NEW YORK -- Ichiro Suzuki had been the catalyst for the Mariners' offense all season, collecting 242 hits on his way to the AL batting title (.350 average). However, Ichiro was only the second-best rookie on the field in the ALCS, taking a back seat to Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano.
|Ichiro may win Rookie of the Year, but Alfonso Soriano (left) was the top rookie in the ALCS.
The Japanese sensation, who batted .600 (12-for-20) in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians, hit just .222 (4-for-18) with three runs scored in the five-game series against New York, as his Mariners were eliminated by the three-time defending champs.
What did the Yankees do in this series that no other team was able to do in the regular season? According to Manager Joe Torre, they didn't change their regular game plan.
"You really have to move the zone around on him because he's too good of a hitter and he is going to make adjustments," Torre said. "It's really tough to make a plan as far as how to pitch him, and you can't pitch him one way. I think we have had success getting him out because we have changed not only at-bat to at-bat, but pitch-to-pitch, we change sequences. That's the only thing we knew going in is that he was too good of a hitter to pitch the same way all the time."
The Yankees have also done an exceptional job against Edgar Martinez, who had been one of the biggest thorns in New York's side over the past seven years.
"Like Ichiro, Edgar is probably the most balanced hitter I have ever seen," Torre said. "He's a good hitter. He can hit a home run. He can hit the ball over the right field wall as well as he can pull it down the left-field line, as the Yankees found out in 1995. He's such a good hitter, and you can't pitch him any one particular way because he uses the whole field. But we have been able to pitch him well."
Martinez batted .150 (3-for-20) with no RBIs. In Game 4, Martinez had a chance to extend Seattle's 1-0 lead right after Bret Boone had given the Mariners the lead with his solo home run, but Ramiro Mendoza struck out Martinez, allowing the Yankees to mount the comeback win.
"I was so proud of Mendoza last night, after giving up the home run to Bret, to come back and strike him out, because that was huge to just stop that inning right there," Torre said. "We have the ability to pitch well, and I just hope it continues. That's all I can say. There's really no magic formula here, other than we would like to believe that we prepare ourselves, and so far, we have been able to execute pretty good."
DEALING WITH STRESS: Paul O'Neill still feels the effects of the stress fracture in his left foot. He's just not letting it keep him off the field in the 2001 postseason.
O'Neill aggravated the injury on Sunday night in Game 4, but was back in the lineup for Game 5 on Monday night. Not only was he in the lineup, he contributed to the Yankees' clincher, hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning.
Torre lifted O'Neill in the bottom of the sixth on Sunday, sending Shane Spencer into the game to bat against lefty Norm Charlton. Torre said that he substituted for O'Neill for defensive purposes, not because of the injury.
"I'm feeling better day after day," O'Neill said. "Getting out back in the field has helped me so much. We're looking toward the World Series, and Joe's been putting Spencer out there in the late part of the game, which doesn't bother me a bit."
"Usually the seventh inning is about the time when I take him out of the game. Defensively, (the foot) starts barking at him," Torre said. "It's sore, but it doesn't keep him from doing what he needs to do in the outfield. I watched him. He sprints, chases the ball down off the bat. It's not like a pulled muscle where it could get worse. It could hurt more, but I don't think it is going to limit him any more."
FAST FRIENDS: Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are two of the main reasons why the New York Yankees are making a run at a fourth consecutive World Series title. But as important as these two All-Stars are to their team on the field, the two of them play important roles in each other's lives -- as best friends.
"They are very close," said Manager Joe Torre. "I think Jeter was best man at Jorge's wedding."
As much as the two stars have in common off the field, their skipper discussed how different the pair are on the diamond.
"Jorge is probably a little more fiery than Jeter emotionally, and Jeter has a more stable influence on Jorge," Torre said. "I think Derek has helped Jorge a great deal on the baseball end of it, and they have become very close friends. They have a mutual respect for each other."
Jeter, who has started for the Yankees since 1996, rose to stardom much quicker than Posada, who lingered in the minors and split time with Joe Girardi until becoming New York's full-time backstop in 2000. Through it all, they have helped support each other throughout their respective careers, even sharing an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
"They learn a little bit from each other," Torre said. "The fire that Jorge has and the demeanor and ability to win that Jeter has. You see them together all the time, and I know that they are both focused for having the limited experience they have in the big leagues."
Mark Feinsand is the site reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.