Wednesday July 21, 2010
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.