SEATTLE -- Lou Piniella will look you in the face and say the Seattle Mariners don't care about how many games they win.
The Mariners care, and they care a lot. Despite Friday night's ninth-inning meltdown by closer Kazuhiro Sasaki that gave the Chicago White Sox an 8-6 victory, the Mariners remained 50 games over .500 with an 83-33 record.
They have a chance to break the modern records of 116-36 set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs in the National League and 114-48 set by the 1998 New York Yankees in the American League.
''We play,'' said Piniella, Seattle's ninth-year manager. ''We play hard every day. That's been the trademark of this team. When you do that, good things can happen, and they certainly have.''
After the break for the All-Star game, which was played in Seattle on July 10, Piniella said he didn't give a rip about setting any records. The Mariners held a 19-game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the AL West then and were 39 games over .500 at 63-24.
After Wednesday night's 12-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mariners were still 19 games over the A's. They were 20-7 since the All-Star break and a franchise-high 52 games over .500 at 83-31.
But Piniella, 57, was still steaming during the week about the win that got away -- Seattle's 15-14 loss in Cleveland on Sunday night in a game when the Mariners blew a 12-run lead. The Indians became the first team since 1925 to overcome a 12-run deficit.
''What happened happened,'' Piniella said, shaking his head. ''What can you do about it? That was a fluke. That game was a fluke. I'm not going to be around to see the next one.''
While resting one regular a day for the past month, Piniella has kept the Mariners playing at a high-intensity .715 winning percentage. The Mariners were distressed that they let Cleveland win a game that they believed they were entitled to. They used it as motivation.
They haven't had a letdown all season. They haven't lost three games in a row all season.
''What's the sense in it?'' Piniella said. ''What good do you derive in letting down? You've got to keep your edge and you've got to stay sharp. How you do that is playing hard and staying aggressive and taking nothing for granted. Once you get comfortable, you're looking for problems.''
Piniella doesn't let his players get comfortable. The players like playing for him, but he can manage by fear.
Piniella was quick to take left-hander John Halama out of the starting rotation and ship him out to Triple-A Tacoma June 28 when he struggled in consecutive games against Oakland. Halama's back with the Mariners now, but right-hander Joel Pineiro, 22, has Halama's place in Seattle's rotation.
When the Mariners beat the Blue Jays 5-4 in 14 innings Tuesday night, Halama pitched six shutout innings in relief and was the winning pitcher.
''I don't know what Lou is thinking,'' Halama said after the game.
What he's thinking is this: He wants his 2001 Mariners to win as many games as they can possibly win during the regular season and then win the World Series.
Piniella managed the 1990 Cincinnati Reds to a four-game sweep over Oakland in the World Series. That Reds' team won 91 games.
''If you lose your edge and you get complacent, things can head south real quick,'' he said. ''Real quick.''
It's a philosophy that is shared by all the Mariners' players.
This is a Mariners team that was supposed to finish second to Oakland, the defending champion, in the AL West this season because of the loss of Alex Rodriguez as a free agent to the Texas Rangers during the winter.
First in the AL in pitching and defense, the Mariners are a surprising second to the Indians in offense in the league.
''It just seems like we have to go out and continue to prove ourselves every day until we win the World Series,'' All-Star center fielder Mike Cameron said. ''That's the way we're going to approach it.''
The Mariners may have the best record, but they know they won't be considered the best team until they're the world champions. The New York Yankees beat the Mariners in six games in the AL championship series last fall.
Seattle is in New York for a series next weekend.
''Obviously, the New York Yankees are the defending champions, and they are the team to beat,'' Cameron said. ''We'll let people call it the way they see it.''
All-Star first baseman John Olerud was a member of Toronto's 1992 and 1993 world title teams. He said this Mariners team compares favorably with those two Blue Jays teams, although Toronto had bigger names in its lineup.
''Offensively in Toronto, people expected more from us,'' Olerud said. ''You had some superstar guys like Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, some of those types of guys over there. I don't think people thought we had enough offense. So I think our offense has kind of surprised people.''
All-Star second baseman Bret Boone, who led the AL with 104 RBI after Friday night's game, has probably been the Mariners' MVP although rookie right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, another All-Star, has been sensational, too.
Boone said the Mariners have something that the other major league teams don't have -- supreme confidence.
''The feeling in the clubhouse after tough losses is that we're going to come out the next day and stick it to 'em,'' Boone said. ''You've got to believe you're going to win.''
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