As former Mariners manager Lou Piniella put it so aptly, “It was the hit, the run, the game, the series and the season that saved baseball in Seattle.”
In honor of Edgar Martinez’s selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame — and for the edification of the many sports fans too new to Seattle or too young to know — I’m re-publishing a portion from my 2002 book, Out of Left Field: How the Mariners Made Baseball Fly in Seattle that illuminates his signature moment.
Please, don’t tell me about how much the Mariners milk this episode from their otherwise meager history in MLB. And please don’t tell me why the future matters more. We long-timers know all that stuff. Nor am I trying to make another buck — the book is out of print.
None of that changes the tension, drama and success of the single most pivotal play in Seattle sports history. All of us who were there will never forget it. The recounting here offers a bit of the moment’s backstory from the participants in a way that resides only in the book.
For me, it was nearly as much fun to research and write the story as it was to watch in person. Here’s an explainer, followed by the book’s account.
In October 1995, the Mariners won a one-game playoff over the Angels to advance to the first post-season series in their mostly miserable 18-year history. The foe: The George Steinbrenner-owned Yankees, in their first playoff series in 14 years. The Mariners lost the first two in the best-of-five Division Series in New York, then rallied take the next two at the Kingdome.
Game 5 was tied 4-4 in the ninth when Piniella brought in, on one day’s rest, ace starter Randy Johnson, sending the sellout crowd into delirium. The Big Unit got three outs. Yankees manager Buck Showalter countered, bringing in his ace, Black Jack McDowell, also on one day’s rest, who relieved rookie closer Mariano Rivera for the final two outs in the ninth, forcing extra innings.
Both stars pitched a scoreless 10th, but a fatigued Johnson gave up a run in the 11th. The Mariners’ season, and the fate of the franchise — owners were pressuring politicians to fund a replacement stadium by threatening to sell the club out of town — hung in the balance in the bottom of the 11th.
Joey Cora began with a surprise bunt single, followed by a line single from Ken Griffey Jr. That brought up the last man in the world the Yankees wanted to see at the plate.
Edgar Martinez’s perfectionism would annoy the Yankees as much as it did Martinez’s childhood pals. His .356 average that won the 1995 American League batting title was the highest for a right-handed hitter since Yankee great Joe DiMaggio hit .381 in 1939. For the ALDS against New York, Martinez would hit .571, tying a major league record for most times on base in a playoff series (18, including 12 hits and six walks).
A moment before he stepped into the on-deck circle, relief pitcher Norm Charlton came up to him, knowing Martinez had struck out in the ninth.
“He kept repeating that I was going to be the one again — I was going to do it,” Martinez said. “I told him, ‘ This is my chance again.'”
As the concrete shed trembled, the chance came on a 2-1 count, when McDowell served up a split-finger fastball that hung instead of sinking.
“I got one up in the strike zone. I just wanted to put the ball someplace where we could get one run.”
He chose the left-field line. His drive wasn’t such a screamer that left fielder Gerald Williams was going to get a hard carom off the wall. As soon as it bounced, the game was tied, Cora scoring easily. As Williams ran down the ball, all eyes shifted to Griffey, who was under way from first base like a Derby Thoroughbred, perhaps lifted by the identical command from 57,000 voices:
Or, as his good buddy Jay Buhner put it in his own earthy fashion, leaping from the dugout to the edge of the field:
“Run, motherfucker, run!”
As Martinez rounded first, he was simultaneously tracking the ball and Griffey.
“When I hit it, I thought Junior would get to third, but I didn’t think he would be able to sore,” he said. “As I got toward second, I saw he was going to try to score. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I’d never seen him run the bases like that.”
Ever the clinical analyst, Dan Wilson, out of the game after being pinch-hit for in the eighth, was on the bench and figured the sensible thing was to send Griffey all the way around.
“The worst case would have been a tied game without one out and a runner on second,” he said. “But I didn’t think he was going to make it. Hey, I didn’t think he was going to try.”
As Griffey churned in perfect sprinter form toward third base, he looked at Williams and third-base coach Sam Perlozzo, and made his decision.
“I saw that Williams was playing towards left-center,” he said. “When I saw the ball land near the line, I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could. When I got to third, Sammy said, ‘Keep going!’
“So I did.”
The throw from Williams was relayed to catcher Jim Leyritz, but it was too late, and wide. Griffey slid across the plate with the sweetest baseball goods ever brought home to Seattle — the game’s best player scoring on a double by the game’s best hitter, in the 11th inning of the final game of a playoff series they had once trailed 0-2, and were losing 10 seconds earlier, to beat the ace of the sport’s most legendary team.
To borrow a phrase inserted by broadcaster Dave Niehaus into the lexicon of the Northwest, never in grander fashion: “My, oh my!”
In the stands, Dave Henderson, the Mariners’ first drafted player in 1977 and now retired and a ticket buyer like all the mad folk around him, lost the professional cool carefully crafted after 17 years in baseball. He was as dippy-damn delirious as just about everyone packing a Washington driver’s license.
“For the first time, I was seeing baseball like a fan,” he said. “It was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen in my life.”
A few moments later, in the clubhouse . . .
Wilson was trying to grasp the achievement of the past seven days.
“If we do make the playoffs in the future, there’s no way to equal this energy,” he said. “It’s never going to be like this again.”
Added Buhner: “You know how they say there’s no crying in baseball? Bullshit!”
I still carry that ticket stub in my wallet ! When they put Dave Niehaus on the big screen I think everybody there had tears of joy. Heck, I’m tearing up now hehe
I’ve told friends that as electrifying as was the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, the equivalent run by the Mariners would be more intense, simply because of the near-dailyness of baseball. It takes over the lives of people who don’t even care.
Yes, you are absolutely right. There is nothing like a close baseball pennant race. Day after day, game after game…..scoreboard watching, looking ahead to the pitching matchups. I remember as a kid in Burien trying desperately to find a signal on my battery powered transistor radio as the Dodgers and Giants battled it out in west coast major league baseball. The wild card has diluted that experience somewhat.
Too bad so many Seattle fans over so many years have been denied the thrills.
I’m wondering, after seeing the photo accompanying the column…
Went our Lou Pinella not in the Mariner HOF?
Seems like he belongs.
I imagine it will come to pass.
I really need to improve my proofreading skills.
Hit the edit button and go back and fix. I’d be lost without it.
Thanks. Brilliantly written. Chills.
I must admit to feeling some hairs on the back of my neck rising as I was typing.
Thanks for re-publishing, Art! Great timing! I left the USA in ‘91, returning to Seattle in ‘96. When I left, it seemed like everyone was a Seahawks fan and hardly anyone paid attention to the Mariners. When I got back, everyone was a Mariners fan and little attention was being paid to the Seahawks. The flip seemed like a weird sort of time-warp. But, of course, it didn’t last.
Nothing like that ever does, But the legacy of its happening carries on in the manner of the stadium that has served millions well.
I was lucky enough to be there for that game, it was a sports moment that I think few fans ever get to experience in their lifetime. It was a game and a moment that I’ll never forget.
The Hollywood ending that almost never happens outside Hollywood, happened.
I was there in the highest seat in the King Dome. Loud, and so much fun.
Those who were there remember so many details of the evening.
I was the guy in front of you. 😉⚾️
I took my 9 year-old son to Game 4 with the Yankees when Edgar led an amazing comeback win with a three-run homer and a grand salami. It was the biggest Mariner win ever. Until the next night.
Part of the most remarkable week any Seattle sports team has had.
I( don’t think Usain Bolt could have run any faster than Griffey did.
That may have been Griffey’s apex moment as an athlete.
I have read Mr. Art’s writing for years dating back to the old P-I days and this is the best I can remember. Please provide examples if I am wrong.
Mr. Art: thanks much. This is why we go to games, talk about games, and read about sports.
I bow in your general direction, kind sir. Edgar did the deed, I’m just the typist.
Is it weird what makes guys teary eyed?……….My favorite sports memory ever by my favorite Mariner ever!!!!
Called by the best announcer ever………good times.
The tears have to do with caring deeply about an enterprise that is not family, business or pets, one that is not important in the grand scheme. So you to can enjoy a mostly guilt-free passion. That can be an intense experience.
I was there, too. The only baseball game I have ever been to that had constant energy throughout the park from the first pitch to the last. Intense.
Good description. A couple of Sonics playoff games were right there — I was in Chicago for the 96 Finals opener, but that was mostly Jordan-generated.
Having been in NY for the first two in the ALCS series, then to see three stupendous games in a row in the Kingdome, the week (which started with the do-or-die against the Angels) was unforgettable.
I attended every home game of that run. Took my dad to the one-gamer against the Angels, and we both damn near needed oxygen just to make it to our 300-level seats. But as spectacular as Gar’s hit and Junior’s sprint were, the image of Randy coming in from the bullpen like a white-hatted gunslinger at High Noon will forever be burned into my brain. That’s when I knew we were witnessing history.
LUCKY you for having the opportunity and WISE you for taking your Dad. As adults, we have limited chances to repay Dad(s) for taking us to those earlier games, so well done.
I took mine to a Mariner game at the Safe when he could still understand things, and the modern Mariner stadium management got an A+ especially compared to earlier management at the Kingdome. Met us at the front door (so to speak) at the pre-arranged time, put us in the big-shot elevator, escorted us to the wheelchair area, checked up on us during the game, etc. It helped that Moyer tossed a 4-hit shutout, Edgar and Wilson each hit one out, glorious sunshine, fast-played game, etc. I’m glad that I was able to take my Dad and hope your memory lasts as long as mine. Sounds like it is a fond a memory as mine.
Amen. Memories don’t get any better than these. I’ll never forget the smile on his face when “everybody” scored.