Seattle Mariners postsTuesday July 27, 2010
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1999)
Read the reason why I'm writing this—plus Jay Buhner's cycle here.
Read about collapsed domes and collapsed seasons here.
Read about the Refuse to Lose season here.
Read about the greatest lineup ever here.
Read about forever blowing ballgames in '97 here.
Read about the worst law firm ever (Timlin, Spoljaric, Fossas and Slocumb) here.
1999: ONE MAN LEFT ON BASE
April 5: White Sox 8, M's 2: Junior goes deep in the bottom of the 3rd to put the M's up, 2-0. It's the seventh straight Opening Night I've gone to and Junior has homered in FIVE of them. He always started the season right. What's my hope for '99? I don't remember. Did I have one? Though starter Jeff Fassero gets shelled, reliever Brett Hinchliffe gives up only 1 run in 3 innings, and, for a brief moment, becomes our great bullpen hope. It's probably the best game of his career. Hinchliffe appears in only 11 games for the M's in 1999 and only 3 more in the Majors: 2 with the Angels in 2000 and 1 with the Mets in 2001. He retires with an 0-5 record and a 10.22 ERA.
- April 14: Rangers 9, M's 6: Starter Butch Henry gives up 4 runs in 5+ innings, set-up man Jose Paniagua gives up 1 run in 2 2/3, and new closer Jose Mesa gives up 4 runs in 2/3 of an inning. Of course it's Paniagua who gets the loss. That's baseball.
- May 15: Royals 11, M's 10: Junior goes deep in the 1st. M's take a 9-7 lead into the 8th but Jose Paniagua, our first legitimate bullpen hope after the debaccles of '97 and '98, is trotted out for a third inning and gives up a 3-run homer to Carlos Beltran and a solo homer to Johnny Damon. Paniagua lasts with the M's until 2001 and in Major League Baseball until 2003, when the White Sox give him a shot. His career ERA with the M's is 3.77.
- May 17: M's 15, Twins 5: My first win of the season! The M's 17th. (They're 17-21.) Johnny Halama, part of the Randy trade, relieves Mac Suzuki in the 3rd inning for the win. Edgar hits 2 homers. Butch Huskey hits 2 homers. Is this Huskey's greatest game ever? He goes 4-5, scores 3 times, drives in 7. By mid-season he'll be with the Red Sox. By 2001 he'll be out of Major League Baseball. But for one day he was golden.
- May 29: M's 11, Devil Rays 5: Another win! Hey, the M's are over .500 (25-23)! Joey Cora's gone by now so Lou has Brian Hunter leading off for us. For the season he'll have 527 plate appearances, hit .231 with an OBP of .277. Possibly the worst lead-off hitter in baseball history. His last year in baseball is 2003. He'll play in exactly 1,000 games.
- June 1: O's 14, M's 11: Freddy Garcia, another of the Randy acquisitions, pitches poorly, but 4 of the Orioles' 11 runs come from Jordan Zimmerman (0 IP) and 4 come from Mac Suzuki (2 2/3 IP). Valiant, humorous effort in the bottom of the 9th off O's set-up man... Mike Timlin, who comes in with a 8-run lead. The M's know him well. They feast. Double, lineout, double, home run, walk, home run. Now we're down by 3 so they bring in Arthur Rhodes, who gets Brian Hunter and A-Rod. A year later, Rhodes will be with us. He'll be part of that great bullpen squad of 2000-2001. The irony, the irony.
- June 11: M's 7, Giants 4: At this point in the season, the M's have four players with OPSs over 1.000: A-Rod, Junior, Edgar and...Butch Huskey? Brian Hunter is still leading off for us. Jose Mesa saves his 12th game. He's got an ERA of 7.20.
- June 26: M's 5, Rangers 4: It's the second-to-last MLB game ever at the Kingdome, and my last. Junior goes 0-3, Alex 0-5. Edgar hits 2 doubles. The last homer I see hit at the Kingdome, where I saw so many homers hit, is by Tommy Lampkin in the bottom of the 6th. The Rangers have a shot in the 9th against Mesa and his 7.76 ERA. They get men on first and second with only one out; but Rafael Palmeiro grounds into a double play: David Bell to A-Rod to David Segui. Bye-bye, Kingdome. You gave me the best baseball I ever saw. Also the worst. When the Kingdome is imploded in March 2000, I watch from a distant ridge and am appalled when a cheer from the crowd goes up. It was an ugly stadium but it didn't want to be. We made it that way.
- July 16: Padres 2, M's 1: It's the second game at Safeco Field and my first. It's a beauiful evening, we're outdoors, the sun is shining, but the final score is a sign of things to come. We would go from near-football scores to near-futbol scores. No one hit a homer in the first game so anticipation was great every time Griffey stepped up. Babe Ruth hit the first homer at Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, and Junior was our Ruth, and this was his house, but we didn't exactly build it to his dimensions. The porch in right wasn't short, the way it was at Yankee Stadium, and in this game, after going 1 -3 with a double in the first game at Safeco, Junior grounded out, grounded out, struck out, and singled in the 8th. Winning pitcher for the Padres? Our old pal, Sterling Hitchcock. He would play until 2004 and retire with a 74-76 record and a 4.80 ERA.
- July 18: Mariners 8, D-Backs 7 (10 innings): Junior didn't hit the first homerun at Safeco Field. Russ Davis did, the night before, in the bottom of the 5th, followed, a batter later, by A-Rod. Two innings later, Raul Ibanez hit the first grand slam at Safeco. So all the Safeco milestones were taken by this game. But at least I was there for Junior's first homer at Safeco, in the bottom of the 4th, off Omar Daal, when the M's are down 6-0. He makes it 6-1. He's also part of the rally in the 6th that brings us within one: 5 runs on six singles and a walk. Then he ties it in the 7th without a hit: walk, stolen base, scamper to 3rd on E2 on the throw, home on Edgar's sac fly. Russ Davis wins it in the 10th on a single driving in pinch-runner John Mabry. Russ Davis again! This is his last year with the M's. He retires after the 2001 season: .257/.310.444. Not worth Tino but you gave us more game-winning hits than I remember, Russ.
- July 20: D-Backs 6, Mariners 0: Randy goes 9, strikes out 10, allows no runs. Just like old times. Except he's doing it for the Diamondbacks against the M's. I'm at the game for The Grand Salami, an alternative M's program, reporting on the proceedings, gauging fan reaction. Most missed the Unit. I wrote: “It was a schizophrenic evening at Safeco. In the bullpen before the game, RJ heard it from the vocal minority. 'Quitter!' they shouted. 'You tanked it!' Yet when he walked in from the bullpen, the cheering began, and swelled, and almost everyone in the stands got to their feet; Randy, in response, adjusted the brim of his cap.” And then he pitches the 25th shutout of his career. He retires in 2009: 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 4,875 strikeouts. He'll go into the Hall of Fame as an Arizona Diamondback.
- August 7: Yankees 1, M's 0: Ugliness. Junior is walked three times, Edgar hits two doubles, and we can't score. Maybe because we have Alex batting clean-up now instead of Edgar. Maybe because we still have Brian Hunter and his .652 OPS leading off. Yankees win on a walk/double/sac fly combo in the 5th. It's Tino who scores. Tino will play until 2005 and retire .271/.344/.471. He'll have 339 career homers and four World Series rings.
- August 8: Yankees 9, M's 3: Uglier. Yankees sweep the four-game series. Not the way to break in a ball park.
- August 20: Indians 7, M's 4: I need to stop going when John Halama is pitching. Halama, seen as the new Jamie Moyer, lasts with the M's until 2002 and in the Majors until 2006. He retires, having pitched for seven teams, with a career 56-48, 4.65 ERA.
- August 24: M's 5, Tigers 0: Spur-of-the-moment thing. My friends Dave and Terri are in town so I take them to a game and we sit in the cheap, center field bleachers, a new experience for me—I'm a 300-level, behind-homeplate guy. Freddy Garcia pitches a complete-game shutout, striking out 12, and Junior does the out-of-towners right, hitting two 2-run homeruns. Yep, that's the guy.
- September 5: Red Sox 9, Mariners 7: My final game of the year. M's leading 6-4 until the 8th when Jose Paniagua, who pitches a good 7th, gives up: single, flyout, single, homerun, single, and is relieved by Robert Ramsay, whom I don't even remember (he lasts just two seasons in the bigs, both with the M's), who adds a double and a single before the bleeding stops. The M's are now down by 3. We still have Brian Hunter and his .597 OPS leading off for us. We still have David Bell, the lugubrious second baseman, batting second (To Lou: 2B=batting second). It's a wonder we score 7. Junior homers in the 1st inning, a 2-run job, and, though I don't know it, it's the last time I'll see him round the bases in person until the twlight of his career in 2009. As for the last time I see him bat as a 1990s Mariner? In the bottom of the 9th, with the M's down by 3, and 2 outs, and Ryan Jackson, our “get somebody--quick” replacement for David Segui on second base, Junior lines a double to left to plate Jackson and bring the tying run to the plate. But against former Mariner Derek Lowe, A-Rod strikes out swinging. M's get 1 run on 2 hits and no errors. One man is left on base.
SEASON RECORD: 6-10. And that's when I stopped collecting ticket stubs. I started when it seemed Junior might be one of the greatest players ever to play the game, and I stopped when he left Seattle, suddenly, during the 1999/2000 off-season. The next two seasons, under new GM Pat Gillick, would be good ones for the Mariners. They would go to the ALCS both years, but both years they would lose to the Yankees, the most hated Yankees, the Yankees more hated than David Cone could ever hate. In the mid-90s the Yankees and Mariners were fairly evenly matched, but the M's would always find a away to win: a walk-off homerun off John Wetteland here; a walk-off double down the left-field line off Jack McDowell there.
But the Yankees' front office wanted to win more, and they had more money to do it, while the Mariners' front office, penurious even as the taxpayers were building a $500 million stadium, merely wanted to remain “competitive within the divison.” That wasn't enough. You've got to grab your moments and the M's front office didn't grab theirs. They gave up Omar in '93, Tino and JNels in '95, and they didn't try to fix the bullpen in '96 when it became apparent to everyone that the bullpen needed fixing. They gave up the future in July '97 (Cruz, Jr., Veritek, Lowe), the present in July '98 (Randy), the franchise in February 2000 (Junior). Poof. The team that should've been a dynasty became an afterthought. The dynasty went elsewhere.
In the end, after all of his injuries in the 2000s, not many are going to say Ken Griffey, Jr. was the best baseball player ever to play the game, but he was the best baseball player I ever saw. And in the end I was there for 45 of his 630 career homers. Here are my totals:
It looks like I got pretty lucky with the M's, particularly in '96, going 18-6 when the Mariners only went 85-76. But when you crunch the M's home-game numbers the difference isn't so severe. Then, during this 7-year run, it's .561 vs. .550. I thought I had a good record in '95, for example, but the M's overall home record was better than their record when I was there: .586 vs. .630.
That's baseball. Everything evens out. Except when it doesn't.
NEXT: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1998)
1998: CHARLTON, TIMLIN, SPOLJARIC, AYALA, FOSSAS AND SLOCUMB: THE WORST LAW FIRM EVER
- March 31: Indians 10, M's 9: Remember how Opening Night '96 felt like an extension of '95? Well, Opening Night '98 feels like an extension of '97. It's 3-3 in the 5th when Junior hits a solo shot, Buhner hits a 2-run homer, and Russ Davis follows with a 3-run homer. 9-3! But Randy gives back 3 in the 6th and is relieved by Bobby Ayala, who actually pitches well for an inning. But in the 8th it goes: walk, flyout, triple, walk. So in comes left-handed relief specialist Tony Fossas. Who walks David Justice. So in comes Mike Timlin. Who gives up a double to Manny Ramirez. Now it's 9-9 with men on second and third and one out. Brian Giles is intentionally walked to load the bases. And what does Travis Fryman do? He walks. 10-9. M's batters go down in order in the 8th and 9th. They've seen this movie, too.
- April 4: M's 12, Red Sox 6: Junior goes deep. In their first four games the M's have scored 39 runs, and their record is 2-2.
- April 6: M's 8, Yankees O: After the game, the M's are 3-3. After the game, the Yankees are 1-4. But this is the game that leads to the team meeting that leads to David Cone rallying the troops around hatred for...Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer? I'm not joking. See pp. 43-44 of “The Yankee Years.” Tom Veducci writes: “Like Torre, Cone was angered by what he saw the previous night. He watched Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez, batting in the eighth inning with a 4-0 lead, take a huge hack on a 3-0 pitch from reliever Mike Buddie—five innings after Jamie Moyer had dusted Paul O'Neill with a pitch.” Moyer? “Dusted”? And had Torre and Cone SEEN the M's bullpen? 4-0 was a nothing lead for them. But the Yankees wanted to hate so they did. Cone told his teammates, “You have to find something to hate about your opponent. Look across the way. These guys are real comfortable against us. Edgar is swinging from his heels on 3-0 when they're up by about 10 [sic] runs!... I fucking hate those guys. I hate this place. If you want to find some motivation here, [1995 is] part of it. It's also Edgar swinging 3-0 trying to take us deep. They're sticking it in our face! And there's only one way to react to that.” To which Verducci writes, “It was classic Cone: emotional, honest and inspirational.” Emotional, yes. Honest, no. Inspirational, maybe to assholes. But it worked. The rest of the season, the Yankees would go 8-2 against the M's, win 114 games and the World Series, and begin to establish their dynasty. The M's wouldn't even make the playoffs.
- April 8: Yankees 4, M's 3: This is the game after Cone's speech. M's up 2-1 in the 7th inning and Tony Fossas allows an inherited runner to score. In the 8th, the game now tied, Bobby Ayala allows a leadoff walk to Tim Raines and a homerun to Chad Curtis. 4-2, Yankees. Comback in the 9th? Russ Davis leads off with a homerun, his second of the game, to make it 4-3. Then Joey and Alex get singles. With nobody out. And Griffey up. And he flies out. And Edgar up. And he grounds into a game-ending double play. Against Mariano? Nope. Against Mike Stanton. It's games like these that make you realize you should play, at the park, softball, rather than watch Major League Baseball at the downtown stadium. There's no more helpless feeling than watching.
- April 10: Red Sox 9, M's 7: This isn't a game I went to. It wasn't even a game in Seattle. It was at Fenway Park in Boston, but I remember listening to it on the radio in my apartment in the Fremont neighborhood. It is, in fact, my most memorable game of the year. Randy is blowing away the Sox, he's struck out 15 in 8 innings. The M's tack on 2 in the top of the 9th, but the half-inning is long, and I'm sure he's thrown enough pitches, and anyway we have a 5-run lead, 7-2. What could happen? This. Heathcliff Slocumb comes in. Single, walk, double. Tony Fossas comes in. Walk on four pitches. Mike Timlin comes in. Single and hit-by-pitch. Bases juiced, tying run on second, so Paul Spoljaric comes in. And Mo Vaughn hits a walk-off grand slam. Game over. The line on the M's bullpen: 4 pitchers, 7 runs, 0 outs. I lay back on my couch and just laughed and laughed and laughed. Cone's speech might have inspired the Yankees, but this game must've dis-inspired everyone associated with the '98 Mariners. I knew the season was over on this day. Seattle Times story here.
- April 20: M's 8, Royals 7: Last gasp of “Refuse to Lose”? M's come back from 6-1 deficit and win. HRs: Junior, A-Rod, Rich Amaral. The bullpen gives up nothing. Slocumb lowers his ERA to 23.82. Ayala lowers his to 6.75. We're golden, baby!
- April 21: Royals 5, M's 3: Except we're not. M's strand 14. Bullpen gives up 2 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th. Slocumb's line: Single, flyout, wild pitch, walk, groundout, walk to load the bases. Walk to bring in a run. He lowers his ERA to 21.60. Tony Fossas, who gave up the 8th inning runs, is slightly better: 20.25.
- May 6: M's 10, White Sox 9: Heathcliff Slocumb is the winning pitcher! Bobby Ayala with the save! Because...? Well, in the 7th, with the M's up 6-4, Spoljaric, Timlin, Fossas and Slocumb (consider it the worst law firm ever) combine on this: single, single, double, double, strikeout, lineout, home run, single, strikeout. It's Slocumb who gives up the homerun. So he gets the win when Dan Wilson hits a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to put the M's back on top. Junior makes a great catch in center, too. We win but it's hardly fun anymore. Trying to enjoy the '98 M's is like trying to enjoy school when you know there's a bully who's going to beat you up in sixth period. It's like trying to enjoy the play when you know Pres. Lincoln is going to get shot at the end of it.
- May 23: Devil Rays 6, M's 3: Ken Cloude pitches a shutout for 7 innings and the M's take a 3-0 lead into the 8th. Then Paul Spoljaric and Tony Fossas give up 2 runs on no hits: walk, walk, walk, groundout, groundout, flyout. In the 9th it's all Ayala. He gives up four singles, a stolen base and a wild pitch and the Rays go up by 3. It's the M's fifth loss in a row. They're 21-27, and 10 1/2 back in the A.L. West.
- May 24: M's 3, Devil Rays 1: No bullpen blowouts on this one because no bullpen. Randy Johnson pitches 9 innings and strikes out 15. Junior clobbers an upper-deck homerun. Seems like...old times. Cue Diane Keaton.
- June 3: Angels 8, M's 1: We used to beat these guys.
- June 6: Dodgers 10, M's 6: Junior goes deep and cuts a runner down at home, but Joey Cora commits three errors and Ayala gives up three runs in the 9th.
- June 19: M's 9, A's 1: Randy with 12 Ks, Junior and A-Rod homer. It's their 4th victory in 18 games.
- June 23: M's 5, Padres 3: Moyer with 8 scoreless innings, Junior with 1st-inning HR. But even this game causes handwringing. Healthcliff Slocumb gives up 3 runs in the 9th and lets the go-ahead run get to the plate, before recording the final out.
- July 1: M's 9, Rockies 5: Junior with a HR and 3 doubles. Edgar goes deep. The bullpen is perfect. The M's are 35-49, 15 GB.
- July 10: Angels 5, M's 3 (11 innings): Junior ties the game in the bottom of the 7th with an upper-deck HR, and Moyer pitches well for 8 innings. Then we play Russian Roulette with the bullpen. Spin with Greg McCarthy in the top of the 9th: click. Spin with Mike Timlin in the top of the 10th: click. Spin with Bobby Ayala in the top of the 11th: BLAM!
- July 28: Indians 4, M's 3: Last time I'll see Randy as a Mariner. He goes the distance and loses. The Indians closer is Mike Jackson, who used to be with us during better days. He seems to be doing well. We miss him.
- August 1: Yankees 5, M's 2: The day after Randy Johnson is traded to the Houston Astros. Dark day. David Wells goes the distance for the Yankees, who are dominating baseball. The shot the M's had (from '95 to '97) feels over.
- August 3: M's 3, Red Sox 1: Shane Monahan hits first career HR. A new era begins.
- August 20: Blue Jays 7, M's 0: Roger Clemens pitches a 2-hitter and my friend Tim and I leave early. That's never happened before.
- August 21: M's 5, White Sox 4: Edgar and Buhner homer. Russ Davis hits a go-ahead double in the bottom of the 8th. Timlin closes it out with the tying run on third.
- September 4: O's 9, M's 1: New experiment: Paul Spoljaric as starting pitcher! He gives up 6 runs with two outs in the top of the 4th. Junior makes a great over-the-shoulder catch. Poor bastard.
SEASON RECORD: 10-11. It's my first losing record since '94 but percentage-wise it beats the Mariners losing record of 76-85. I see Junior hit 8 homeruns. But I'm elsewhere, focusing on other things, because this thing is lost now. What could've been is gone forever.
TOMORROW: ONE MAN LEFT ON BASE
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1997)
1997: FOREVER HITTING HOMERUNS; FOREVER BLOWING BALLGAMES
April 1: M's 4, Yankees 2: World Champions, my ass! In his first two at-bats of the season, Junior goes deep against David Cone, who hates the Mariners for a reason (see pg. 44 of “The Yankee Years”), and the Yankees don't score after the 2nd inning. Including the '95 post-season, it's the 8th game in a row I've been at the park when the M's have beat the Yankees. If these guys can win the World Series, who can't? At the same time, our closers are still Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton.
- April 8: M's 14, Indians 8: The Indians score 4 in the top of the 1st and the M's answer with 4 in the bottom of the 1st. And the game goes like that. HRs: Junior, Jay and Edgar. Junior's goes 430 feet. Good victory. At the same time, we're still 3-4.
- April 18: Twins 10, M's 3: After a good roadtrip, they're 10-6, but this one is an ugly loss.
- April 21: M's 6, Royals 5: Bobby Ayala with the win! Background: He relieves Randy in the 7th with the game tied 3-3 and promptly gives up a walk and a homerun. In the bottom of the inning, we get two walks, Junior slaps a two-run triple, and then he scores on a sac fly. Three runs on one hit. And Bobby A with the “W.”
- May 14: M's 9, White Sox 7: Norm Charlton with the save! Background: Bobby Ayala relieves Jamie Moyer in the 7th with a 6-run lead and gets the ChiSox 1-2-3. In the 8th? Solo home run to Harold Baines. In the 9th? Walk, double, home run. Talk about diminishing returns. A 6-run lead down to 2. Thus Norm, who comes in and gets them 1-2-3. Junior hits a solo homer in the 6th.
- May 16: O's 6, M's 3: Battle of the first-place teams. Five of our nine starters are hitting over .300 (Cora, A-Rod, Junior, Edgar, Dan Wilson), but they can only scratch together six hits. Four of them are singles. Effin' O's.
- May 17: O's 4, M's 3: Sigh. Why do I even GO when the Orioles were in town?
- May 28: M's 5, Rangers 0: Here's what Randy does to the first 10 batters he faces: strikeout, strikeout, groundout; groundout, strikeout, strikeout; strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; strikeout. Then Ivan Rodriguez slaps a ground single between first and second with one out in the top of the 4th. It's the first ball to leave the infield. He winds up striking out 15. These were fun games to go to. It's the end of May and Joey Cora has a 1.002 OPS.
- June 12: M's 12, Rockies 11: Here's what I wrote on the ticket stub: “An ugly, sloppy ballgame.” Not sure why. Junior with 3 RBIs. He now has 70 on the year. On June 12th!
- June 13: M's 6, Rockies 1: Decidedly less sloppy. Randy strikes out 12 in 8 innings. Our motto back then: “Go when Randy pitches.”
- June 14: M's 9, Dodgers 8: Leading 8-4 in the 7th, Bob Wells gives up two homers to make it 8-7. He's relieved by Norm Charlton who gives up a leadoff walk in the 8th to Greg Gagne, who goes to third on a botched pick-off attempt and scores on a bunt. Tie game. M's win on a Russ Davis walk-off homer. Why don't I remember that? Other HRs: Junior, Edgar, Sorrento.
- June 24: A's 4, M's 1: This is one of the greatest losses a pitcher has ever thrown. Do we have a category for that? We should. The second guy up gets a hit, so no chance for a no-hitter, and in fact they get 11 hits off of him, which isn't good for most pitchers and abyssmal for Randy. But he strikes out 19 and walks none. He had 18 Ks after 8 innings and boy were we cheering for a couple of Ks in that final innings. (The record, then and now, is 20.) One of the A's four runs was also memorable. A 538-foot homerun by Mark McGwire, which almost hits the Diamond Vision screen in the upper deck in left field. Of course now it feels tainted but back then it was fun. Dave Niehaus had fun with the call, too: “A high fly ball, belted, and I mean belted, deep to left field, into the upper deck! My, oh my, what a shot by Mark McGwire! That is probably the longest home run ever hit here.” Meanwhile the M's lack of run production wasn't Junior's fault. He came within his signature hit of the cycle: single, double, triple... and walk.
- June 27: M's 8, Angels 1: HRs: A-Rod and Buhner. Jay's goes 459 feet. Not McGwire but not chopped liver.
- June 28: Angels 6, M's 1: Angels gotta win sometime.
- June 30: Giants 8, M's 6: In the bottom of the first, with Alex up, I notice the time is 7:14. Those three numbers, in that order, and in any context, always make me think of Babe Ruth, which makes me think of home runs, so I say aloud, “7:14, good time for a homerun.” Next pitch, Alex goes deep. The guy sitting in front of me looks around like I'm Nostradamus. I shrug. Edgar and Sorrento also go yard, but we're down 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th when Edgar ties it up with a single, scoring Alex. Top of 10? Norm Charlton and his 7.17 ERA, who relieved Scott Sanders and his 6.56 ERA in the 9th, is still on the mound. Groundout, walk, single. Now there are men on first and second. Lou to the mound. And in comes...Bobby Ayala and his 4.21 ERA. He does't give up a run. He just gives up Norm's runs: Single, sac fly, single, groundout. 8-6, SF. How bad is our bullpen? Bad.
- July 1: M's 15, Giants 4: Even the M's bullpen can't blow this one. HRs: A-Rod, Russ Davis, and two by new phenom Jose Cruz, Jr.!
- July 10: M's 12, Rangers 9: Joey Cora hits his 9th HR. Joey Cora! He's got a .926 OPS. Lou tries Bobby Ayala again, up by 4 in the 9th, and it goes groundout, walk, walk, force out, double. Tying run comes to the plate. Out comes Norm for the save. Did we really have no one else in the bullpen? It's like we need to do something simple, like comb our hair, and the only instruments we have are a staple gun and a blowtorch. Staple gun? Ow! Blow torch? Ow! The next day we try them in the reverse order. The rational mind woud say “These are not the right implements for this situation,” but we don't have a rational mind.
- July 11: M's 8, Rangers 7: M's up 7-3 in the 9th but starter Jeff Fassero runs out of gas, giving up two singles. So we go to the blowtorch (Norm). He gives up a single and a walk. So we go to the staple gun (Ayala). He goes walk, strikeout, single to tie it. Go-ahead run is on third with one out. Double play ball. M's win it in the bottom of the 9th on a Russ Davis single but it doesn't feel like a victory. HRs: Dan Wilson, Russ Davis, Jose Cruz, Jr. I don't know it, but this is the last time I'll see Cruz, Jr. as a Mariner.
- July 19: Royals 9, M's 6: The M's are up 6-0 in the 8th against the lowly Royals, and I figure, “What a good time to show my friend Sharon around the Kingdome.” Except one batter later I miss an inside-the-park homerun by Tom Goodwin. Crap! That would've been fun. Then starter Bob Wolcott gives up another homer, the over-the-fence kind, and Lou goes to Omar Olivares, who promptly walks the next two batters. So Lou goes to Norm, the blowtorch, who promptly gives up a double to Craig Paquette that plates two batters. He stikes out Shane Halter but Mike Sweeney singles to score Paquette. But we still have a 6-5 lead, yes? Then in the 9th it's the staple gun's turn: groundout, single (ow!), single (ow!), walk (ow!), sac fly to tie (ow!), single (ow!), double (OUCH!), groundout. 9-6, Royals. Bottom of the inning, Griffey, Edgar and Buhner go in order. One wonders how much these losses took out of these guys. I know they took a lot out of me.
- July 31: And they took a lot out of the M's: some part of their future, in fact. I don't go to any game this day—the M's are in Milwaukee—but it's a dark day in M's history, a day in which the incomptence of our bullpen is matched by the incompetence of our front office. Needing a good closer since last summer, Woody Woodward waits until the last minute to pull the trigger on this move: The other Junior, Jose Cruz, Jr., who has an .856 OPS and 12 homers in 183 at-bats, for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljarec. And that was his smart trade that day. In the other, we give up rookie Derek Lowe and prospect Jason Veritek to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb, a closer with a 5.79 ERA. More wrong implements for our medicine chest. Full Seattle Times story here.
- August 5: M's 4, O's 3: M's finally beat the O's while I'm at the park! Russ Davis hits a walk-off homerun on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th. It's the second walk-off homerun I've seen him hit this year. Why isn't he my favorite player on the team? (Answer: Because the team has Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, and Jamie Moyer.)
- August 7: M's 3, White Sox 2: Junior, Blowers homer. New M's bullpen gives up only one run in the 9th. Relief!
- August 11: M's 11, Brewers 1.
- August 20: M's 1, Indians 0: Edgar homers in the 4th. Randy strikes out 8 in 6 innings. Maybe this bullpen thing will work out after all.
- August 23: Yankees 10, M's 8 (in 11 innings): Nope. M's should've won it in the bottom of the 9th when Roberto Kelly homered off Mariano Rivera to tie it, and then the M's loaded the bases with nobody out. But a wild pitch nails Junior at the plate, Russ Davis goes down swinging and Rob Ducey grounds out. In the 10th, also against Rivera, the M's load the bases with two outs, but A-Rod goes down swinging. So, in our game of bullpen roulette, we spin the chamber and put the gun to our head for one more inning and this time it goes off. Slocumb, in for his second inning, gives up: single, strikeout, single, strikeout, and then a double to plate two. Worst part? It's to Paul O'Neill. Ouch! It's the first time I've seen the Yankees beat the M's at the Kingdome since Jimmy Key did it on July 16, 1994.
- August 27: Red Sox 9, M's 5: Fassero gets the loss, but the M's bullpen doesn't help. Bob Wells gives up a run (in 1/3 inning), Paul Spoljaric gives up a run (in 1 1/3), Heathcliff Slocumb gives up 2 (in 1 inning). Only Bobby Ayala is clean for the day.
- September 10: M's 10, Tigers 0: A-Rod goes deep. Dan Wilson with an inside-the-park homerun.
- September 13: Blue Jays 6, M's 3: RJ returns from a minor injury and leaves after six innings with the M's up 3-1. In the 8th, the team of Charlton, Timlin and Ayala give up 2 to tie it. In the 9th, Ayala gives up 3 to lose it. Somewhere the Blue Jays front office is laughing. We came alive in '95 with the late-inning comeback and in '97 we died from it.
- September 15: M's 7, Blue Jays 3: Junior goes deep twice. No.s 51 and 52. RBI no.s 137-139. That should be the story of the year. Not the bullpen. BTW: Remember Joey's 9th homer on July 10? This evening he hits no. 10. But he still has an .808 OPS.
- September 23: M's 4, Angels 3: RJ with 11 Ks, and Buhner hits 3-run HR, and the season is almost over. Slocumb does get the save (single, flyout, strikeout, wild pitch, strike out), his 27th. His ERA is 5.30.
- September 26: A's 8, M's 4: Fan Appreciation Night is also scrub night. The line-up: Cora, Ducey, Davis, Sorrento, Ibanez, Wilkins, Tinsley, Marzano, Sheets. Ibanez, a Sept. call-up, hits a 3-run HR. The bullpen, with no lead to protect, allow no runs and lower their ERAs: Charlton's goes down to 6.85. Next stop: playoffs!
- October 1: Game 1 of the 1997 ALDS: O's 9, M's 3: I have a goofy piece in The Seattle Times before the playoffs (which I'd completely forgotten about until I began doing this thing), but, more, I have a bad feeling. Randy could beat almost anyone but the Orioles. The M's could beat almost any team but the O's. Game starts out well enough: 1-2-3. Then mid-season acquisiton Roberto Kelly hits a one-out double in the bottom of the first. Griffey up! Foul out. Edgar up! Ground out. Oh well. Lots more of those. O's take 1-0 lead in the 3rd, Edgar ties it 1-1 on a home run in the bottom of the 4th. Then Randy loses it in the 5th: walk, steal, walk, sac bunt, single, caught stealing, homerun. Now we're down 5-1. In the 6th, Timlin comes in. Ball 1, ball 2, home run to Chris Hoiles. 6-1. Then Palmeiro hits a double to center. Is this the one I thought Junior would get? There was a play in center and I thought for sure Junior would have it, but in my memory the game was still within reach. Obviously not. The 6th ends with the M's down 9-1. The M's add two more solo homers, the empty gesture of impotent sluggers, and I leave the Kingdome feeling worse than when I entered.
- October 2: Game 2 of the 1997 ALDS: O's 9, M's 3: It's up to Jamie Moyer to save us! And the M's go up, 2-0, in the first! Yay! At the same time it feels like we should've gotten more. Joey singles, Roberto Kelly doubles (again), but (again) the big bats don't come through: we get three straight groundouts from Griffey, Edgar and A-Rod. O's go up in the 5th when Spoljaric relieves Moyer with 2 on and 2 out and let's both runners score on a double by Alomar. In the 7th, Bobby Ayala gives up a 2-run homer to Brady Anderson. In the 8th, still Ayala, it goes: single, strikeout, double, intentional walk, real walk (for a run), single to plate 2. Lou goes to Norm. Who promptly gives up a double. It's all our nightmares from the season remembered. The M's will win one at Camden, behind the pitching of Jeff Fassero and timely hitting from Rich Amaral, but they go down and out in Game 4. It'll be the last time Ken Griffey, Jr. plays in the post-season until he's an old man in 2008, when he goes 2-10 in the White Sox's losing effort in the ALDS.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 19-11. POST-SEASON RECORD: 0-2. Mostly I remember the M's forever hitting homeruns and the bullpen forever blowing ballgames. Trading Jose Cruz, Jr. felt like trading the future but the real future we traded that day was Veritek and Lowe. Worse, I knew that as long as Woody Woodward was the GM, the M's would never make the right moves. The M's finally got rid of Woody after the '99 season but by then it was too late.
TOMORROW: IT GETS WORSE...
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1996)
1996: THE GREATEST LINE-UP EVER
- March 31: M's 3, White Sox 2 (12 innings): Opening Night and the M's start out where they left off: with a come-from-behind victory before a sell-out crowd of nouveau fans at the Kingdome. Amusing moment: In the 1st inning, Randy gets two strikes on a batter and half the Kingdome rise out of their seats to cheer for that third strike. I look around and laugh. “It's March 31st, kids. Save something for the season!” M's win it on a sharp single to right by a young Alex Rodriguez that plates Doug Strange. And it just continues.
- April 6: M's 8, Brewers 5: Or does it? We win again but by this point, a week later, we're 1 1/2 GB. Tino's replacement Paul Sorrento hits 2 homeruns, including a grand slam, and Junior adds a late-inning solo shot.
- April 16: M's 11, Angels 10: Or DOES it? This game plays like a microcosm of the previous season. In the first match-up between the Angels and M's since the one-game playoff last October, the Angels take a commanding 9-1 lead in the fourth. Then Sorrento homers. Then A-Rod homers. Then A-Rod singles in a run. Then Cora singles in a run. Down by 4 in the 7th, the M's string together a walk, single, HBP, HBP to set up a 3-run double by Russ Davis to tie the game. A Buhner single in the 8th puts the M's on top. It's the the biggest comeback in Mariners history. Refuse to lose, indeed.
- May 3, Indians 5, M's 2. It's the game after the day an earthquake shook Seattle, and the M's still can't shake the Indians.
- May 11: M's 11, Royals 1: The year before, the Royals worried me. No longer. HRs: A-Rod, Sorrento, Buhner (2). M's are over .500 but 5 GB.
- May 24: M's 10, Yankees 4: These guys don't worry me, either. They start Game 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki, we start Sterling Hitchcock. We jump to a 4-1 lead. Then Junior takes over. In the 4th he hits a 2-run homer off Kamieniecki. In the 6th he hits a 3-run homer off Jeff Nelson. In the 8th he adds a solo shot off Steve Howe. THREE HRs!!!! Suck it, NY!
- May 26: M's 4, Yankees 3: We even beat them when we start Paul Menhart. HRs: Edgar and A-Rod. Edgar's hitting .350 on the season. A-Rod's hitting .369.
- May 31: M's 9 Red Sox 6: More Refuse to Lose. Down 5-1 in the 5th, M's string together: walk, walk, walk, groundout, strikeout, and then a 3-run homer by Junior to tie the game. A-Rod puts us ahead with a 3-run homer in the 7th. It's our take on the Earl Weaver strategy: Lousy pitcing but a couple of three-run homers.
- June 15: M's 8, White Sox 6: Lose? Refuse! Junior ties it with a 2-run homer in the 7th but Norm Charlton, walking everybody, gives back 2 in the 9th. We tie it in the bottom of the 9th (with 2 outs) and win it in the bottom of the 12th on a walk-off, 2-run homer by Brian Hunter. I don't even remember it. Shouldn't one remember one's walk-off homers?
- June 19: Blue Jays 9, M's 2: Am I a jinx? I was at the game last year when Junior shattered his wrist, and I'm at the game, this game, when Junior (fouling back a pitch?) in the bottom of the third, breaks his hamate bone. At first I think it's his wrist again—you see him opening and closing his hand, trying to shake it off—but it's the hamate and he's out for 4-6 weeks. Randy went down in May, now Junior in June. The M's are six GB with no pitching and no Junior. Doesn't look good.
- June 28: M's 19, Rangers 8: Who needs pitching? HRs: Edgar, Brian Hunter and Dan Wilson. Luis Sojo with five singles.
- July 2: A's 11, M's 6: WE need pitching. The M's blow a 4-0 lead. Then in the top of the 9th, in a 6-6 game, with one out, Norm Charlton gives up a single, walk, walk, single, home run. Five runs. Poof! His ERA is now 4.30. Charlton, so strong the year before, is blowing ballgames big. This one is reminiscent of the May 17th game in Baltimore when he gives up a walk-off grand slam to Chris Hoiles in the bottom of the 9th and the M's lose 14-13. That one hurt.
- July 11: M's 5, Angels 4 (12 innings): Poor Angels. They go up 3-0. We come back, 4-3. Our bullpen allows them to tie it in the 9th. We win in the 12th. Paul Sorrento singles, the pitcher balks him to second, Dan Wilson grounds him over to third, and he scores on a wild pitch. I'm getting spoiled. I turn up my nose at the aesthetics of this extra-inning victory. A lousy single? Meanwhile A-Rod hits 2 doubles and a homerun. Kid might go places.
- July 12: M's 6: Angels 5 (10 innings): Maybe it's Refuse to Lose to the Angels? We go up 4-0, they go up 5-4, we tie it in the bottom of the 8th and win it in the bottom of the 10th in a slower replay of Game 5: Edgar scores from first on a double by Jay Buhner.
- July 24: M's 8, Brewers 7: How do I not remember this? M's are down 7-5 in the ninth when Joey doubles and Alex singles him in. Griffey, back in the lineup, singles Alex over to third and then steals second. Buhner strikes out. One down. Sorrento gets a pass to load the bases. Darren Bragg hits a sac fly to tie the game. Two outs. Dan Wilson doubles to score Griffey and end it. Memorable! Yet not. Spoiled.
- August 7: Indians 5, M's 4: Again with the Indians. On the ticket stub I wrote “Bonehead Piniella moves!” Leading late, set-up man Mike Jackson relieves new acquisition Jamie Moyer in the 8th and gives up a walk. Then he strikes out the next two batters. At which point Lou brings in Norm. In the 9th, ahead by 2, with two outs and nobody on, he gives up a homer to Omar, a single to Lofton, a double to Vizcaino to tie the game, and another single to put the Indians ahead. His ERA is now 5.17. We lived by “Refuse to Lose” and now we're dying by it. “Can't Begin to Win.” Against the Indians anyway.
- August 28: M's 10, Yankees 2: Now THIS I remember. We're killing the Yankees again, 8-1 when, in the top of 8th, Tim Davis replaces Terry Mulholland and pitches to Paul O'Neill. First pitch is high and tight. O'Neill bitches. That's what O'Neill does. M's back-up catcher John Marzano stands up and confronts him. That's what Marzano does. Soon we're getting shoves, a would-be haymaker from Marzano, then a headlock from Marzano, and benches clear. Seattle Times story here. Next inning Jeff Nelson hits Joey Cora, but A-Rod makes him pay by going deep in the next at-bat. Unfortunately, the next time I'll see these guys, in 1997, they'll be World Champions. BTW, I didn't know, or didn't remember, this. R.I.P., John Marzano. May you be up in Heaven forever punching Paul O'Neill in the face.
- August 30: O's 5, M's 2: Can we beat these guys already???
- September 4: Red Sox 7, M's 5: M's lose, never leading. Junior hits 3-run homer, his 43rd. Buhner hits a solo shot, his 39th.
- September 16: M's 6, Rangers 0: First of a four-game series with Texas. M's begin it 6 games back of the Rangers and really need a sweep to stand a chance. The first game's hardly a contest. Rangers can't hit Jamie Moyer, Edgar smacks his 50th double. Alex is hitting .368 with a 1.080 OPS. 78-70, GB: 5.
- September 18: M's 5, Rangers 2: M's win on the 17th as well as this night. Buhner hits his 41st. 80-70, GB: 3.
Mr. B lets the world (or Tim) know the M's are only 3 games back.
- September 19: M's 7, Rangers 6: Sweep! It's the September to Remember all over again! Just 2 GB! Our line-up is as good as any lineup I can remember: Cora, A-Rod, Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, Sorrento, Whitten, Hollins, Wilson. Our no. 9 guy hits his 17th homer of the year. It just continues.
- September 20: M's 12, A's 2: And continues. HRs: Junior, Jay and Joey. GB: 1.
- September 21: M's 9, A's 2: And continues. M's win their 10th in a row! HRs by Junior, Jay, Edgar, A-Rod, and Sorrento. GB: 1.
SEASON RECORD: 18-6. And then, suddenly, it didn't continue. M's lose their last home game of the year to the A's, then go 2-5 on their final roadtrip and finish 4 1/2 back of Texas. Afterwards Lou bucks up the squad by telling them that this is the best team he's ever managed. He tells them next year they're going all the way. But in the meantime, the New York Yankees, who couldn't touch the M's this season, beat Texas in the ALDS, beat the O's in the ALCS (with help from Jeffrey Maier), and win the World Series, with help from '95 M's Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson. The dynasty that should've been the M's is beginning to be someone else's.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1995)
1995: REFUSE TO LOSE
- April 27: M's 5, Tigers 0. We were wondering if we would ever see this again. Thank you, Justice Sotomayor! Remember all that talk about unforgiving fans? That wasn't me. As usual, I'm there Opening Night. And the M's deliver. RJ strikes out 8, Junior hits a 3-run HR in the 5th to account for all the scoring in the game. Just where we left off.
- May 12: M's 6, White Sox 4: M's score 3 in the bottom of the first, Randy strikes out 11 in 7 innings and gives up only 1 run. (Bobby Ayala gives up 3 in the 8th.) Edgar and Tino homer. Games back: 1/2.
- May 23: Red Sox 5, M's 4: M's are leading 4-0 after four innings but Boston comes back with 1 in the 5th, 3 in the 7th and 1 in the 10th on a bases-loaded walk from reliever Steve Frey. As we used to say back then: Out of the fire and into the Frey. OK, so it wasn't as funny as we thought.
- May 26: M's 8, O's 3: Maybe the worst game—certainly the worst victory—I've ever gone to. I'm sitting, not in my usual seats, 300-level behind homeplate, but among the idiotic WHUP-WHOOOO crowd along the right-field foul line when, in the 7th inning, off of Kevin Bass (heretofore known as Kevin Basstard), Ken Griffey, Jr. makes a spectacular running catch against the right-centerfield fence. People are cheering like crazy but I'm thinking he went too fast, too awkwardly into that fence to be OK. I'm assuming knee. I'm wrong. It's his wrist. Later we hear the bad news: out for three months. M's win it, RJ strikes out 13, and before the injury Junior hits a solo shot in the 5th, but after the injury our outfield changes from Bragg-Griffey-Diaz to Amaral-Diaz-Bragg and nothing feels quite the same. My Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed here. Video of the catch here. Seattle Times article here. One thing the Internet doesn't do well is give a sense of historical scale. That Times article? It's just a small article. But it was front-page news in Seattle. At this point, M's are 15-12, 2 1/2 GB. Doesn't look good.
I saw this. Then I saw the M's go 2-8.
- May 27: O's 11, M's 4: In the first Griffey-less game, M's get clobbered. Doesn't look good.
- May 30: M's 7, Yankees 3: Down 3-2 in the 8th, with 2 outs and a man on third, the M's string together a walk, single, walk, single, hit-by-pitch and a single, and score five times to win it. Derek Jeter, playing in only his second game in the Majors, bats ninth for the Yankees and goes 2-3 with a walk. They're the first two hits of his Major League career. They're the first two runs scored of his Major League career. I still have that ticket if some Yankees fan wants to buy it. Bidding starts at $10,000. M's: 18-13, 1 1/2 GB
- June 12: Royals 10, M's 9: Down 7-0 after a half-inning, the M's battle back and tie the score in the bottom of the 8th. In the top of the 9th, though, Ron Villone walks the leadoff hitter, who eventually scores on a two-out single by Tom Goodwin. 23-20, 3 1/2 GB
- June 14: Royals 2, M's 1: In an afternoon getaway game, I CATCH MY FIRST FOUL BALL! I write about it years later for Seattle Weekly: “In the fourth inning Tino Martinez lined a fastball straight back. My thought processes went something like, 'Hey, that might--' Whumpf! Right into my glove. I didn't have time to think. The crowd around me scattered, and, later, thanked me, for they feared the ball would hit a railing and bounce back. As often happens, we passed it around reverentially. It was rubbed a light brown with the special mud the umps use before gametime; the imprinted blue slogan '*Official Ball* American League' had been smudged by the force of Tino's blow and was now almost unreadable.” The bad news? The M's lose and get swept by the Royals, who, at this time, seem like a powershouse to me. 23-22, 3 1/2 GB.
- June 16: Twins 10, M's 1: I'm on long-distance with my father in Minneapolis two days beforehand when I realize it'll be Randy pitching against the lowly Twins. I begin to laugh. “If you have any money to bet,” I say, “bet on the M's.” Instead, RJ gives up 8 earned runs in six innings, including a grand slam to Kirby Puckett. Since the Griffey injury I've seen the M's lose 4 of 5—beating only the lowly Yankees. 23-23, 4 1/2 GB.
- June 23: Angels 14, M's 4: Five of six. 27-26, 5 GB
- June 26: M's 7, Angels 2: Tino and Edgar go deep. 29-27, 4 GB
- June 28: A's 7, M's 5: Bobby Ayala Goatee Night: surely one of the worst promotional ideas ever. I forget what you get if you show up with a goatee, but I show up without one and get to see a loss. Randy leaves the game in the 7th with a 5-2 lead but with the bases loaded and one out. Bill Risley promptly gives up two singles to tie the game. In the next inning, Jeff Nelson gives up two HRs, including Mark McGwire's second of the game, and the M's lose. Ayala and his goatee never enter the game. 29-29, 5 GB
- June 30: Rangers 10, M's 2. No fun. 30-30, 5 GB
- July 14: Blue Jays 5, M's 1: Wow: 2-8 since the injury. Come back, Junior! 34-37, 7 GB
- July 18: M's 10, Tigers 6: I take some out-of-town guests, Dick and Anne Saunders, to a weekday afternoon game, and, despite that 2-8, I talk up the team. “Too bad you can't see Griffey,” I say, “but this team's still got something.” They don't disappoint. Tino hits a homer and drives in four. Most memorably, Jeff Nelson relieves Tim Belcher in the 6th and for three innings it goes like this: strikeout, strikeout, groundout; strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; ground out, strikeout, walk, strikeout. We have good seats for it, too, right behind home plate, and I can see his curve breaking and dancing. From this day forward, I'll be a Jeff Nelson fan. 37-38, 7 GB.
- July 28: Indians 6, M's 5: The M's score 3 in the bottom of the 7th to tie it, but the Indians small-ball it to go ahead in the 8th. In the 9th, the M's load the bases against Jose Mesa but he gets Luis Sojo to strike out on a pitch near his ears. 42-43, 10 GB.
- August 7: M's 6, White Sox 4: HRs from Buhner, Blowers and Tino. 47-47, 11 GB.
- August 18: M's 9, Red Sox 2: It's Junior's first home game back—he's got a metal plate and screws holding together his valuable wrist—and it's Bob Wolcott's Major League debut, but it's Mike Blowers' game. He hits 2 HRs, including a 1st-inning grand slam off Tim Wakefield. 53-51, 10 1/2 GB.
- August 21: M's 6, O's 0: It's 0-0 until the 7th when the M's score 5 times on four two-out singles. Junior hits a homer in the 8th. Welcome back! RJ strikes out 10 in 6 innings, Jeff Nelson 4 in 3 innings. Fun! 54-53, 11 1/2 GB.
- August 23: O's 7, M's 1: I don't know it, but this is the last loss I'll see in person for over a month. 54-55, 11 1/2 GB.
- September 8: M's 4, Royals 1: First home game after a long road trip. M's are now 2 games over .500 instead of 1 game under, but amazingly they're only 6 GB of the Angels now. The math seems impossible. Angels are tanking. 63-61, 6 GB
- September 9: M's 6, Royals 2: On “Salute to the Negro Leagues” Night, Tino and Buhner go deep. 64-61, 6 GB.
- September 12: M's 14, Twins 3: The M's hit four homers; Buhner hits two of them. Were the M's feeling loose? We were in the stands. In the bottom of the 7th, after a solo homer (by Buhner) and a 3-run homer (by Dan Wilson) put the M's ahead 14-3, Lou sends up pinch-hitters Alex Diaz (for Vince Coleman) and Arquimedez Pozo (for Joey Cora). It's the latter's Major League debut. When they announce him I tell Mike and Tim, “That may be the greatest baseball name ever.” It isn't just the grand, Greekish first name. Any two- or three-syllable name ending in “o” is a great baseball name, because they're so easy to chant. When I was a kid in Minnesota we used to chant “Let's go, Tony-O,” for Tony Oliva all the time. And in the late 1970s, a player named Jesus Manuel Rivera became a fan favorite because his nickname was “Bombo,” and every time he was at the plate Twins fans would chant, “Bom-bo, Bom-bo.” At the Kingdome I demonstrate. I begin chanting, “Po-zo, Po-zo, Po-zo,” and Mike and Tim join in, and people around us join in, and then our section joins in, and suddenly the entire stadium, 12,000 strong, is chanting for this kid and his Major League debut. I wouldn't be surprised if others began their own chants in their own sections, and we all met somewhere in the middle, but the overall effect is still magical. Pozo pops out to second but we cheer him anyway as he returns to the dugout. We're loose. It's his only at-bat of the season. M's: 66-62, still 6 GB.
- September 13: M's 7, Twins 4: A day later and I'm a lot less loose. Biking to the game, I get into an accident and crash head-first into the bumper of a car near the Fremont Bridge. Shaken, my bike unrideable, I call my girlfriend (from a pay phone, kids), and she picks me up, takes me and my bike back home, then drives me to the game. I arrive in the fourth inning with the M's down 4-0. Randy is doing well, he strikes out 13 in 7 innings, but the game seems lost. Then the M's score 3 in the bottom of the 7th. In the bottom of the 8th, with two outs and two on, Tino singles to tie the game and Buhner hits a 3-run bomb to put the M's ahead. Norm Charlton strikes out the side in the 9th for the victory. When I get home, my girlfriend tells me she's glad I went. She'd been listening on the radio and M's broadcaster Dave Niehaus had chastised M's fans for not showing up to witness this exciting team make its run. That, too, wasn't me. 67-62, 5 GB.
- September 18: M's 8, Rangers 1: After a 3-game road trip to Chicago, the M's return (how I missed them!), and pick up where they left off: RJ strikes out 10; Blowers and Edgar homer. Apparently people are listening to Dave Niehaus. Attendance goes from 16,000 to 29,000, and suddenly the Angels are within spitting distance. 70-63, 2 GB.
- September 20: M's 11, Rangers 3: I miss the Doug Strange game from the day before, but I'm there for this: Sojo drives in 6, Junior homers, and suddenly the M's are, would you believe it, TIED FOR FIRST! 72-63, T-1st. Attendance: 26,000.
- September 22: M's 10, A's 7. Fan Appreciation Night, and the fans, 51,000 strong, suddenly fill the joint. (From this moment on, I won't be at a game with fewer than 30,000 fans for YEARS.) But after 3 innings the M's are down 6-0. Bel-CHER! In the bottom of the 4th, though, Junior leads off with a homer. 6-1. With two outs and a man on, Mike Blowers doubles. 6-2. Luis Sojo walks. A miracle. Dan Wilson singles to load the bases. Just when I'm thinking, “Hey, tying run at the plate,” Vince Coleman hits a ball that squeaks over the right-field wall. “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma! It's Grand Salami time!” Bedlam. 6-6. Oakland retakes the lead in the 7th, but in the bottom of the 8th Edgar leads off with a HR to tie it, followed by single, sacrifice bunt (by Buhner?), and walk. Two on and Sojo up. But no! Piniella pinch-hits with Alex Diaz. Is he CRAZY? Sojo's been hot. I'm still cursing Lou when Diaz smokes one into the left field bleachers. 10-7. Fan Appreciation Night, indeed. The M's, at 73-63, are in sole possession of first place.
- September 23: M's 7, A's 0: Not even a contest. RJ on the mound and he gives up four hits and strikes out 15; Buhner hits 2 HRs. 74-63. GA: 2.
- September 27: Angels 2, M's 0: I miss the Tino walkoff homer Sunday, and blowing out the Angels on Tuesday, but I'm here early for this getaway game. Win it, and the M's will clinch a tie: four games ahead with four to play. It's a weekday afternoon game but 50,000 show up. I'm sitting in our 20-gameplan seats, 300 level behind the third-base side of homeplate, second row, no one around me, when I catch my second foul ball of the season—this one off Chili Davis. From the Seattle Weekly article: “For some reason, the first two rows of section 313 were empty, leaving me feeling a little like the sprinkle-a-day guy. Even my friend Mike hadn't arrived yet. Thus when Chile Davis fouled off a pitch from Tim Belcher in the top of the first, there was no one close, as the ball, with some wicked spin on it, arced my way. A guy two rows back--my nearest competitor--shouted, 'It's coming this way. I got it! I got it!' Think people don't emulate their heroes? I WAVED HIM OFF. It was as if, rather than competitors for a souvenir, we were teammates in the same outfield. 'I got it!' I yelled back. And I did. The ball, caught with some English to compensate for the spinning, was mine.” I'm happy with the foul ball but disappointed that Belcher has already given up a run, and even more disapointed when, a few pitches later, Davis promptly doubles to score another. Worse, Chuck Finley shuts down the M's. In the 7th, he walks two batters and Marcel Lachemann goes to the 'pen. Good! Then I see the reliever smokin' it in. High 90s. Strikeout, strikeout. Inning over. My introduction to Troy Percival. Angels win. 76-64, GA 2, with 4 to play.
- That's my last regular season game of the season. The M's go on and win the first two in Texas to clinch a tie, but lose the next two, while the Angels suddenly wake up and win their last four against the A's, and we have our tie. I'm so pissed at Lou's pitching moves—starting Benes on three days' rest with an eye toward the playoffs—that I don't even bother with the tickets to the one-game playoff. Which the M's, behind the pitching of RJ, win, 9-1.
- October 6: Game 3 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 7, Yankees 4: In the first game in NY, Junior hits 2 HRs but the M's lose, 9-6. In the second game, Junior hits another, off perpetual Junior foil John Wetteland in the 12th, but the Yankees tie it in the bottom of the 12th and win it in the bottom of the 15th on a homerun in the rain by Jim Effin' Leyritz. The Yankees just need to win one more in Seattle. But it's not this one. RJ strikes out 10, Tino hits a 2-run HR, M's fans chant “Donnie Strike-out!” for Don Mattingly. Series: 2-1, Yankees.
- October 7, Game 4 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 11, Yankees 8: Down 5-0 in the 3rd inning, the season seems over. Then in the bottom of the 3rd, Scott Kamieniecki gives up a single to Joey Cora, a single to Griffey, and a HR that Edgar Martinez, with his gator arms, somehow keeps fair down the left-field line. Same inning, Sojo hits a sac fly. A groundout in the fifth ties it, and a homerun by Junior in the sixth puts the M's ahead, 6-5. But the Yanks tie it in the 8th on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the 8th it's John Wetteland again. A walk, a single, a HBP. Bases juiced for Edgar, who hits a long fly to center field. “That's a run,” I think. “Now we're ahead,” I think. But Bernie Williams keeps going back and suddenly the ball goes *poof* into the blue baggie in center and the Kingdome erupts. Grand slam! Buhners tacks on another homer for a 5-run lead. At the time it seems like the cherry on top, but it turns out the M's need it. Norm Charlton gives up a single in the top of the 9th and Lou goes to...AYALA?? Serously? And Ayala goes: groundout, single, single, walk. Then Lou goes to Bill Risley, with Wade Boggs representing the tying run at the plate. Fielder's choice. Two outs. Now it's Bernie Williams, who ran back on Edgar's grand slam, and who represents the tying run. He hits a fly ball to center...but Junior doesn't keep going back. See you tomorrow. Series: 2-2.
- October 8, Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings): The pitching match-up, David Cone vs. Andy Benes, favors the Yankees, but the M's score first on a Joey Cora homerun. Yankees go up 2-1 on a 2-run, Paul O'Neill homer in the 4th. M's tie it, 2-2, but in the 6th, after Benes walks the bases loaded, Donnie Strike-out finally breaks through with a 2-run double. Bases loaded again with one out but Benes escapes, and, in the bottom of the 8th, Junior hits a one-out homer—his fifth of the series—to make it 4-3. Then with two outs, Tino walks, Buhner singles, Alex Diaz walks. Bases loaded for pinch hitter Doug Strange. Cone is going on fumes. He's thrown nearly 150 pitches, and, rather than go the bullpen, to Johnny Wetteland who can't seem to get the M's out, Yankees manager Buck Showalter keeps Cone in. And Cone walks Strange to tie the game. That's when Showalter finally goes to the 'pen and the hack reliver he'd been avoiding: a kid named Mariano Rivera. Who promptly strikes out Mike Blowers to end the inning. Tied again. But in the 9th, Charlton gives up a lead-off double to Tony Fernandez and a walk to Randy Velarde and Lou goes to the mound and signals for the big left-hander: Randy Johnson, on one day's rest, coming in from the 'pen, to the sound of Guns N' Roses “Welcome to the Jungle.” Place goes NUTS. RJ faces Boggs, Bernie, O'Neill: strikeout, pop out, foul out. Then it's the M's turn to blow their chance: a single, a sac bunt, an intentional walk to Griffey, and the Yankees have had enough of this Rivera kid and bring in Black Jack McDowell. Who strikes out Edgar and gets Alex Rodriguez, who pinch-ran for Tino in the 8th, to ground out. Both Game 3 starters are now relieving in Game 5. No one scores in the 10th, but in the 11th the Yankees go: walk, sac bunt, single. Suddenly they're up, 5-4, 3 outs away from the American League Championship. They don't get any of those outs. Joey bunts his way on, Junior lines a single up the middle, sending Joey to third. Then it's Edgar. Cue Dave Niehaus. I am hoarse for days afterwards. It's the greatest game I've been to, the greatest series I've seen, the greatest month of baseball any fan could ask for. And it just continues, my oh my. Series 3-2, Mariners.
- October 10, Game 1 of the 1995 ALCS: M's 3, Indians 2: Then it starts all over again. The Wolcott kid is on the mound for Game 1 so we expect nothing, and in the first inning he delivers on this expectation: First three batters: walk, walk, walk. For Albert Belle, who hit 50+ and 50+ doubles during a strike-shortened season. “Oh well, so much for this game.” Instead he strikes out. Then it's Eddie Murray, who fouls out. Then it's Jim Thome, who grounds out. End of inning. M's go up 2-0 on a Mike Blowers homer. Indians eventually tie it on an Albert Belle homerun in the 7th but in the bottom of that inning Luis Sojo's double plates Jay Buhner. And that's all the scoring. Really? That's it? Compared to recent games, it's almost boring. Series: 1-0, M's.
- October 11, Game 2 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 5, M's 2: Orel Hershiser kills us in this one. Or maybe, finally, everyone's just tired. Junior and Buhner go deep, but we never seem in the game. Series 1-1. Now it's off to Cleveland...
- October 17, Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 4, M's 0: ...where the M's win the first game (Jay's goat-to-hero game) but lose the next two. Once again, the M's face an elimination game. And once again, Lou goes to Randy on short rest. It turns out to be one short rest too many. The Indians get to him in the 5th on an error (by Cora) and a single. 1-0. But my chief memory is Kenny Lofton in the 8th inning. Tony Pena leads off with a double and Lofton, attempting to advance him, bunts his way on, then steals second. Pitching to Omar Vizquel, my Omar, the ball gets away from Dan Wilson. Pena scores. And when Randy's not paying attention, Lofton scores ALL THE WAY FROM SECOND. Carlos Baerga's homerun is the swing that finally chases Randy, but it's Lofton's baserunning that really did us in. In the last three innings, only one Mariner reaches base: Tino, with a walk, in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. Brings up Jay Buhner. His grounder to third ends the game, the series, the magic season. But the fans, including me, don't want it to end. Half an hour after the game ends, we're all still there, cheering for the M's...who return onto the field and acknowledge the crowd with tears in their eyes. Series: 2-4, Cleveland.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 17-12. POST-SEASON RECORD: 4-2. OVERALL RECORD: 21-14. The lowlight was Junior's injury in May. The highlights? Where to begin? Two foul balls, two post-season series, two comeback victories against the Yankees after a month of comeback victories against other teams. The M's have the game's most overpowering pitcher (RJ), its best pure hitter (Edgar), its best overall player (Junior). The sky's the limit. Then in the off-season we trade Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson (AND Jim Mecir) for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. It's s salary move—Tino, the argument goes, played above his head in '95, and will thus be too expensive after arbitration—but we're basically giving to the Yankees two of the guys who beat the Yankees in the '95 ALDS. It feels wrong. I don't know yet how wrong.
How could it get any better than this? Answer? It couldn't.
TOMORROW: THE GREATEST LINE-UP EVER