Friday 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: We've gone 2-8 since the injury—in the games I went to. Come back, Junior! Overall, 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