The 1994 players strike, which ended the season prematurely and resulted in the World Series being canceled for the first time in 90 years, dealt a significant blow to baseball.1 And, when play resumed in late April 1995 (shortening the season to 144 games), there was a lot of work to do to restore the fans’ faith in the game. Fortunately, the story of the Seattle Mariners and their first real drive for the playoffs was an event that helped bring the game back. It may have also saved the game in Seattle in the bargain.2
Seattle has had a long baseball history, dating back to the 1890s. Seattle had a Pacific Coast League team beginning in 1903, and the city had teams in either the PCL (1903-1906; 1919-1968) or the Northwestern League (1907-1918) until 1968. Playing under team names like the Indians, Clamdiggers, and Rainiers, the city had many exciting teams and players, including Seattle native Fred Hutchinson, and the PCL version of the Seattle franchise won seven PCL pennants.
In 1969 the major leagues expanded by four teams—including the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (American League), and the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres (National League). Perhaps the less said about the Pilots the better – and anyway Jim Bouton has probably already said it all in his best-selling and very revealing account Ball Four.3
The Pilots played a single season, then departed for Milwaukee to become the Milwaukee Brewers. A lawsuit brought about by the transfer of the Pilots eventually resulted in the creation of the Seattle Mariners in 1977. The initial Mariners teams had occasional flashes of excitement, but were essentially dreadful: “… (T)he Mariners were a laughingstock, having finished above .500 just twice during their 18 seasons since joining the American League as an expansion team in 1977. They were within 10 games of a playoff berth in only one of those seasons, and that was a seven-game deficit as a sub-.500 team in ’87.”4
This would change in 1995.
The 1995 Mariners, managed by the fiery Lou Piniella, featured two of the game’s real stars, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson, as well as a strong supporting cast of hitters, including Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, and Tino Martinez. Despite losing Griffey for half the season with a broken wrist, the Mariners played well enough to harbor postseason dreams. Late July/early August acquisitions Andy Benes and Vince Coleman added additional talent.5
Nevertheless, the Mariners had to really work at it to make the playoffs. They ran down the Angels, who had held a 12½-game lead as late as August 20, by going 26-13 during the last six weeks of the season. They ended the season in a tie with the Angels, then won a one-game division playoff game, 9-1, with Luis Sojo breaking open a tight game in the seventh inning with a bases-clearing double to right field.6 The Mariners were now going to the playoffs!
In the best-of-five American League Division Series they would face a resurgent New York Yankees team, in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, as the first American League Wild Card team. They featured strong pitching (Jack McDowell, David Cone, and John Wetteland) and equally strong hitting (Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, Mike Stanley, and Paul O’Neill. Don Mattingly, playing in his final season, rounded out the Yankees hitters). On paper, they appeared an even match with the Mariners.7
The first two games, played in Yankee Stadium, went to the Yankees, including a 15-inning nail-biter that ended on Jim Leyritz’s two-run home run. When the series shifted to Seattle’s Kingdome, the Mariners needed a sweep to avoid elimination. They responded to the challenge by winning Games Three and Four, the big blow in Game Four coming on Edgar Martinez’s eighth-inning grand slam, his second home run of the game. This set the stage for a dramatic Game Five.
The Kingdome was sold out (57,411), with 78 percent of all western Washington households watching on television. The Yankees were ahead 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Griffey made it 4-3 on his fifth home run of the series. Then Yankees pitcher David Cone walked the Mariners’ Doug Strange with the bases loaded to tie the score, 4-4. Norm Charlton, who had pitched the eighth inning for Seattle, started the ninth, and gave up a double and a walk.
The formidable Randy Johnson, pitching on one day’s rest, now came into the game for the Mariners with the game (and series) on the line. Johnson’s appearance electrified the Kingdome crowd. He then retired the next three Yankees’ hitters on eight pitches.
Mariano Rivera pitched the beginning of the ninth for New York, facing three hitters and retiring one. The Yankees then countered with their own ace, Jack McDowell, also pitching on short rest; he retired the final two Mariners in the ninth and then in the 10th, allowed singles to Jay Buhner and Mike Blowers, before setting down the side.8 No runs scored, and the game remained tied, 4-4.
In the pivotal 11th inning, the Yankees pushed across a run on Randy Velarde’s single to left field, scoring Pat Kelly. Now, batting in the home half of the 11th, it was score or go home for the Mariners.9
Joey Cora led off with a bunt single, and Griffey hit a single to center field. Cora advanced to third. Now Edgar Martinez came to the plate. Hitting over .500 for the series, with two doubles, two home runs, and eight runs batted in, he was the Mariners’ best hitter in the series. And he delivered here. On an 0-and-1 count, Martinez smacked a sharp line drive into the left field corner, easily scoring Cora. Griffey, off with the crack of the bat, turned on the speed, and scored from first with a feet-first slide. The Mariners had won! And Griffey, at the bottom of a joyous dog pile of Mariners players, flashed his famous smile.10
While the Mariners would later fall to the Indians four games to two (after winning Games one and three) in the American League Championship Series, they had put baseball back on the Seattle map.
1 Bob Nightengale, “1994 Strike Most Embarrassing Moment in MLB History,” USA Today. August 11, 2014. Retrieved from usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/08/11/1994-mlb-strike/13912279/.
3 Jim Bouton, Ball Four. 3rd edition (New York: Dell Publishing, 1971). Retrieved from amazon.com/Ball-Four-Jim-Bouton/dp/0440004152/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418783803&sr=1-3&keywords=ball+four.
4 Andrew Mearns, “New York Yankees vs. Seattle Mariners: Remembering a Once Intense Rivalry. Pinstripealley.com, April 29, 2014. Retrieved from pinstripealley.com/2014/4/29/5665024/yankees-mariners-rivalry-griffey-cone-edgar-justice.
5 Glenn Drosendahl, “The Seattle Mariners Win Their First Playoff Series With a Dramatic Comeback Against the New York Yankees on October 8, 1995,” Historylink.org. September 11, 2011. Retrieved from historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=9564.
7 B. Cohen, “1995 ALDS: Seattle Mariners Over New York Yankees, 3 Games to 2,” thebaseballpage.com. Retrieved from thebaseballpage.com/season/1995-alds-seattle-mariners-over-new-york-yankees-3-games-2.
9 Yankees vs. Mariners Box Score. Baseball Reference. October 8, 1995.