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On This Date in Sports: October 8, 1995: Saving Seattle

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Seattle Mariners beat the New York Yankees 6-5 in 11 innings to advance to the ALCS on a two-run double by Edgar Martinez. It was the first year of the Division Series, as baseball tried to recover from the 1994 strike. The Mariners, who were trying to get a new stadium from Seattle has a great run to make the playoffs for the first time. After losing the first two games in the Bronx, won all three games at the Kingdome, with Ken Griffey Jr. sliding home with the winning run.

After a strike wiped out the postseason in 1994, Major League Baseball had to work hard to win back the fans in 1995. The 1994 season was to be the first with an added round, now that first Division Series was to be played in 1995. Three of the Division Series were snoozers, as the Cleveland Indians swept the Boston Red Sox, extending Boston’s postseason losing streak to 13 games. The Cincinnati Reds swept the Los Angeles Dodgers, while the Atlanta Braves needed four games to beat the Colorado Rockies. 

One series stood above the rest, and that was the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees, which went the full five games and was filled with a months’ worth of drama and changed the course of two franchises and the course of the sport for the next decade. 

 

The Seattle Mariners had never been a contender. Born of expansion in 1977, the Mariners had just two seasons in which they finished above .500. The Kingdome, a concrete cave that doubled as doom, was crumbling. In 1994, the Mariners were forced to play on the road as the strike began as pieces of the roof began to fall. The Mariners had informed the city of Seattle that they would have to move if they did not get a new stadium. Even though they had Ken Griffey Jr., the Mariners had trouble filling the doom, and the vote to save the team failed. 

Things looked bleak for Seattle, as the Mariners, led by manager Lou Pinella lost Ken Griffey Jr. for much of the summer as he crashed into the wall and broke his wrist, making a catch at the end of May. As August began, the Mariners were under .500 at 43-46, trailing the California Angels by 13 games on August 2nd. As the dog days of August took their toll on the Angels, Griffey returned to the lineup, and the Mariners went on a six-week run that saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners posted a record of 24-11 over the final 35 games and finished the season tied with the Angels for first place at 78-66. 

In a one-game playoff at the Kingdome, the Mariners blanked the Angels 9-1 as Randy Johnson locked up the Cy Young with a complete-game three-hitter striking out 12 batters. The game was like the Mariners franchise, and fate rolled into one moment as the losing pitcher was former Mariner Mark Langston, who was traded to the Montreal Expos in 1989 for Johnson, who posted a record of 18-2 in 1995.

While the Mariners were postseason newcomers, the New York Yankees were ending a 14-year postseason drought. They were the best team in the American League in 1994 when the strike ended the season on August 12th. In 1995 the Yankees, led by Buck Showalter, underperformed most of the season. Jack McDowell, the 1993 Cy Young winner, struggled and even flipped off the fans as it was a summer of discontent in the Bronx. The Yankees looking for some pitching help acquired David Cone, who won the Cy Young in 1994 at the trade deadline and looked to be the American League’s first Wild Card team. The Yankees ended August with a record of 57-59 but won 22 of their final 28 games to finish one game ahead of the Mariners and Angels at 79-65.

The Division Series began in the Bronx. David Cone, who went 9-2 over the final two months made the start for New York, while Chris Bosio started for Seattle, who had no time to celebrate their first playoff appearance, flying cross-country to play in the ALDS after their win the 145th game of the season. The Yankees struck first with a two-run by Wade Boggs in the third inning. Ken Griffey Jr. would lead off the following inning with a home run. Seattle tied the game in the sixth as Dan Wilson was walked with the bases loaded. In the bottom of the inning, Don Mattingly, the Yankees longtime captain playing in his first postseason game, had an RBI single. Mike Stanley also drove in a run to make it 4-2. In the seventh, Junior struck again, tying the game with a two-run shot. The Yankees answered Junior’s home run with four runs as Bernie Williams had an RBI double and later scored on a two-run home by Ruben Sierra. The Yankees made it 9-4 in the eighth, while Seattle scored twice off John Wetteland in a non-save situation to make the final score 9-6. 

Rookie Andy Pettitte made the start for the Yankees in Game 2, while Andy Benes was looking to even the series for the Mariners. Vince Coleman gave Seattle a lead with a home run in the third inning. The Yankees tied the game with a double in the fifth. After Tino Martinez gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead in the sixth, the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning on back-to-back home runs by Sierra and Mattingly. In the seventh inning, the Mariners scratched across two runs, while Paul O’Neill homered to tie the 4-4. In the 12th inning, Junior homered for the third time in the series to give Seattle a 5-4 lead. Tim Belcher was on the mound trying to close out the game when Ruben Sierra had a two-out double that scored Jorge Posada to tie the game, while Bernie Williams was thrown out at home. Belcher remained on the mound for the Mariners as the game went past midnight. On the mound for New York was a rookie named Mariano Rivera, who showed he could be most effective in the bullpen, as struggling as a starter during the season. In the 15th inning, the game ended with a two-run walk-off home run by Jim Leyritz to give the Yankees a 7-5 win.

Down 0-2, the Mariners got a boost with Randy Johnson on the mound for Seattle, while Jack McDowell made the start for the Yankees. The Yankees grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning on a home run by Bernie Williams. Seattle answered with a two-run shot by Tino Martinez in the fifth. The Mariners broke the game open with four runs in the sixth, as they won 7-4 to avert the sweep. 

Chris Bosio was back on the mound in Game 4 for Seattle, while Scott Kamieniecki made the start for the Yankees. Things looked bleak for Seattle as the Yankees scored three runs in the first with Mattingly providing the big hit with a two-run single. Paul O’Neill hit a two-run homer to make it 5-0 in the third inning. It was up to the Mariners’ big bats to get back in the game, and with a   three-run home run by Edgar Martinez in the bottom of the third, the fans in the Kingdome roared back to life. The Mariners drew a run closer with a sac-fly by Luis Sojo. After Bosio faltered, the Mariners got four shutout innings by Jeff Nelson. The Mariners tied the game on an error by Don Mattingly in the fifth. They would take the lead in the sixth when Ken Griffey Jr. hit his fourth home run off Sterling Hitchcock. After the Yankees tied the game on a wild pitch by Norm Charlton in the eighth, it was Edgar Martinez who struck again, hitting a grand slam against John Wetteland to break the game open, as he had seven RBI in the game. Jay Buhner added a solo shot to make it 11-6. The Yankees scored twice in the ninth as Seattle forced a fifth game with an 11-8 win.

For Game 5, it was David Cone against Adan Benes with the winner going to face the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. Joey Cora homered in the third to give Seattle a 1-0 lead, while Paul O’Neill hit a two-run shot in the fourth to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Buhner would get an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game 2-2, showing fans early the game was setting up to be a classic. The Yankees took the lead back in the sixth when Don Mattingly knocked in a pair of runs with a double. Down 4-2 in the eighth, the Mariners rally began with Ken Griffey Jr’s fifth home run of the ALDS. Against a tiring David Cone, the Mariners tied the game as pinch-runner Alex Rodriguez scored on a bases-loaded walk. Like a scene out of a movie, Randy Johnson came on to pitch in the ninth inning with two on and nobody out. Johnson would not allow a run to score as the game went to extra innings. After striking out the side in the tenth, Johnson got in trouble in the 11th with a leadoff walk. Pat Kelly would pinch-run and score on a single by Randy Velarde to give New York a 5-4 lead. Like the Mariners, the Yankees had a starter on the mound in extra innings as Jack McDowell took the mound seeking the win in the 11th. Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr. led off the inning with singles bringing up Edgar Martinez. The Mariners DH laced the ball down the third baseline, Cora scored easily as Junior beat the relay to score the winning run, sending off a wild celebration in Seattle.

It was a moment that saved a franchise and changed the course of baseball for the next ten years. Following the dramatic 6-5 win, the Mariners would lose to the Indians in six games in the ALCS. However, the win over the Yankees revived baseball in Seattle, as there was a new proposal that passed, giving the Mariners a new stadium that would open in 1999.  The Yankees would undergo wholesale changes as Buck Showalter was fired and replaced by Joe Torre. Don Mattingly retired, to replace him, the Yankees made a deal with the Mariners acquiring Jeff Nelson and Tino Martinez, both of whom played key roles for the Yankees who won four World Series in five years. However, it was Mariano Rivera who won Game 2 of the ALDS and caught the eye of the Yankees who soon began to angle him for the closer role, as he went on to set the career saves record and embark on a Hall of Fame career.