Seattle Mariners postsFriday July 23, 2010
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
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1994)
Read introduction and 1993 season here.
1994: COLLAPSED DOME, COLLAPSED SEASON
- April 11: M's 9, Twins 8 (10 innings): It may be Opening Night at the Kingdome but the M's are already 0-5 after a mini-disastrous road trip. The Twins take a 4-0 lead, the M's counter 8-4, and by the 8th it's 8-8. M's win it on a two-out single by Mike Blowers that plates New Mariner Dan Wilson, who hit a 1-out double. New Mariner Bobby Ayala gets a blown save by allowing 1 of 2 inherited baserunners to score, but otherwise pitches 3 innings of scoreless baseball for the win. Junior: 2-4 with a walk.
- April 12: M's 12, Twins 0: This one ain't close. Ken Griffey, Jr. hits 3-run homerun in the second inning, and Dave Fleming pitches 7 innings of shut-out ball.
- April 16: Brewers 1, M's 0: Chris Bosio goes the distance, gives up only 4 hits, but gives up a lead-off, 7th-inning homer to Turner Ward and loses.
- April 25: M's 4, Red Sox 2: Hall-of-Fame match-up! Randy Johnson vs. Roger Clemens. RJ strikes out 9, goes the distance. Clemens strikes out 6 and punks out after 7 innings. He's replaced by Tony Fossas, whose line reads: strikeout, double, strikeout, double, walk. M's front office thinks, “Hey, that's a guy we could use!” Junior goes 3-4, including a 430-foot HR. Junior, in case anyone's forgot, OWNED Clemens.
- May 13: Angels 11, M's 1: I guess the M's didn't own the Angels yet. M's stinking it up, 13-20, but only 1 1/2 back in the weak AL West.
- May 21: M's 13, Rangers 2: Luis Sojo hits a grand slam in a 7-run 5th inning. It's his first HR of the year. Junior follows with #19 for the year. He's hitting .342. M's are 1/2 game back.
- June 6: M's 5, Indians 4: Junior with a solo HR in the fourth. They've gone 4-9 since I last saw them.
- June 10: A's 4, M's 3 (10 innings): Randy Johnson gives up only 2 runs in 9 innings, but the bullpen team of Bill Risley, Tim Davis, Goose Goosage and Bobby Ayala give up 2 more in the 10th to lose it. In the 4th, Junior makes a great catch in center. From The Seattle Times article: “Then Griffey ended the inning with a marvelous leaping catch of a Terry Steinbach blast at 389-foot mark. Griffey timed his jump perfectly, digging his cleat on the wall and catching it about 11 feet up the 11 1/2-foot barrier. His cleat tore away a small hole in the padding. Piniella called it 'one of the greatest plays I've ever seen.'”
- June 24: White Sox 6, M's 2: Junior's 32nd HR of the year (9th inning, solo). M's are 10 games below .500 and 2 1/2 games back, but Junior's getting national attention:
Esquire story from the summer of '94.
- June 27: Tigers 11, M's 1: 10-0 after 4 innings but we stick around. We rarely left early in those days.
- July 16: Yankees 9, M's 3: Jimmy Key beats RJ. Enjoy it, Yankees fan. I won't see the Yankees beat the M's in Seattle again until August 1997.
- July 19: Walking from my Belltown apartment to the Kingdome, I decide to get on the bus in the Ride-Free Zone, but the driver, seeing my glove and cap, asks, “You going to the game? It's postponed.” I'm thinking, “Bummer,” and then say out loud: “Wait a minute. Why is a game t a domed stadium postponed?” “Dome collapsed,” driver says. I imagine a fallen soufflé and go down anyway to check it out. The dome hasn't collapsed so much as huge tiles have fallen from the roof and crashed into several seats. After assessing the situation, and finding the Kingdome unplayable, the M's finish the season as the nomads of MLB, playing their final 20 games on the road. Does it bring them together? Make them more of a team? They win 9 of their last 10, at any rate, and are only two games back before the 1994 players' strike ends the season.
SEASON RECORD: 5-6 (after starting out 5-2). Same pattern as the previous year. When I'm at the park, they start out hot and then fade. Everything evens out in baseball. Junior dominates. He finishes the season .323/.402/.674. He leads the league with 40 home runs. But it's the first of three straight years, which should be his glory years, when his season is truncated.
Junior: the positive face of baseball during its darkest days.
TOMORROW: REFUSE TO LOSE
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1993)
A few weeks back I finally got around to writing my farewell to Ken Griffey, Jr. It's hardly the first time I've written about the man. When he left Seattle in early 2000 I wrote an ironic piece on the history of our relationship. During his heyday I wrote a long piece on his career that focused on his Make-a-Wish work. And in 1995 I wrote an Op-Ed for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, also now retired, about that awful game when he shattered his wrist against the right-center wall. It included the following graph:
A couple of seasons ago I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred during the game. Randy Johnson strikes out 15 Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this reportage--I can now admit--was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen. And the reason this statistic was important was, well, these were historic homeruns. Because he was going to hit a lot of them. 500. 600. 700? The sky seemed the limit.
I still have those ticket stubs and recently fished them out of the shoe box beneath the window seat in my First Hill office. They stop in 1999, when Junior stopped for us (for the first time), but I realized they provide a kind of ticket-stub synopsis of the rise and fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners, the best team to never go to the World Series. Please forgive this massive self-indulgence. At the same time, read on. This is the saddest story I've ever told.
1993: 14-INNING VICTORIES AND 8 STRAIGHT HOMERUNS
- April 6: M's 8, Blue Jays 1: It's Opening Night against the World Champions. The Blue Jays get 1 in the top of the 1st on a triple by Joe Carter and then it's all Seattle. Junior goes deep in his first at-bat of the season with two men on. Randy Johnson lasts 8 innings and strikes out 14. Gonna be a good year.
- April 10: O's 5, M's 3: Except we can't beat these guys. The O's owned the M's during this period. (By which I mean until 2000.)
- April 20: Red Sox 5, M's 2: Clemens!
- April 21: M's 5, Red Sox 0: RJ with a 4-hit shutout; Junior hits two homeruns. The next game, the only game in the Boston series I miss, Chris Bosio pitches a no-hitter. Such is life.
- May 8: M's 7, Twins 2: Buhner with two HRs. Erik Hanson goes the distance. He's 5-0.
- May 24: M's 4, Angels 3 (14 innings): The M's owned the Angels during this period. (By which I mean until 2002.) Angels go up 3-0 but the M's come back on a Mike Blowers double, a sac fly and a bases-loaded walk to tie it. From the 9th inning on, the M's get the leadoff man on four times; but twice, laying down a sac bunt, they force the lead runner. In the 12th, they load the bases with one out, but Griffey pops to short. It's not until the 14th that they break through: single, sac, single. Whew.
- June 14: M's 6, Royals 3: RJ strikes out 15. I write my own headline: JOHNSON'S K'S KO KC. No one uses it.
- June 23: M's 8, A's 7 (14 innings): Jay Buhner starts the game off with a grand slam in the bottom of the 1st. In the third, he hits a double to right. Two innings later, a single. My friends Mike, Tim and I take odds on the triple for the cycle. It's just a joke. Buhner can't hit a triple. He's too slow and the Kingdome's too small. We weren't counting on another 14-inning game, though. In the 7th he strikes out, in the ninth, grounds out, and he ends the 11th with a strikeout. Then he leads off the 14th with a shot to right. I'm hoping homer, but it bounces off the wall and away from both outfielders, and Jay digs for third. And I mean DIGS. I thought he was going to bury himself to make it. He does! Cycle! Never seen one of those before! Game ain't over yet, though. Tino is intentionally walked, Greg Litton forces him at second. Buhner doesn't score. He scores on a wild pitch instead. Buhner's is the first cycle in Mariners history. The game is also memorable for me because of a Junior at-bat in the 5th. I'm about to get a hot dog, realize Junior's up, then wait it out. Count goes 3-0. I yell up at Mike. “You greenlight him?” Mike shakes his head. I nod mine. Next pitch? Upper deck. Seattle Times story on the cycle here.
- July 2: Red Sox 9, M's 8: The Red Sox score in every one of the first 5 innings. This was when Mike Greenwell was our bete noire. Junior goes 3-4, Buhner goes 4-5 with a homer. Edgar's on the DL. Dave Magadan is our DH.
- July 5: Yankees 6, M's 3: Randy isn't quite Randy yet, and he loses to the Yankees, who aren't quite the Yankees yet. They're just a team that hasn't been to the World Series in 12 years. Scott Kamieniecki gets the victory. He'll get his two years later in Game 4.
- July 10, M's 7, Indians 6: M's go up 4-0 in the 1st, the Indians tie it in the 7th, and Buhner, who may be as sick of 14-inning games as I am, hits a walk-off HR with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th. He's having a helluva year when I'm at the Dome. He should pay for my tickets.
- July 28: Twins 4, M's 1. Junior ties a Major League record by hitting his 8th homerun in as many games. Dale Long, Pirates, did it in 1956; Don Mattingly, Yankees, did it in 1987. To be completely honest, I missed it. I was flirting with some girl or other, wasn't looking at home plate, and before I even knew what was happening everyone stood up and roared. Does that even count as “being at the game”? Should it? Four years later, “Good Will Hunting” popularizes the notion that girls matter more than baseball (“I've got to see about a girl”), but I'm still on the fence on that one.
“There it goes! See ya later!”
- July 31: White Sox 13, M's 10: M's go up 4-0 in the 2nd, but over the next 3 innings the Sox score 11 runs off Erik Hanson, Mike Hampton and Brad Holman. Hanson, who started out like an All-Star, is now 8-8.
- September 20: Rangers 2, M's 1 (10 innings): M's are 9 1/2 back at this point with 12 to play, but it's still a heartbreaking loss. Rafael Palmeiro puts the Rangers ahead with what I assume is a pre-juice 10th-inning homerun. In the bottom of the 10th, with 1 out, Junior laces a double. He goes to third on a wild pitch. Jay Buhner walks. And then Dave Magadan lines the ball...right at the shortstop, who doubles off Jay.
- September 25: A's 7, M's 2: Rueben Sierra's grand slam in the 8th inning sinks the M's, but the memorable moment occurs during a Fan Appreciation Night giveaway, when the prize is...Omar Vizquel's glove! We're not talking a Pete O'Brien jersey here. This is something worth having. So I'm already on the edge of my seat when they begin the announcement. They call my section and my seat...but the row in front of me. I stare down in horror, and then, with more horror, hear a little girl say, “Grandma! You won!” I look up and see Grandma go “Huh?” I should've offered Grandma $50 for her ticket. I should've offered her $100. Anything. Omar's GLOVE? Man, I loved Omar.
SEASON RECORD: 7-8 (after starting out 6-2), including two 14-inning victories, the first cycle in Mariners history, a walk-off homerun, a 15-strikeout performance, and the 8th homer in 8 games for Junior. In the off-season, GM Woody Woodward will trade shortstop Omar Vizquel to the Cleveland Indians for Felix Fermin and $500,000, and during the 1995 ALCS an Indians fan will hold up a sign reading: “SEATTLE: Thanks for JIMI HENDRIX and OMAR!” Woodward will later call it, in an interview with me in Seattle Magazine, the trade he regrets most.
TOMORROW: COLLAPSED DOME, COLLAPSED SEASON.