SEATTLE -- With dazzling plays by Derek Jeter, bat wizardry by Ichiro Suzuki, late-inning drama and determined comebacks, the AL championship series emerged as a baseball fan's delight.
The New York Yankees vs. the Seattle Mariners.
"I think a lot of people wanted to see this going into the postseason," Jeter said Tuesday.
"Seattle, obviously, has had a great season, the best record in the history of the American League," the Yankees' star shortstop said. "And now, we stand in their way of winning a championship. And they stand in our way of winning another one."
The Mariners, the team that could not lose, against the Yankees, the team that wouldn't be beaten.
"I guess that's the way it was meant to be," Mariners manager Lou Piniella said.
A rematch of last year's tense ALCS, a series in which Roger Clemens buzzed Alex Rodriguez in helping New York win in six games.
The Yankees, trying to become the first team to win four straight World Series crowns since Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle helped the Bronx Bombers do it a half-century ago.
"If you're going to go to the World Series, you might as well go through New York," said Seattle reliever Jeff Nelson, who spent the previous five seasons with the Yankees.
"At least someone is going to be in the World Series for the fourth year in a row - either them or me."
The Mariners, who tied a major league record by winning 116 games and broke New York's AL mark of 114 set in 1998.
"I guess when you think about it, we'd like to have kept that record," Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte said.
Pettitte will start the opener in the best-of-seven series Wednesday against Aaron Sele at Safeco Field.
Both teams are coming off stirring comebacks in the first round of the playoffs.
The Yankees became the first club ever to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games at home.
New York rallied with three straight, startling victories over Oakland - capped by the tender scene late Monday night of manager Joe Torre patting Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's face as they walked off the field arm in arm.
It was a win that most everyone in a shaken city could savor, a triumph that resonated well beyond a place torn apart by terrorist attacks.
"Of course, if we were not playing the Yankees, I'd probably want the Yankees to win," Seattle DH Edgar Martinez said. "But we're playing the Yankees, and we want to win."
Jeter, who hit .444 against Oakland and made two sensational plays in the field, is sure that others would like to see the Yankees lose, too.
"I don't think the nation is rooting for us. I don't think the people in Seattle are rooting for us," he said.
"People are going to still love to hate the Yankees. I think people in the past hated New Yorkers or said New Yorkers had some huge attitude.
"I think now when you see New York has come together, I think that the attitude or the impression that people have of New York has changed a little bit, but I don't think that the attitude toward the Yankees is going to change," he said. "I think you either love us or hate us."
The Mariners also were in danger of being eliminated when they dropped into a 2-1 deficit to Cleveland. Seattle won at Jacobs Field on Sunday, then returned home to beat the Indians in the deciding Game 5 Monday behind pitcher Jamie Moyer.
Suzuki led the way, going 12-for-20 (.600). While the Mariners lost A-Rod in the offseason, the acquisition of Suzuki helped Seattle win six of nine against New York this year.
"It'll be a great series," Moyer said. "Is it what people have been waiting for? Well, you never know."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was more certain.
"It's the matchup that everybody wanted," he said.
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