In the first of our 36-plus part series – Seattle Playoff Futility – we’re looking at the 1995 Mariners. Probably the most successful Seattle team to lose in the playoffs.
You can’t talk about where it all went wrong for those 1995 Mariners until you first talk about where it went so very right. We all know (or have a vague idea) how it goes: the Mariners were 13 games behind the California Angels in the AL West after their game on August 2nd (which itself was a game down in California that they lost, 5-4). The Mariners then proceeded to go 35-20 while the Angels went 22-33 (including two losing streaks of 9 games each) to end up with an identical record, leading to a 1-game playoff.
What people may not remember is that the Mariners actually overtook the Angels on Friday, September 22nd, up 1 game with 8 more games to go. We had as high as a 3-game lead on the Angels after we beat them on September 26th, but the Angels finished the regular season on a 5-game winning streak (while we went 2-3, including losing our final two games down in Texas to back into that 1-game playoff).
We all know what happened in that in that 145th game of that strike-shortened season; Randy Johnson came back on short rest (on a Monday afternoon in the Kingdome when the city absolutely stopped) and blew those fucking Angels out of the water with a complete game win, 9-1. Here’s a box score if you want to relive some old memories.
With that, the Seattle Mariners won their first-ever division title and earned their first-ever birth into the Major League Baseball playoffs.
1995 was the first year of the Wild Card. It was also the first year where they split into three divisions per league. This wouldn’t have mattered much in the grand scheme of things – the Mariners still would’ve won the Western Division had there been only two divisions – but that great and magical feeling surrounding the Mariners of ’95 might not have been there without us playing the New York Yankees in the first round.
What’s odd about these 1995 playoffs, aside from the fact that it’s the first with a Wild Card, is that the seedings were pre-determined. The Cleveland Indians were the big swinging dicks of all of baseball with a 100-44 record. Yet, for some asinine reason, they were considered the 3-seed in the playoffs. The Boston Red Sox – winners of the AL East – were the 1-seed; the Mariners the 2-seed. Since the Red Sox & Yankees were in the same division, they where still prohibited from playing one another. That’s how the Red Sox ended up playing (AND having home field advantage over) the Indians, while the Mariners did so against the Yankees.
Of course, probably the dumbest move of them all: the team with home field advantage was forced to play its first two games on the road before coming home for the final three in a best of five series (which, I have to believe is a major reason why the Red Sox were sweeped by the Indians 3-0, since they only played the third and final game of the series at home).
The Mariners, let us not forget, almost suffered that very same fate. We got good and smacked around in that first game, losing 9-6, with David Cone going 8 innings, giving up 4, while Chris Bosio couldn’t even get through 6 innings (and our bullpen completely fell apart).
That second game was an absolute masterpiece. A back-and-forth affair early, the Mariners were up 1, then tied, then up one going into the bottom of the 6th, then down one, then up one again going into the bottom of the 7th, then tied after that 7th. Norm Charlton – having blown the save in the bottom of the 7th with a solo home run – went four strong innings in relief and stood to get the win after the Mariners took the lead in the top of the 12th. Jeff Nelson blew that in the bottom half, and the game ballooned all the way to 15 innings. Anyone who remembers this series remembers Tim Belcher throwing a hissy-fit on the way to the clubhouse after he gave up the game-losing 2-run home run, leaving the Mariners down 0-2 in the series.
Things were bleak. But, there would be another game to play two days later in the Kingdome.
We finally got to Randy Johnson’s turn in the rotation (remember, we had to waste him in that 1-game playoff at season’s end) and he showed everyone why he was the best pitcher in baseball in 1995 (according to this link, you’ll see that the Mariners were 27-3 in his starts in 1995, and 52-63 in all other starts in the regular season). We downed the Yankees pretty handily in that third game, 7-4, to set up the single greatest finish in any ALDS ever.
In Game 4, the Yankees exploded to a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the third. Chris Bosio was showing us just how finished in his career he really was, as he could only manage to last 2 innings. Granted, he was going on short rest, but Jesus man! Luckily, we were facing the Yankees’ fourth starter, so that lead was pretty short-lived. The Mariners got 4 back in the bottom of the 3rd, tied it up in the bottom of the fifth, and took the lead in the bottom of the 6th (6-5). The Yankees ended up tying the game at 6 in the top of the 8th, but the Mariners slammed their way to the win in the bottom half (thank you Edgar Martinez, thank you John Wetteland) and ended up taking the game 11-8.
Leaving just The Double Game. The single greatest Seattle Mariners game ever played. The game that saved baseball in the city of Seattle. The game no one whose a Mariners fan will ever forget.
Mariners up 1-0, down 2-1, tied 2-2, down 4-2, tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th, down 5-4 in the top of the 11th, won the game 6-5 in the bottom of the 11th. It’s all there. Trials, tribulations, heroics, celebrations, the Yankees losing. It’s pretty much everything anyone ever looks for in a great playoff game. AND three innings of relief from the Big Unit to seal the deal.
Meanwhile, this was Sunday, October 8th. The Indians were finished on Friday, October 6th. Their starters were resting comfortably, set up like clockwork for the ALCS. What we had going for us – again, because of the asinine playoff rules back then – was home field advantage, even though we had a worse regular season record. So, Games 1 and 2 were in the Kingdome. And SOMEHOW, the Mariners – behind rookie pitcher Bob Wolcott – won game 1 over the Indians’ ace, 3-2. Wolcott spun 7 innings of 5-walk, 8-hit, 2-run gold, and the rest of the team did the rest. Mike Blowers hit a 2-run jack, Luis Sojo knocked in the game-winning RBI double, and that was that. Could it BE? These Miracle M’s were three more wins from the World Series? And Randy Johnson hasn’t even pitched yet?
In Game 2, the Mariners had their usual suspect starting performance out of Tim Belcher, and the offense was non-existent (Orel Hershiser shut us down to the tune of 1 earned run over 8 innings with 7 strikeouts), leaving 7 runners on base, going 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position. We lost 5-2, with three consecutive games in Cleveland to go.
Fortunately, we had our ace going in Game 3. Randy Johnson went 8 strong, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) in a magnificent performance. Unfortunately, Charles Nagy did the same damn thing and it took us until the 11th inning to close this one out. Nevertheless, Jay Buhner hit a 3-run home run in the top of the 11th, and Norm Charlton allowed it to hold up on his third inning of relief for the 5-2 win. The Mariners were up 2-1 in this series, guaranteed to see the Kingdome once again.
In Game 4, we got 6 hits and were shutout 7-0. This was the game we really needed to step on their throats, and insted we let them tie the series.
With that momentum, the Indians took Game 5, 3-2. Once again, Orel Hershiser did his thing, but it’s not like we didn’t have our opportunities. We had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the 6th, but of course Lou Pinella left Chris Bosio in there too long and we promptly gave up that lead in the bottom half of the inning, on a 2-run home run by a young Jim Thome of all people. Even then, we had our chances. In the top of the 7th, with 1 out we had Dan Wilson on third base. But, both Griffey and Buhner struck out to end the threat. Luis Sojo promptly lined into a double play to end our threat in the 8th inning. And in the 9th, we were shut down in order.
A series that had at 2-1 been so promising, was now 3-2 headed back to Seattle for Game 6. After starting on October 13th, Randy Johnson came back on short rest to start the game on October 17th. He did his damnedest, getting into the 8th inning, but he wasn’t his usual dominant self, giving up 4 runs, 3 earned. Meanwhile, an aging Dennis Martinez totally fucked us and we lost with but a whimper 4-0. In this game, we were an underwhelming 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. To make matters worse, the middle of our order (Griffey, Edgar, Tino, and Buhner) were a combined 1 for 13 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch.
In fact, in that entire ALCS, the heart of our order was nothing to write home about. Griffey was 7 for 21 – with 2 doubles and a homer – but thanks to those around him, he could only muster 2 RBI. Edgar, after being our Jesus Christ in the ALDS, was effectively beaten, bloodied, and crucified in the ALCS, going 2 for 23 with 0 extra base hits. And Tino was 3 for 22 with 0 extra base hits. Jay Buhner, while gamely going 7 for 23 with five extra base hits, could unfortunately not do it alone.
As for the pitching side of things – a bugaboo that would haunt the Mariners for the rest of the 1990s – it was no contest. The Indians held the Mariners to 12 total runs in 6 games (after scoring 35 runs in 5 games against the Yankees), including two shutouts in the final three games.
For as amazing as that Mariners team was – with future Seattle Mariners Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jay Buhner – the Cleveland Indians of 1995 were just plain better, and deserved to be in that World Series.
Still, you can’t help but feel like there is a TON of unfinished business for this 1995 team. Hell, that was a team they make movies about! A group of plucky, spunky underdogs who defy all odds by making up 13 games in the final two months, who face and overtake the Big Bad Yankees of the East … who are SUPPOSED to cap off that season by continuing their miracle run right through the World Series.
Instead, the movie portion ends on the night of Sunday, October 8, 1995. And the ALCS is but a footnote.
Yes, the 1995 Mariners were a happy memory for many Seattle fans. Yet it somehow overshadows the heartbreak of not actually going all the way. However, it remains a testament to the Settle For Less attitude of most Seattle fans. Whereas some of us consider a season like 1995 a failure because, seriously, what did the Mariners win that year? But, most Seattle fans consider it a success, because they don’t really care if their team ever wins a championship, so long as they tried hard and had a good time.
Major League Baseball doesn’t give trophies for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th place, people! This isn’t the Special Olympics! This is just another case of a Seattle team choking in the playoffs when it mattered most.
But, SURELY there will be plenty more playoff chances where that came from … right?