Though 1995 may be the Mariners' most publicized success, it was just the launching point for the young club. In the latter half of the decade, the M's ascended to the top of the AL West, set a 90-win record, and were plied with more Silver Sluggers and All-Star nominations than they knew what to do with.
September 21, 1996
A year after the Cleveland Indians broke the Mariners' hearts in the '95 ALCS, the club found themselves on the brink of another trip to the playoffs.
On September 11, they were nine games out from the division lead, where the Texas Rangers were nesting comfortably on a 83-62 record. The following day, the M's kicked off a 10-game winning streak, the most in franchise history to that date, and second-most to this day. They vaulted over the Twins on the road, then returned to Seattle to deal with the Rangers firsthand.
The Athletics gave the M's their tenth and final win of the streak on September 21. Jamie Moyer won his 13th game of the season, striking out just one batter and allowing two runs and three walks in 6 2/3 innings. In a nine-run performance, the M's whacked five home runs in the first two innings, forcing out Oakland starter Dave Telgheder by the 3rd with six hits, six runs, a walk, and two strikeouts.
During the M's home run clinic, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr, and Edgar Martinez struck back-to-back-to-back home runs off Telgheder, launching consecutive shots to left, center, and right field. For Edgar, it was his 100th RBI of the year -- the second of four years in a row that he would reach over 100 RBI.
Unfortunately, a repeat postseason appearance wasn't in the cards for Seattle. The Baltimore Orioles skated past the M's and three other contenders with an 88-74 record, claiming the wild card berth only to lose to the Yankees in the ALCS.
September 27, 1997
When 85 wins weren't enough for a shot at the playoffs, the Mariners set the bar at 90 wins in 1997. Their first uncontested division title arrived after 36 days in first place, an easy six-game lead above the second-place Anaheim Angels.
The day before the conclusion of the regular season, the M's went head-to-head with the Athletics for their 90th win, establishing several club records in the process. Right-hander Omar Olivares started the game with four innings, a pair of runs, and two strikeouts, but the win belonged to Randy Johnson, who entered in the 5th for two innings of shutout ball. It marked Johnson's 20th win of the year, the first time the 33-year-old had reached that mark, and the only time he would do so for the Mariners. Several years later, Jamie Moyer joined him with two 20+ win seasons. No Seattle pitcher has done it since.
At the plate, Griffey was breaking records of his own. The 27-year-old was having a monster season, leading the league in slugging percentage, total bases, RBI, and home runs. Against Oakland rookie Brad Rigby, the Kid whipped out his 56th home run on the year, his last of the regular season and a career high that he would match once more in 1998.
Despite the historical ramifications of this game, the M's were not able to sustain their success through a second visit to the playoffs. They fell to the 98-64 Baltimore Orioles in a four-game ALDS, offering up a solo shot by Edgar Martinez in their final loss.
August 27, 1998
By 1998, the Mariners had slipped back into third place, ceding the division title to the 88-74 Rangers. On August 27, they were on the brink of a series loss to the division-leading Cleveland Indians. Jamie Moyer stepped on the field to salvage the final game with 99 career wins and 996 strikeouts to his name.
When Cleveland third baseman David Bell approached the plate for the third time, the M's were leading 5-4 in the 6th. Bell was 0-for-2 that day, foiled on groundouts to A-Rod and Joey Cora. Moyer sat on 5 1/3 innings with three strikeouts, six hits, and two home runs, slated to be pulled after the end of the inning. Bell worked his way to a 2-2 count and went down swinging. With one milestone under his belt, Moyer placed the fate of the other in the hands of right-handed reliever Jose Paniaqua.
Moyer didn't have to worry for long. The M's found another four-run inning in the 8th, when the Indians' defense unraveled on a sac bunt and a throwing error. Cora lashed a three-run home run to secure a six-run lead, leaving closer Mike Timlin to coast through the 9th inning, setting down the last three batters and handing Moyer his 100th victory.
In the bittersweet aftermath, Bell was traded to the Mariners just four days after his memorable strikeout -- in exchange for Little Joey Cora.
July 15, 1999
I was nine years old when the Kingdome imploded on January 9, 2000. I have clearer memories of that day than of the days I spent inside the Dome. I remember watching it on TV with my family, feeling an inexplicable sense of sadness as the stadium collapsed in a cloud of dust.
Although the implosion occurred in the offseason preceding the 2000 season, the M's played their last game there on June 27, 1999. Their last hurrah ended with a 5-2 win over the Rangers. 22-year-old rookie Freddy Garcia won his ninth game of the year, and would go on to win eight more that season, tying an all-time record for Mariners' rookie pitchers.
After a lengthy road trip, the M's returned to Seattle for their first game in a brand-new Safeco Field. They didn't quite reach capacity, filling 44,607 seats of 47,476, and like their inaugural game in the Kingdome, lost. Moyer matched a season-high nine strikeouts, allowing a lone run through eight innings.
David Bell, now backing Moyer in a Mariners' uniform, struck three doubles in the game, his last an RBI shot past San Diego's Eric Owens to end Andy Ashby's shutout. One at-bat later, first baseman David Segui followed suit, lashing another RBI double for the lead and giving the Mariners a chance to christen their new ballpark with a win.
It wasn't enough. As Moyer exited in the 8th inning, Jose Mesa entered the 9th and set the table for a comeback, recording one out while allowing four walks, one a game-tying RBI walk to leadoff bater Quilvio Veras. In his stead, Paul Abbott did little better, securing the final two outs of the inning -- including a game-winning sac fly.
Two days later, the M's recorded their first win at Safeco. Throughout the final half of the 1999 season, the club managed a 23-19 record in their new home.
October 6, 2000
Of all the ways to win a playoff game -- a walk-off grand slam, a fluke hit-by-pitch, a 10-run blowout, a perfect game, a Double -- there may be none more surprising than Carlos Guillen's walk-off bunt single in the 2000 ALDS.
It was the perfect cap to a dominant season, where the Mariners emerged as clear wild card winners with a 91-71 record, half a game back of the 91-70 division champs. Aaron Sele guided the M's to their first playoff sweep, allowing three walks and a run to the hapless Chicago White Sox, who led the American League with a 95-67 record through the regular season.
As Seattle celebrated their first playoff win since 1995, the New York Yankees beat out the Oakland A's for a trip to the ALCS. Unlike 1995, this match-up wouldn't fall in the Mariners' favor again. They pushed the series to six games before losing their World Series bid on a 9-7 heartbreaker by New York's Orlando Hernandez and Mariano Rivera.
More from Lookout Landing:
- A year of mistakes, in review
- Evaluating Mariners' top prospects
- Spending money on the bullpen
- Mariners offseason: Sign Bartolo Colon to a two-year deal
- Fortune-telling the AL West with Prince Fielder