Originally created 09/05/01

Business as usual for Mariners



SEATTLE - No wild celebration. No champagne party. It was just another victory for the Seattle Mariners.

The methodical Mariners became the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff berth Monday night but they have more on their minds than just getting into the postseason.

They want to get to the World Series for the first time.

"There are no hidden messages," Mark McLemore said. "We play this game to win and that's why we are all here. This year we've won a lot."

The Mariners wrapped up at least a wild-card berth when they beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 3-2 in 11 innings Monday. The win gave them a best-in-baseball 99-39 record and reduced their magic number to win the AL West to seven with 24 games to go.

They've been wire-to-wire leaders in the division, where the Oakland Athletics were the defending champs and the preseason favorites.

Seattle went 20-5 in April and 20-7 in May. By the All-Star break, they were 19 games in front of the A's and were 63-24. They're 33-15 in the second half and 3-0 to start the final month.

"Let's just keep winning and then we'll see where we stand in October," Mike Cameron said.

The Mariners have not lost three straight nor dropped a road series all season.

They have a chance to break the 1906 Chicago Cubs' modern record of 116 wins. The American League victory mark is 114, by the 1998 New York Yankees.

Anything short of getting to the World Series will be a disappointment for them. They reached the AL championship series in 1995 and again last season.

"It's great to clinch, but we're focusing on tomorrow and we still have a long ways to go," said Stan Javier, whose infield chopper in the 11th scored Al Martin with the winning run.

Manager Lou Piniella, whose 1990 Cincinnati Reds won the World Series, was candid about the Mariners' No. 1 goal.

"Our ambitions are more than just making the playoffs," he said.

Nobody expected this. Nobody in Seattle. Nobody in baseball.

This is a team that lost its No. 3 hitter, All-Star shortstop Alex Rodriguez, to the Texas Rangers this winter. Rodriguez had 41 home runs and 132 RBI last season.

And Rodriguez was the last of Seattle's three superstars to leave.

The Mariners were forced to trade Ken Griffey Jr., the best player in the franchise's history, to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2000 season.

They had to trade Randy Johnson, the best pitcher in the franchise's history, to the Houston Astros at the trading deadline of the 1998 season.

But the Mariners have a new superstar.

Ichiro Suzuki went 2-for-5 in Monday night's game and leads the AL with a .352 batting average. His 66th multihit game of the season gave him 211 hits for the season, and broke Rodriguez' team record of 65 set in 1996.

An old star has returned, too.

Jay Buhner, who hit 40 home runs or more each season for the Mariners from 1995-97, was in the field for the first time this year on Monday, starting in left. He had his first hit of the season, too.

Buhner, who had been out all season because of a sore left arch, got a standing ovation from Safeco Field's sellout crowd.

"Jay has labored a lot over the last year and today is his Labor Day," Piniella said. "It was important to give the fans a chance to welcome him back."