Jamie Moyer was a soft-tossing, 29-year-old journeyman lefthander
in 1992 when the Chicago Cubs suggested he give up baseball. In
the final days of spring training, a Cubs minor league executive
called Moyer into his office to tell him that he was being
released because he wasn't good enough to make the team, not with
hot prospects like Lance Dickson ready for the rotation. The
official offered Moyer a chance to start another career: as
interim assistant pitching coach for the Triple A Iowa Cubs in
Des Moines. Apparently all grounds crew positions were full.
The message was about as subtle as your father-in-law's telling
you it's time to put down the remote, wipe the Chee-tos from your
mouth and get a real job, which is almost exactly what happened
next. Moyer's father-in-law is former Notre Dame basketball coach
Digger Phelps. "He told me, 'You should go back to school and get
your degree. Maybe it's time you get a job,'" says Moyer, a
Souderton, Pa., native who had attended St. Joseph's for three
years. "I thought, You know, this isn't basketball. I feel I can
still pitch. I still had that burning desire. So as bad as the
situation seemed, I wasn't about to give up."
Moyer and his 34-54 lifetime record sat unwanted for two months
until the Detroit Tigers signed him to fill out the roster of the
Triple A Toledo Mud Hens. Even though the Tigers were on their
way to 87 defeats, they left him in the minors all season. Nine
years, three more teams and, yes, one college degree
(Indiana-South Bend '96, general studies) later, Moyer is still
in the same line of work, though given his 111-62 record since
his near-baseball-death experience, that's like saying a house
painter and Vermeer are fellow tradesmen.
Moyer, 38, isn't just another pitcher anymore. After shackling
the New York Yankees for seven innings on Sunday, bringing a
quiet end to a contentious series in which the Seattle Mariners
took two of three games in Yankee Stadium, Moyer (14-5) was tied
with Freddy Garcia as the winningest pitchers on what has a
chance to be the winningest team in major league history. He also
might well be the most important player in Seattle's quest to end
New York's run of three world championships.
While the Mariners (89-35 through Sunday) chase records that have
stood for almost 100 years, the Yankees of recent vintage remain
Seattle's most meaningful measuring stick. The Mariners took the
season series from New York, 6-3, thanks in part to wins in two
of the three games started by Moyer, in which he was 2-0 with a
1.35 ERA. If the standings hold, the two teams would meet in
October only if they advance to the American League Championship
Series, as they did last year, when the Yankees won in six games.
"I believe if we'd had a healthy Jamie Moyer last year we would
have beaten them," Mariners manager Lou Piniella says. Three days
before the opener of last fall's championship series, Moyer threw
a simulated game against teammates as a tune-up. He had just made
his last scheduled delivery when he and pitching coach Bryan
Price agreed Moyer should try one final slider to a lefty.
Catcher Chris Widger, a righthanded batter, stepped in lefthanded
and connected solidly on Moyer's pitch. The ball bounced once
before hitting Moyer on the left kneecap, causing a hairline
fracture. The Yankees battered Paul Abbott, Moyer's Game 4
replacement, for three runs in five innings to go up three games
to one in the series. "Would I have made a difference? That's
hard to say," Moyer said after his win on Sunday, "but not to be
able to perform in the playoffs was very difficult to accept."
Said Piniella, "He's a very, very good fit for us against the
Coming into Sunday's game, the Yankees had been on a home run
binge (having out-bombed opponents 11-0 over their previous five
games), but Moyer grounded them with his usual assortment of
leisurely fastballs and fiendish changeups. New York eked out one
run on five hits against Moyer, who typically throws his fastball
around 84 mph. "Slow, slower, slowest," said New York shortstop
Derek Jeter, who popped up three times against Moyer. "That's
what he's got. You don't see that kind of stuff that often, so it
kind of messes you up. He's not going to challenge you with
fastballs inside. You just have to deal with all that slow
It was difficult to accept the weekend as a dress rehearsal for
October, especially when rookie pitchers Ted Lilly of the Yankees
and Joel Pineiro of the Mariners started (neither made it through
five innings on Saturday) and aces Garcia and Roger Clemens
didn't. Clemens, only the sixth pitcher ever to win 16 of his
first 17 decisions in a season, has been so remarkable that he
even has teammate Mike Mussina gushing. "Imagine what it's like
going out there every time all year knowing the other team's only
going to get one or two runs and you're going to win the game,"
says Mussina. "I've never had that feeling--well, in high school
Here's something else to clip and save for October: This season
New York is 0-2 against Seattle and 22-1 against everyone else
when Clemens starts. (His only loss, a 6-2 defeat, came against
the Mariners on May 20.) Seattle has scored 11 runs in 14 innings
off Clemens. The Mariners have confounded even their own general
manager, Pat Gillick, by scoring more runs this season than any
other team in baseball, this after Gillick tried to make deals
for San Diego Padres third baseman Phil Nevin, Yankees
leftfielder Chuck Knoblauch, Toronto Blue Jays leftfielder
Shannon Stewart and Detroit outfielder Juan Encarnacion to
upgrade his offense.
Seattle's active roster includes only one player who has hit 30
or more home runs in a season, and that player, designated hitter
Edgar Martinez, did so once. The Mariners do, however, have
plenty of opportunistic hitters. Through Sunday they had put more
runners on base than any other team in baseball and had a
major-league-best .303 batting average with runners in scoring
Seattle also was second in the American League in stolen bases,
which, according to Piniella, prompted the Yankees to overwater
the base paths before last Friday's game. (Never mind that New
York was first in steals.) Let the racing form show that neither
Ichiro Suzuki nor Mark McLemore, both gunned down at second base
by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, is a mudder. "When Ichiro slid,
he kind of just stuck," said Mariners first base coach John
Moses. "We water our field, too, so that infielders get truer
hops, but we don't water so much near first base, so the runners
can get a good jump."
Watergate mattered little thanks to Mussina, who chucked seven
shutout innings in Friday's 4-0 New York win, despite working
with at least one runner on in all but one inning. Seattle had
been shut out only one other time this year, by Pedro Martinez of
the Boston Red Sox, on May 1. Although the shutout again raised
questions about whether the Mariners--even if they eclipse the
American League-record 114 wins of the 1998 Yankees or the
major-league-record 116 of the '06 Cubs--have enough firepower for
the postseason, those doubts were forgotten by Sunday. The
Mariners erupted for 7-6 and 10-2 victories without a hit or walk
from their usual cleanup hitter, John Olerud, who was 0 for 5 on
Saturday before getting Sunday off.
Centerfielder Mike Cameron picked up the slack with 10 RBIs in
the two wins, including a franchise-record-tying eight RBIs on
Sunday that gave him 86 for the season, a career high. "Everyone
is waiting for us to falter," said Cameron, the former Cincinnati
Red who has played splendidly in centerfield in his second season
since replacing Ken Griffey Jr. "I guess I'm a big part of how we
do. People look at Edgar, Oly and Ichiro, but if I continue to do
the job, there's a pretty good chance we will be playing long
into the year."
Seattle pounded Lilly for seven runs in less than two innings on
Saturday and held on. Piniella pulled Pineiro with two outs in
the fifth and then, to get to closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, resorted to
the Arthur Murray school of managing with his choices of
relievers: left-right-left-right. New York loaded the bases with
one out in the ninth, but Sasaki whiffed Shane Spencer and
retired Alfonso Soriano on a fly ball.
"This is a veteran team that doesn't get too high or low,"
Piniella said afterward, but the fervor in the clubhouse
indicated otherwise. The relief pitchers had placed a box of
jet-black hair coloring on Piniella's desk, in recognition of
what the game's tension might have done to the manager's graying
locks. A makeshift bird's perch hung from the locker of lefty
reliever Arthur Rhodes (8-0), who had been awarded the win by the
official scorer after working 1 1/3 scoreless innings. "That's for
the vulture," bullpen mate Ryan Franklin said, using the
nomenclature for the species of relief pitcher who snaps up lucky
wins. Laughter and the sounds of a Michael Jackson CD filled the
The Mariners are learning to live with the pressure of being the
hunted. "It's getting harder for us," Piniella said. "These
teams, they want to beat us. We play so many close games, I call
them tighteners. We'll be hardened by this."
The Seattle players also knew the victory enabled them to avoid
their first three-game losing streak of the season. Only the 1902
Pittsburgh Pirates played a season without losing three in a row.
The Mariners are 10-0 in games after two-game losing streaks.
"That's become a big motivator for us," reliever Jeff Nelson
Likewise, the win on Sunday kept alive another source of pride:
Seattle hasn't lost a series on the road since last August, a
26-series streak that ties the major league record of the 1906-07
Cubs. The Mariners are 8-0 this season in games when that streak
was endangered. Andy Pettitte (13 hits, eight runs) failed
miserably in trying to join the Oakland Athletics' Barry Zito,
the Texas Rangers' Doug Davis, the Anaheim Angels' Jarrod
Washburn and the Rangers' Kenny Rogers as the only lefthanded
starters to beat Seattle this year.
Leaving Yankee Stadium, more than a few Mariners told the
clubhouse guys they'd see them in October. "We all know we'll
have to dethrone these guys eventually to get to the World
Series," Cameron said.
Moyer, wearing an olive sport coat and blue golf shirt, looked
even less imposing out of uniform than on the mound. He's six
feet tall and weighs 175 pounds, not the sort of heft you might
expect from someone who could help topple a dynasty--or last this
long in the big leagues. He insisted he's the same pitcher the
Cubs released nine years ago. "I just didn't win a lot," said
Moyer, who bounced from Toledo to the Rochester Red Wings to the
Baltimore Orioles to the Red Sox before landing in Seattle in a
trade for outfielder Darren Bragg in 1996. His winning percentage
since is the best in Mariners history (.669, 79-39). "Your
surroundings have a lot to do with your results," he said.
"Seattle has been great for me."
Dickson, who started and lost three games for the Cubs in 1990,
never appeared in another major league game. Last year Moyer ran
into the executive who had thought Moyer was done in 1992. The
man was working as a scout for another team. "We saw each other,
and we kind of nodded," Moyer said. "We didn't have to say
anything. He knew what I was thinking, and I knew what he was
thinking. Hey, this is a business. You never know all the factors
involved in decisions like that. All I knew was that I felt I
could still pitch."
get to the World Series," said Cameron.