Yankees feel safe at Safeco


Andy Pettitte, like the rest of the New York Yankees, loves Safeco Field. Maybe even more than the Seattle Mariners. “We had such nightmares of the Kingdome,” he said Thursday, a day before the AL championship series resumes. “It was like a vacation to come to this ballpark and play.” With the series tied 1-1 going into Game 3, the Yankees aren’t about to break out the surfboards and swimsuits. Still, it’s a lot less mentally taxing than playing the ballpark where they blew a 2-0 lead in the 1995 championship series, getting swept out of the postseason. “If I look back to list our disappointments, that would be at the top of the list,” Paul O’Neill said after a relaxed workout on a sunny but-cool afternoon. Following a seven-run eighth inning that carried the Yankees to a 7-1 win Wednesday, the Yankees are brimming with confidence again. Pettitte, 7-4 in postseason play, pitches against Aaron Sele, 0-2 with losses to the Yankees in 1998 and 1999. When a demolition firm blew up the Kingdome in June, the Yankees probably wish they were there to pull the switch. They were just 67-62 there against the Mariners, and that doesn’t include the playoff debacle, which led to Buck Showalter’s departure as manager and Joe Torre’s arrival. “A lot of the guys on our team had so many bad memories of 1995 especially, and just dreaded going to the Kingdome,” Pettitte said. At Safeco, the US$517.6 million, retractable-roof stadium that opened a block away in July 1999, the Yankees went 4-0 in its first season and 3-3 this year. Unlike the Kingdome, the power alleys are spacious. “At the Kingdome, you had AstroTurf and fences you could drag-bunt home runs at,” Sele said. In his first season with the Mariners, Sele was 9-5 at Safeco and 8-5 on the road. The big stat Seattle points to is his record in the last month: 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in six starts. “Down the stretch, when we really needed somebody to step up in September, he did that big time,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. “In fact, right now, he’s our only experienced starter in the rotation. We need a big game from him, obviously.” While the Yankees’ batting slump has become front-page news, the Mariners aren’t doing well at the plate, either, scoring three runs in the first two games of the series. They averaged 5.2 runs at Safeco during the regular season and 6.0 on the road. For Mariners’ pitchers, the difference was even bigger: a 5.20 ERA on the road shriveled to 3.84 ERA at home. “Our pitchers, they relaxed more,” Piniella said. “At the Kingdome, you can make a good pitch and give up a three-run homer. Pitchers became a lot more aggressive when we got this ballpark, and it has continued this year.”