M's Add Punch To Lineup -- Fight, Not Flight, May Push Team Into Overdrive

Seattle Mariner catcher John Marzano was so rapt on loading up a haymaker intended for Yankee outfielder Paul O'Neill that he might not have considered the big picture.

Pitcher Chris Bosio no doubt had his hands too full of outfielder Darryl Strawberry's throat that he didn't bother to weigh the down-the-road corollaries.

Those four players were central figures last night in a 17-minute, eighth-inning brawl that resulted in their ejections. For their parts, they were reacting instinctively to an emotional boil-over in the series finale, a 10-2 Mariner victory.

But their actions also may have provided some ancillary benefits, as well.

"Sometimes," Mariner Manager Lou Piniella said, "this kind of thing brings a team together."

That element can't be over-valued, especially with each team anticipating a 30-game stretch drive.

"You can't win, if you don't get along. It can't be done," M's reliever Norm Charlton said.

The Mariners have a bonded core of players from last season's AL West championship team, but trades and injuries have changed the clubhouse chemistry so much that a little reinforcement is not so bad.

"We have a lot of different guys here coming over from different teams. We have guys from the minors who don't know the approach up here," starting pitcher Terry Mulholland said. "So when you have the adrenaline going, guys are out there not necessarily for their own benefit, but to stick up for their teammates."

"I've seen this pull together teams before," said Mulholland, who recalled how a spring-training brawl while he was with Philadelphia in 1993 launched the Phillies to a 7-0 start - and the NL pennant.

Certainly, the balance of the homestand - four games with Baltimore beginning tonight and three with Boston - should test this newfound bond.

The Mariners are now just 5 1/2 games behind Texas in the AL West and one game out in the wild-card race. But as Seattle's series sweep compounded New York's late-season collapse, the Yankees also believe they can reap some cohering qualities from the outbreak.

"You could see this building up with all the brush-back pitches," Yankee starter Dwight Gooden said. "This could help us."

"Right now we're on the edge of frustration," said Yankee Manager Joe Torre, whose team's 12-game lead in the AL East has shrunk to four. If both teams reach the playoffs, it may be that both can point to this game as the one that started their fires.

That's not unusual. Look what happened last season. The Mariners pointed to their Aug. 24 comeback game here against New York as the one that ignited their 24-11 run to their first title.

Strangely, the Yankees say that game was the one that started their 26-9 run to capture the wild card. The teams then met in a memorable five-game playoff series.

Yankee Mariano Duncan, who was knocked down by Rafael Carmona to start the bad blood on Tuesday, said Piniella targeted O'Neill because of some history when both were with Cincinnati.

"He doesn't like Paul," Duncan said. "He hates him. Paul became a better hitter in New York and now he (Piniella) throws at him."

Reliever Tim Davis, whose first pitch was high and tight to O'Neill, cited a different reason.

"The last two times I faced him I threw him nothing but breaking balls away and he hit me back up the middle," Davis said. "So I knew the next time I faced him I'd have to show him something inside."

When O'Neill complained to home-plate umpire Rocky Roe, Marzano told him to stop whining. They pushed on each other. Marzano ripped off his mask and launched a straight right-hand punch. O'Neill ducked and grabbed. The benches emptied.

"It felt good to see everyone rally behind my back," Marzano said.

Bosio, Bobby Ayala, Marzano, Strawberry and O'Neill were ejected. The only reported injury was to Mariner Joey Cora, who was caught in a headlock during the melee. Cora, who is listed as day-to-day with soreness in his neck and elbow, stayed in the game until the bottom of the eighth, only to be hit by ex-teammate Jeff Nelson.