If there was ever any doubt that Lou Piniella wears Mariner Blues as proudly as he did New York pinstripes, he put it forcefully to rest last night.
No more than 10 minutes after his Seattle club dropped a second tough loss to the Yankees, 3-2, giving New York 2-0 control in the ALCS, Piniella threw down a challenge to his own team, and possibly to his former one.
"I'm going to tell you one thing: We're going to be back here to play Game 6," the manager said fiercely.
He didn't even wait to get to the interview room, but stopped en route and said his in-your-face words to a throng of reporters waiting to enter the Mariners' clubhouse.
"You don't have to ask questions," Piniella said. "Just print it. We're coming back here to play."
With the next three games at Yankee Stadium, Seattle faces a far greater degree of difficulty than 1995 when the Mariners came home in the AL Division Series in the same two-down state and won three straight at the Kingdome.
Knowing this, knowing that New York pitching as shut down his league-leading offense, knowing his words will be tabloid fodder in the Big Apple, Piniella did not step back an inch later in his office.
"Those people are ready to be had," he said of the Yankees, "if someone just has them. You've just got to go out and kick their asses. That's all you've got to do."
His listeners this time were a much smaller group that included General Manager Pat Gillick and a half-dozen club officials and scouts.
"They're like vine-ripened fruit that needs to be picked," he said. "You don't get intimidated, you just pick them and they'll fall off the damn tree. We're not going to be intimidated going into Yankee Stadium. We've won five of six games there this year."
While his players did not hear any of this last night, they were pleased when they were told.
"I love it," Mark McLemore said. "We all feel the same way."
"A good game, but a bad loss," said second baseman Bret Boone. "No one is down in this room. This is our second gut-check of this week. On Sunday, we had to win in Cleveland or we were done. Saturday, we have to win, too, if we're going to make something of this series. I think we have a lot of baseball left to play."
Apparently, so does Piniella.
There was a reason Yankees manager Joe Torre called for an intentional walk to Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki in the seventh inning with the tying run on second.
"Because he's Suzuki," Torre said. "There's not many rookies you're going to walk, but he's a special player."
The move paid off in the Yankees' 3-2 victory in Game Two of the AL championship series. Mark McLemore grounded out to end the inning.
"No disrespect to McLemore, but he just puts the ball in play too much and gets too many hits to do that," Torre said of Suzuki, who is just 2 for 7 in the series. "I've done that before. And again, it can come back to bite you in the rear end sometimes, but I really felt that was the thing I wanted to do."
Suzuki, the Mariners' star leadoff hitter and right fielder from Japan, led the majors with 242 hits in the regular season, hit .350 to win the AL batting title, and had the most steals in the majors with 56.
Edgar Martinez doesn't look like his usual self right now. At the plate, he's struggling. On the bases, he's hobbling.
Martinez limped around the bases in Seattle's Game One loss to the Yankees in the AL championship series and didn't look any more nimble in Thursday night's 3-2 loss in Game Two.
The longtime designated hitter grounded into a double play and is 2 for 8 with three strikeouts so far in the series.
Health wise, he's not at his best.
Martinez has a mild strain to his left groin, and has battled leg injuries all season.
"He's at 60 percent," trainer Rick Griffin said Thursday before Game 2.
His hitting isn't affected, Griffin said. Martinez was batting .300 (6-for-20) with two home runs and five RBIs in six playoff games going into Thursday.
Neither the Mariners nor the Yankees have workouts scheduled for today's off day, but Martinez will go to Yankee Stadium for treatment and to take batting practice, manager Lou Piniella said.
"He doesn't like to sit a day," Piniella said.
The Mariners want to be part of the tributes, too. The Yankees wear hats reading "NYPD" or "FDNY" to honor police and firefighters who died in the September terrorist attacks, or to show gratitude to those worked tirelessly to try to rescue trapped victims in the World Trade Center rubble.
Now the Mariners have their own version.
Assistant Seattle police chief Jim Pugel handed out navy-blue hats to players with a Seattle PD patch on the front before Thursday's game.
Piniella said the Mariners would visit firehouses, rescue workers and victims if asked.
"If we're needed anywhere, we'd be more than happy to do it," he said. "We'll go anywhere we're asked."
Chuck Knoblauch doesn't want to talk about Ichiro Suzuki. The Yankees leadoff hitter would rather not hear comparisons to Seattle's Japanese star hitting in the same spot in the batting order.
"I'm just trying to do my job," Knoblauch said after a strong Game One. "I'm not worried about Ichiro. Let the pitchers worry about him. ... It doesn't matter what Ichiro does."
Hey, Chuck, you're two-up. Knoblauch is 5 for 8 in two games. Suzuki is 2 for 7.
"I just moved through the ball well and swung the bat well," Knoblauch said after going 2 for 3 in Game Two.