It took a humbling loss in the playoffs for the Baltimore Orioles to realize that relying on home runs isn't necessarily the best formula for post-season success.
It's the same lesson the Seattle Mariners received this year, courtesy of the revamped and refined Orioles.Relying heavily on pitching and defense, the Orioles eliminated the free-swinging Mariners from the playoffs in four games, winning the best-of-5 AL division series Sunday with a 3-1 victory.
Mike Mussina outpitched Randy Johnson for the second time in five days, sending the Mariners home for the season following a series that served as a convincing argument that good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time.
Jeff Reboulet and Geronimo Berroa homered for Baltimore, which will open its second straight appearance in the AL championship series Wednesday at home against either Cleveland or the defending World Series champion New York Yankees. New York and Cleveland are tied 2-2 going into tonight's game in the best-of-5 series.
The Mariners hit 264 home runs this season, breaking the major-league record set by Baltimore a year ago, and led the majors with 925 runs scored. All that meant
nothing in this series, as the Orioles limited Seattle to just 11 runs in the four games.
It's a fate similar to that met by Baltimore in the ALCS last year, when the Yankees rolled to victory in five games by muffling the Orioles' big bats. In the wake of that defeat, Baltimore revamped its roster to change the makeup of the team.
The Orioles dumped Todd Zeile, moved Cal Ripken to third base and brought in shortstop Mike Bordick, who made several outstanding plays in the series against the Mariners. Even Mussina, who allowed two hits over seven innings, chipped in defensively.
"The more I see him pitch the more impressed I am with him," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. "He goes out there and battles, and did you see how he fields his position? We were talking about that prior to the game. Just look at that Baltimore defense."
The pitching, though, is what carried Baltimore past Seattle. And once the Mariners' heavy hitters were neutralized, they had nothing to fall back on.
"They won 97 games (actually 98) this year for a reason. That's the difference, the pitching and the defense," said Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr., who had 56 homers in the regular season and none in the series.
Johnson, the Mariners' ace, started five games against the Orioles this season, and Seattle lost every one of them. The left-hander was 0-4 against Baltimore compared to 20-2 against the rest of league.
"If someone had told me the Big Unit would start five times against us and we would win all five of them, I'd say they were crazy," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said.
The reason, according to Piniella, is clear.
"He was matched up against Mussina, unfortunately, three of those times," Piniella said. "And Mike has just pitched outstanding against us."