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December 06, 2001

Playing favorites in ALCS?
By Dan Patrick

It's difficult to pick a favorite, sentimental or otherwise, in the American League Championship Series. The New York Yankees are certainly a sentimental favorite because of the Sept. 11 tragedies. You want to see anything that could bring some cheer to that citizenry. But the Seattle Mariners may be considered a sentimental favorite, too, because of what they did on the field. You want their storybook season to end happily. And on the field, the teams are evenly matched.

Ichiro Suzuki
Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki hit .600 in the AL Division Series vs. Cleveland.
Clearly, the Mariners were the best baseball story of the year, winning an all-time record-tying 116 games in the regular season. The subplots within their story make them even more appealing.

Ichiro Suzuki more than lived up to expectations. After winning seven batting titles in Japan, he showed he belonged in our major leagues, too. He ignited the Mariners from Day One. Ichiro is the first player since Jackie Robinson to lead the majors in batting average and steals. And in his first postseason series, he hit .600, with 12 hits in five games complemented by solid defense.

Seattle manager Lou Piniella, a former Yankee who piloted the Reds to the 1990 championship, flirted with leaving this team. After all, he lost stars Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in successive years. But Lou stayed and said the Mariners would be a team to be reckoned with. This proved to be much more than manager-speak.

Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer, a 38-year-old journeyman, was told just a few years ago by his father-in-law (ESPN's Digger Phelps) to go out and get a real job. Moyer proved to be as much of a money pitcher as anyone else this season. The oldest pitcher to win 20 games for the first time, Moyer was the pitching star of the AL Division Series (2-0, 1.50 ERA vs. Cleveland).

The reclamation project of Bret Boone was also amazing. His 37 home runs and 141 RBI are stunning numbers for a second baseman. And when you think of DH, you think of Edgar Martinez, who at age 38 is still raking. Shortstop Carlos Guillen, who's been battling tuberculosis, has been cleared to play in the ALCS after missing the end of the season and the Cleveland series.

If you're rooting for the Yankees, you obviously have a hall pass this year. As Piniella said, "People who love the Yankees probably love them a little more, and those who hate them probably hate them a little less."

Derek Jeter
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hit .444 in the AL Division Series vs. Oakland.
Derek Jeter is the new Mr. October. His clutch play in Game 3 against Oakland ranks up there with The Catch made by Willie Mays in '54 off the bat of Vic Wertz. It may in some ways surpass Mays' catch, because if the Yankees lost that game, it would have ended their season. You wonder what George Steinbrenner would have done to a team that failed to live up to his expectations. Jeter's play allowed the Yankees to live to see another day, another series and perhaps another world championship.

Roger Clemens had an amazing year at age 38, becoming the first pitcher to start a season at 20-1. He finished 20-3 and will probably win his sixth Cy Young award.

I'll never forget one of the newspaper headlines when Joe Torre was first hired to manage the Yankees: Clueless Joe. All Torre has done is carve out a Hall of Fame career as a manager. There is no safety net in New York, and he's been able to tiptoe that high-wire act -- and not just survive, but thrive.

So with these two teams, there are many angles and stories to consider. Everyone is looking at the Yankees as the sentimental favorites. I have no problem with that. But I see Seattle as a sentimental favorite as well. Maybe the emotional side of us wants the Yankees to win, while the pure baseball fan inside us is pulling for Seattle.

One team for your heart, one team for your head. Should be a great series.

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