Emotional Playoff Win For Al West Title Melts Away Franchise's Years Of Frustration

Somewhere in this land, Paul Serna smiled.

Somewhere, Downtown Bobby Brown chuckled aloud.

And someplace Steve Stroughter saw that his old Seattle team had completed the third greatest comeback in baseball history and surely said, as he used to while sitting on the team bus, "We be baaad."

Stroughter, whom Rene Lachemann called "Wonder" watching him try to catch a fly ball, was right in a way. In those early years and some years before and many after, the Seattle Mariners were bad.

No more.

The Seattle Mariners, carried by a force screamed toward the rafters and echoed back from the tens of thousands in the Kingdome seats, are good.

At last.

Winners. More. Champions. Clinchers of their division, the American League West, with a victory in a one-game playoff yesterday.

They told the 52,356, who stood for much of the day, a national television audience, and the part of the world that cares, with a 9-1 win over the California Angels that was as much catharsis as ballgame.

Nobody screamed it louder than Randy Johnson, who rose to the occasion with a pitching performance that not only put his name on the Cy Young Award, but must rank among the greatest athletic efforts ever in the Pacific Northwest.

Johnson threw no-hit ball at the Angels into the sixth inning, giving his team a chance to solve former Mariner ace Mark Langston - an ironic opponent on this of all days - with one run in the fifth and a break-open four on Luis Sojo's sandlot slam in the seventh. With Johnson pitching, the lock was on the Mariners' first trip to postseason play, which begins tonight against the Yankees in New York.

"If Randy Johnson doesn't win the Cy Young, no one should," said Ken Griffey Jr. "He got the fans into this game for us and he kept them in it and kept the Angels out of it, until our guys got going. We had a chance to win this in Texas and losing the last two days there it didn't work out. But all of us really wanted to win it here for our fans."

Johnson's pitching is always as emotional as it is effective. But this time it was visceral, feral, power raw like lightning in the night sky.

As if feeding off the roars of the crowd, he started strong and belted through batter after batter, inning after inning. With each two-strike count the stadium stood and screamed, the thrill of the kill, 50,000 sharks smelling strikeout in the water.

"I think the fans' emotion helps us. I think we play and succeed on emotion as well as talent," Johnson said after fanning 12, topping 10 for the 16th time this year and 66th time in his career. "When I first got here, if you wanted to see a lot of people, feel a lot of emotion, you went to a Seahawks game. But those fans have come to help us now. We've seen what Seattle and the state of Washington are made of."

The power may have peaked in the sixth inning, just after the Mariners had finally eked out a single run on Langston, whose game was as cunning as Johnson's was gunning.

Rex Hudler rolled a 2-1 pitch through the right side for a single, the Angels' first hit. "Rex and I go back a long way to the Montreal organization together," Johnson said, smiling. "As he ran down to first, he was yelling, `I got you, Randy! I got you, Randy!' "

Poor Rex. It was the other way around all along. Johnson had the Angels. He powered them, he guiled them, he beat them. Head to head, man to man.

After Hudler, representing the tying run, reached second on a pickoff play that Tino Martinez failed to finish, Johnson went to a 2-2 count to Tony Phillips. Then he rammed a fastball belt-high down the middle, the ultimate my-best, your-best, hit-it-if-you-can. Phillips went down swinging.

On the mound Johnson snarled, the competitor base and basic. He pounded his fists to his chest. His face contorted into something primal, and he howled at the rafters. He stalked off the mound. He looked up at the crowd that stood screaming back at him, and he screamed at them and raised his fists as if to gather their energy and pulled down to where his uniform read: MARINERS.

"Come on!" he was calling them, challenging them. "Come with me, come with us, get out here and join our fight!"

The place went berserk. Here, now, the years were falling away as the innings were passing and the Angels failing. "Sometimes," Johnson said of his action, "some things just come out you can't explain. This was one of them."

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing, feeling," said John Ellis, Seattle CEO who sits where Johnson could look into his eyes as he left the field for the dugout. "What emotion. I got shivers. I wanted to cry."

Johnson went back out and with 52,000 hearts riding on every pitch, he tore through the seventh.

The Kingdome sound system pounded out Steppenwolf, "Magic Carpet Ride."

"We rode like we have all year," Manager Lou Piniella said, "on Randy's big shoulders. This was his game. No one was going to take it away from him."

No one came close. Seattle scored four more runs on Sojo's bases-loaded double in the bottom of the seventh, a ball that proved once and for all that Mariner Luck had changed. With weird spin, it flicked off the glove of first baseman J.T. Snow and into the Angel bullpen as runners scampered home.

Sojo scored behind them when Langston threw a relay away, trying to do too much. It was so Old Mariner, caring but crashing. When the play was over, Langston had missed tagging Sojo at the plate and he lay on his back for a long time, staring up at the ceiling of the place where he used to play. "I knew then," he said, "it was over."

But for the Mariners, who trailed the Angels by 13 games on Aug. 2, it may be just beginning, a Magic Carpet Ride indeed. Perhaps this postseason, perhaps seasons to come. "Seattle used to be known for only grunge rock and Starbucks and Microsoft," said Johnson. "But we're on our way to making it known for baseball, too."

Even Edgar Martinez, stolid, solid Edgar, the master batsman who suffered some of Old Mariner baseball, got giddy.

"I tried to stay calm, and it was easy when the game was close. But when we went way ahead I started to think back over the years and the players who have been here and gone without this. And when we won, I was glad for myself and maybe for all of them, too."

And somewhere Paul Serna did smile. "You may not believe this," said Jim Beattie, the former pitcher who went from the frustration of the Old Mariners to farm director, "but Paul Serna called me this morning. He said he didn't want to bother us if we were busy, but he wanted us to know how happy he was for the Mariners."

Yesterday's box.

California ab r h bi bb so av. Phillips 3b 4 1 1 1 0 1 .261. DiSarcina ss 3 0 0 0 0 0 .307. c-Owen ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 .229. Edmonds cf 3 0 0 0 0 2 .290. d-EPerez ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 .169. Salmon rf 4 0 0 0 0 4 .330. CDavis dh 2 0 0 0 1 1 .318. Snow 1b 3 0 0 0 0 1 .289. GAnderson lf 2 0 0 0 0 1 .321. a-Gallagher ph-lf 1 0 0 0 0 0 .188. Allanson c 2 0 0 0 0 1 .171. b-RGonzales ph 1 0 1 0 0 0 .333. Fabregas c 0 0 0 0 0 0 .247. Hudler 2b 3 0 1 0 0 1 .265. Totals 30 1 3 1 1 12.

Seattle ab r h bi bb so av. Coleman lf 5 0 2 1 0 1 .288. Sojo ss 3 1 2 3 0 0 .289. Griffey Jr cf 3 0 0 0 1 1 .258. EMartinez dh 3 1 2 0 1 1 .356. Buhner rf 4 1 1 0 0 1 .262. Blowers 3b 3 2 2 0 1 0 .257. TMartinez 1b 2 2 1 1 1 0 .293. DWilson c 3 1 1 2 0 0 .278. Cora 2b 2 1 1 1 0 0 .297. Totals 28 9 12 8 4 4.

California 000 000 001 - 1 3 1. Seattle 000 010 44x - 9 12 0. a-lined out for G.Anderson in the 8th. b-doubled for Allanson in the 8th. c-flied out for DiSarcina in the 9th. d-grounded out for Edmonds in the 9th.E - Langston (3). LOB - California 3, Seattle 4. 2B - RGonzales (1), Sojo (18), DWilson (22). HR - Phillips (27) off RJohnson. RBI - Phillips (61), Coleman (29), Sojo 3 (39), TMartinez (111), DWilson 2 (51), Cora (39). SB - Hudler (13). CS - Coleman (16). S - Sojo, TMartinez, DWilson. SF - Cora. GIDP - Sojo, Blowers, DWilson. Runners left in scoring position - California 3 (Phillips, Hudler 2); Seattle 2 (Sojo, Buhner).DP - California 4 (Phillips, Hudler and Snow), (DiSarcina, Hudler and Snow), (Phillips, Hudler and Snow), (Gallagher, Phillips and Hudler). Angels IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA. Langston (L,15-7) 6 2/3 8 5 4 3 2 107 4.63. BPatterson 1/3 0 0 0 0 1 5 3.04. James 0 2 3 3 1 0 13 3.88. Holzemer 0 1 1 1 0 0 3 5.40. Habyan 1 1 0 0 0 1 12 4.13. Mariners IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA. RJohnson (W,18-2) 9 3 1 1 1 12 126 2.48.

James pitched to 3 batters in the 8th, Holzemer pitched to 1 batter in the 8th. Inherited runners-scored - Holzemer 3-1, Habyan 3-3. HBP - by Langston (Cora). Umpires - Home, Shulock; First, Evans; Second, Young; Third, Kosc; Left, Johnson; Right, Kaiser. T - 2:50. A - 52,356. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Times picks

Seattle Times stffers pack the winners, from the divisional playoffs to the World Series.

American league Divisional Playoffs:

Bob Finnigan Bob Sherwin Steve Kelley Blain Newnham.

Seattle vs. New York Seattle Seattle New York Seattle .

Cleveland vs. Boston Boston Cleveland Cleveland Cleveland.

National League Divisional Playoffs:

Colorado vs. Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta.

Los Angeles vs. Cincinnati Cincinnati Los Angeles Cincinnati Los Angeles.

AL Championship: Seattle Cleveland Cleveland Seattle . NL Championship: Cincinnati Atlanta Cincinnati Atlanta . World Series: Seattle Atlanta Cleveland Atlanta .