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Mariners are talking World Series talk

March 28, 1997

SEATTLE (AP) _ A healthy Randy Johnson _ and he’s been that this spring _ and offseason additions of Jeff Fassero and Scott Sanders may be enough to carry the Seattle Mariners into their first World Series.

At least, that’s the way the team is thinking.

``We have a chance this year,″ Edgar Martinez said. ``It could very well happen.″

``Pitching is going to win you a championship,″ Paul Sorrento said. ``I think we proved that last year.″

In Seattle, where a new $414 million outdoor ballpark is supposed to be ready for occupancy in 1999, the expectations for the Mariners have never been higher. Now, the franchise that was the brunt of baseball jokes in the ’80s has, in the next decade, become one of the American League’s most stable operations.

The Mariners won the AL West title in 1995 and got within two wins of the World Series.

With Johnson back in the rotation after making only eight starts last year because of a bulging disc, the Mariners believe they’re a better club than the one two years ago.

``I think it’s our best team,″ Martinez said. ``It’s a pretty complete team.″

``Actually, the expectations are a lot higher for the team than they are for me,″ said 21-year-old shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who led the major leagues with a .358 batting average last season.

Here are the reasons why the Mariners think they’re better than the New York Yankees, last season’s World Series champs:

_ Johnson, 33, is healthy after undergoing back surgery last Sept. 12 and still has his 98 mph fastball. The Mariners hope the 6-foot-10 left-hander and four-time All-Star can be the dominant pitcher that he was in 1995, when he went 18-2 and won the AL Cy Young Award.

_ Fassero, 34, a crafty left-hander, will supply them with enough victories and innings. At Montreal last season, he won 15 games and pitched 231 2-3 innings.

_ Sanders, 28, a right-hander acquired in a trade with San Diego in December for Sterling Hitchcock. He has put his injury problems behind him and is finally ready to pitch 200 innings. Sanders was 9-5 with a 3.38 ERA with the Padres last year after being on the disabled list twice in 1995 because of tendinitis and a sprained ligament in his right elbow.

_ By adding Fassero and Sanders and getting Johnson back, the Mariners’ rebuilt rotation will take the strain off their bullpen, which will feature Bobby Ayala, Rafael Carmona and closer Norm Charlton.

_ Their offense, featuring All-Stars Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Rodriguez and Martinez, will be overpowering again this season after breaking two 60-year-old major-league records last year with 607 extra-base hits and 2,741 total bases. Last season, the Mariners hit 245 home runs _ second only to Baltimore’s 257 _ with 49 by Griffey, 44 by Buhner, 36 by Rodriguez, 26 by Martinez, 24 by Wilson and 23 by Sorrento.

Sorrento, the Mariners’ first baseman, was a member of the 1995 Indians featuring Albert Belle and Eddie Murray that kept Seattle out of the World Series.

``The pitching won it for us that year, though,″ Sorrento, 31, said. ``There’s no doubt about it. As good as our offense was, we still won those 2-1 and those 3-2 games.″

That’s Sorrento’s point.

``We went out and scored almost a thousand runs, and broke a lot of offensive records last year,″ he said. ``But we didn’t make the playoffs. Well, it comes down to pitching and I think everybody knows that.″

Without Fassero and Sanders, and getting only five victories from Johnson, the Mariners won a club-record 85 games last season to finish 4 1/2 games behind Texas in the AL West.

That was with a staff that also compiled a franchise-worst 5.21 ERA, fourth-worst in the league.

For many players, this is the year that, hopefully, will complete the picture.

Martinez, a two-time AL batting champion, is rich beyond his wildest dreams after his humble beginnings in Puerto Rico. At 34, only one thing is left to fulfill him as a player.

``I’ve had some good years and I’ve grown in the game,″ he said. ``Now, a World Series ring is the only thing I’m missing.″

End Adv weekend editions, March 29-30.

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