Soriano, who hit 18 homers during the season, drove Sasaki's 1-and-0 pitch over the right-centerfield fence. It was the sixth game-ending home run in ALCS history, the fourth by a Yankee.

The Yankees drew 10 walks, all in the first six innings, but couldn't score a run. "You'd think we'd take advantage of one of those situations," Derek Jeter said, "but it didn't happen until the eighth."

The starting pitchers had interesting nights. New York's Roger Clemens, still hampered by a sore hamstring, gave up one hit but was taken out after five innings. Abbott did him one better, not allowing any hits, but he too was gone after five, having walked eight, one shy of the ALCS record.

The Mariners, who lost one road series all season, insisted they still are confident.

"We've been battling all year," Boone said. "This team isn't just going to crawl up because we're down 3-1."

Said Abbott: "I think this team is going to come back confident and pull out a win and take it back to Seattle."

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