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Piniella enjoying the run

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NEW YORK -- Lou Piniella lunges back and forth as he talks. He takes a couple of steps forward, two back. His hands are always moving.

"I love every moment I get to talk baseball with Lou Piniella," Red Sox manager Jimy Williams says, "because of his passion. Don't get me wrong -- he's a fantastic baseball man. But that passion?

Lou Piniella
Lou Piniella is keeping the fire going in Seattle.

"He gets me pumped."

Piniella is older now. He's wiser, and he says he now knows "a manager can't be more emotional than his team."

He's considerably smarter now, too, partly because he manages in a pitchers' park. "People used to say I was tough on young pitchers, that I couldn't handle them," Piniella says. "But the Kingdome was tough on young pitchers. Throw the ball down, base hits skipping through. Get it up and the darned thing was out of the park. They couldn't handle the damn place."

As he prepares for the Mariners' second postseason clash with the Yankees -- his old team -- Piniella looks back at good times. And bad times -- such as managing for The Boss.

"He used to tell me, 'If you're going to get thrown out of a game, put on a show, let's get some people in the seats,' " Piniella remembers. "One time I was putting on a show, and I left my cap near homeplate so, for a grand finale, I could scoop it up and fire it into the stands as I left the field.

"Well, just as I spin around and go for the cap, the batboy picks it up and hands it to me saying, 'Mr. Piniella, you dropped your cap.'

"I screamed, 'gimme my damned prop.' "

Piniella always had a sense of the theatrical. In the fifth game of the '95 Division Series against the Yankees, Randy Johnson volunteered to be in the bullpen. Before the game, Johnson started wandering out toward the bullpen with the other relievers. "Hold it, big boy," Piniella screamed at him. "You're staying in the dugout until we need you, and I mean you."

Sure enough, in the seventh inning, Lou told Randy to walk to the bullpen, sending the Kingdome crowd into a frenzy. "Of course, he gave up the go-ahead run," Piniella says. "But we won the game and he got the win."

That victory essentially built Safeco Field and made Seattle into what Piniella calls "one of the best baseball towns in the country." ESPN Radio commentator Rob Dibble was in a Seattle restaurant after the Mariners closed out Chicago when Piniella came in -- and got a standing ovation.

When former Mariners general manager Woody Woodward hired Piniella in 1993, it was a brilliant move because it made the franchise. There have been the good times and the rocky times -- two division titles, plenty of controversy. Woodward has been replaced. Johnson is gone. Ken Griffey Jr. is gone.

Piniella remains. And he's excited about the ALCS.

One of the major moves in Woodward's final two years -- trading Johnson to Houston -- is at work in this series. The two pitchers who came in the Houston deal -- Freddy Garcia and John Halama -- are pitching Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium. "And don't forget the guy who got the bunt down (Carlos Guillen, whose bunt single won Game 3 against Chicago) was also in that trade," Piniella says.

And what about the young pitchers? Garcia and Halama each has just two full years in the bigs.

There are a lot of intriguing factors to this series, especially since Denny Neagle opens it for the Yanks. Joe Torre has set it up so Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are flip-flopped from their rotation order of the Oakland series, but he denies the fact that the only three games the Yanks have lost in their last 24 postseason outings have been started by Clemens had anything to do with the change. Piniella thinks this series will be won in the bullpen. He laments the loss of Jamie Moyer because he'd hoped to use Paul Abbott out of the bullpen three or four times, and he admits the matchups are a lot tougher with the Yanks because of their switch-hitters and left-handed hitters.

On the NL side
Even into this spring, Tony La Russa took a lot of shots in St. Louis -- from Ozzie Smith; from Whitey Herzog; from fans wanting to bring back the past.

You know what? The Bill DeWitt/Walt Jocketty/Tony La Russa/Mark McGwire Cardinals are getting their due. A player like Jim Edmonds didn't just appear out of nowhere. What knocks he had against him were because he sometimes didn't understand what rubbed teammates the wrong way, and that wasn't his fault. But after a lot of injuries and self-doubts, would Edmonds have become one of the best players in the league without McGwire?

Good question.

Don't forget, Jason Giambi still credits McGwire for the success this A's team has had. Oh yes. McGwire didn't just appear in St. Louis -- he is there because of La Russa and Jocketty.

The best baseball town in America is on top again because of the people on top.

Holes in the Sox
The Red Sox coaches believe Williams will be back as manager in 2001 and have talked to him about future plans. One thought under consideration is to put closer Derek Lowe in the rotation -- where he could be a 200-inning, 18-game winner with the space to add his changeup -- and restoring Rod Beck to the closer role. "Beck was back close to 90 (mph) at the end, and no one has more heart," pitching coach Joe Kerrigan says. "He's a special man, on a mission and obsessed."

The ideal situation is to get Tom Gordon back and use him on a limited schedule as an eighth-inning partner to Rich Garces. Gordon knows Williams, Kerrigan and bullpen coach John Cumberland will protect him, but there are issues with Dan Duquette and management at this point.

Minor league meanderings
Baseball America published its annual poll of the top prospects in each minor league. Now, we all realize that a lot happens to Single-A phenoms when they hit that wall known as Double-A, so here are some observations:

  • The White Sox had the top International League prospect in RHP Jon Garland, and four of the top nine in the Southern League in RHP Jon Rauch, 3B Joe Crede, RHP Matt Ginter and LHP Mark Buehrle. Running a little numerical rating system of BA prospects, the White Sox are kings.

  • The Phillies, Cubs and Padres are coming faster than some realize.

  • Oakland had two of the top four Pacific Coast League prospects.

  • Look at this chart and you'll realize the work Kevin Malone has to do in L.A. Here is the prospect rating:
    American		National
    Chicago     27    Philadelphia  25
    Oakland     25	Chicago       24
    Seattle     24	San Diego     22
    Texas       21	Montreal      22
    Tampa Bay   19    Houston       22
    Minnesota   18    Atlanta       21
    Toronto     16    Colorado      19
    Detroit     12    New York      18
    Boston      11    Arizona       15
    Kansas City 11    San Fransisco 14
    Anaheim     11    Cincinnati    14
    Cleveland   10    Florida       14
    New York     9    Pittsburgh    14
    Baltimore    9    St. Louis     14
                      Milwaukee     11
                      Los Angeles    7

    Teams got 5 points for full-season prospects ranked 1-3, four for 4-6, three for 6-10. They got 2 for each Double-A and Triple-A prospect ranked 11-20, one point for each player ranked in the top 10 in short-season leagues and one additional point for the top prospect in short season leagues.

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