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...
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