Originally created 10/09/01

Maddux, Mariners and maybe McGwire begin playoff quest

Greg Maddux is ready to renew the quest and the Seattle Mariners are eager to start, too. Mark McGwire might even join this party.

A week later than scheduled, baseball begins its postseason on Tuesday with a focus on strong pitching, a pair of 100-win teams and a few stars hoping to reverse past fortunes.

Oh, and this October constant - the New York Yankees trying to defend their World Series title.

"This is the time of year when you make a name for yourself in sports. You know, red light players," Curt Schilling, who will start Game 1 for Arizona against St. Louis, said Monday.

"As a pitcher, I try to feed on that. It's crunch time," he said. "All that money that they pay us, this is where they collect their dividends from that."

The best-of-five first round starts Tuesday afternoon at Enron Field, where Maddux and the NL East champion Atlanta Braves will face the Central-winning Houston Astros.

Maddux will be making his 25th postseason start. The Braves have won 10 straight division titles, but have won only one World Series championship.

With 88 wins, the Braves have the fewest wins among the eight playoff teams. Everyone else has at least 91.

"I really don't think we've had an off-year," Maddux said. "I'd hope we can have five or six more off-years like this one."

Astros stars Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are hoping to overcome postseason failures. Despite winning division titles from 1997-99, Houston never made it past the first round and twice was chased by Atlanta.

In those playoff defeats, Bagwell hit .128 with no home runs and four RBIs and Biggio batted .119 with only one RBI.

"Even though they've struggled in three postseasons, that probably doesn't cover more than 30, 40 at-bats," Houston manager Larry Dierker said. "However many at-bats, it's not enough to have a representative sample of how good they are."

Later, the AL playoffs begin when the Mariners take their record-tying season of 116 wins against the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field.

"I don't think we're going to carry any burden into the postseason," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. "We're not going to have to say much. I haven't said much all year. This team doesn't like losing."

At night, the wild card Cardinals take on NL West winner Arizona at Bank One Ballpark.

Schilling, a 22-game winner, will make his first postseason appearance since 1993 with Philadelphia. Randy Johnson, who won 21 times and came within 11 strikeouts of Nolan Ryan's single-season record, starts Game 2.

Johnson has lost six straight postseason decisions, a major league record.

"I don't think I could've gone wrong with either choice," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said.

It's still not certain how much the Big Unit and the Diamondbacks will see McGwire. Bothered by bad knees, the former home run champion hit only .187 this season and manager Tony La Russa was not sure whether Big Mac would start the opener.

On Wednesday night, the three-time World Series champion Yankees open at home against Oakland. Roger Clemens starts against Mark Mulder in an attractive matchup of 20-game winners in the opener.

The Yankees, who beat Oakland in a deciding Game 5 last October, got healthy during the extra week added to the season after the terrorist attacks.

Closer Mariano Rivera is back from a cortisone shot in his right ankle and starters Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte did well after being slowed by sore elbows. Paul O'Neill is ready to play right field.

"We're in a lot better shape this week than last week at this time," manager Joe Torre said. "We wouldn't have panicked if we started last week. But we were not in as good shape as we are now."

The Athletics went 58-17 after the All-Star break and finished with 102 victories.

"It would be disappointing if we didn't get further than we did last year," Oakland first baseman Jason Giambi said. "But at the same time, that's a pretty imposing team over there."

The view is the same from the other side.

"It could be a classic series," New York first baseman Tino Martinez said. "Both teams have good offenses, very good starting pitching, good bullpens. It's two solid teams that are hungry."


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