From Out Of Left Field, A View Of 1St -- Newfield, Amaral Lead M's Charge In Al West
Left field always has been a tough position for the Seattle Mariners to fill. Only one has been tougher.
Could it be that without one they have little chance at the other?
In trying to fill the void in left, the Mariners have gone from Ken Griffey Sr. to pitcher Jeff Nelson. From big Kevin Mitchell to Tiny (Mike) Felder.
Thirty-five Mariners have played left during the six-plus-season tenure of center fielder Ken Griffey Jr.
Marc Newfield just might stick.
The 22-year-old, called up from Class AAA Tacoma on Friday after Griffey suffered a broken wrist, had a clutch first-inning, RBI single in the Mariners' 7-3 victory over New York last night. It followed his two-hit, two-RBI game Monday.
Another left fielder, Rich Amaral, 33, who was Newfield's defensive replacement, had his second straight game-winning hit - a two-out, two-run single during the M's five-run eighth inning.
Suddenly, left fielders are becoming productive. And suddenly, first place is in sight.
The Mariners, off to their fastest start in franchise history (18-13), are just 1 1/2 games behind first-place California in the AL West. If the Mariners climb into first at any time from now through October, it automatically would be the latest into the season in franchise history.
Amaral, who hit a 12th-inning home run Monday to beat the Yankees, is just keeping left field hot until Newfield, batting .176, settles in.
"He's a great hitter. I got the chance to see him last year when I was sent down (to Class AAA Calgary)," Amaral said. "He was getting two, three hits a night.
"He just has to make a little bit of an adjustment up here. It'll take a while before he feels real comfortable," he added. "That's tough to have that potential (tag) thrown at you and expecting so much at a young age."
One adjustment is defense. Learning the position has been a slow process for the converted first baseman, the M's top draft pick in 1990. Tacoma Manager Steve Smith said last fall that Newfield "is not ready defensively."
Mariner outfield coach Sammy Mejias has worked with Newfield during training camp and his three short (38 games) stints with Seattle.
Asked if Newfield has advanced well enough defensively to stay with the team, Mejias said, "If he hits well, he can."
That means his bat weighs much more than his glove.
Newfield said the difference in his defense from last year "is night and day. I've been working hard in the outfield. I'm reading the ball better. I'm going hard after every ball.
"I'm definitely ready to be here. I just have to go out there and show it."
Newfield also has been working on his stroke with batting coach Lee Elia and Manager Lou Piniella.
"If his mechanics get straightened out, he can be a productive major-league hitter," Piniella said. "He's a very talented young man."
Piniella said that Newfield is still learning left field, "but I can take him out in the seventh for defensive purposes if I have to."
He did last night, inserting Amaral. Managerial genius.
"It's ironic because he was replacing me a couple weeks ago," Amaral said. "The reason I guess is I can cover a little more ground than Marc."
The Mariners had jumped to a 2-0 first-inning lead off Yankee starter Melido Perez. But the Yankees led off five innings of starter Tim Belcher's seven innings with a hit.
They scored single runs in the fifth and seventh. Both rallies were started by rookie Derek Jeter.
Jeter opened the fifth with his first major-league hit, a single to left. He scored on Jim Leyritz's two-out double into the left-center gap. The Mariners nearly escaped without damage but second baseman Joey Cora mishandled a potential double-play ball.
Jeter started the seventh with a single to center. That would be Belcher's 92nd and final pitch. New Class AAA Tacoma arrival, left-hander Ron Villone, took over against the predominantly left-handed lineup.
Villone, who had worked in four of Tacoma's previous five games, was touched for three hits and one run, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
Meanwhile, Perez was cruising. After a two-out single in the second, he had retired 16 straight batters, through the seventh.
Mike Blowers opened the eighth with an infield single to short. Cora bunted him to second. Alex Diaz moved him to third with a groundout. Tino Martinez walked and Edgar Martinez tied the game at 3-3 with a run-scoring single to center. Amaral followed with a two-run shot to center and Chad Kreuter later doubled his season RBI total with a two-run single to left.
--------------------------------------------------------. STREAKING. . Here are the hottest teams in baseball over the past 10 games. Seattle has won seven of its last eight: . Team W-L. . Cincinnati 9-1. Philadelphia 8-2. Atlanta 8-2. Seattle 7-3. Kansas City 7-3. California 7-3. Cleveland 7-3.
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