The regular season draws to a close tomorrow and, by some miracle, the Mariners continue to cling to a shot at the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. For our last look back at team history this month, let's revisit some of the more memorable season finales that preceded playoff runs.
Of the four appearances the M's have made in the postseason, only twice have they ended the regular season with wins. In 1997, the team lost 9-7 to the visiting Oakland A's after giving up an ill-advised grand slam. The 2001 squad saw a six-game winning streak snapped by a 4-3 squeaker against the last-place Texas Rangers.
The first time they won, then, was back in 1995. Randy Johnson faced off against former Mariner Mark Langston, who was six years removed from his tenure in Seattle and trying to bounce back from a dismal 7-8 record in 1994. Much like the Mariners of 2014, the Mariners of 1995 were vying for a playoff berth with only a few games left to play. The California Angels, meanwhile, were trying to salvage a ruined season after two massive slumps in August and September that loosened their hold on the AL West title. Despite a five-game win streak preceding the season finale, they had only managed to tie the Mariners for first place and were forced to play a tie-breaker in order to determine who would advance past October 1.
The first six innings proved tense for both sides. Langston capped four shutout innings and allowed an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth inning, while Johnson held a perfect game steady through 5 2/3 innings. After six, he had amassed nine strikeouts, struck out the side twice, and permitted just one baserunner.
The pitcher's duel was not destined to last forever, though. Mike Blowers broke through with a leadoff base hit in the seventh, followed by back-to-back bunts from Tino Martinez and Dan Wilson. Langston's command dissolved, plunking Vince Coleman and loading the bases for Luis Sojo, who drove home four runs with a double and a throwing error by Langston.
Unfortunately for the Angels, their bullpen was no better equipped to stymie the Mariners' offense. In the eighth, the M's put up another four runs on an RBI base hit and a pair of doubles, while Randy Johnson continued to dominate, extending his shutout despite allowing a walk and a double. By the ninth, there was little hope that the Angels could recover the lead -- or their shot at the postseason. Johnson gave up a first-pitch home run to third baseman Tony Phillips, then caught the next three batters at the plate, finishing off the Angels' season with his sixth complete game and 294th strikeout of the year.
Five years later, the Mariners and Angels met again while Seattle sat on the brink of the postseason. The Angels had sunk to third place in the division with a respectable 82-80 record, while the Mariners were chasing the Oakland A's for division lead in their first 90-win season since 1997.
This time, there was no illusion of a perfect game to buoy the Mariners' hopes. Neither Aaron Sele nor Angels' starter Mark Petkovsek lasted longer than five innings, each giving up two runs before handing the game to their respective bullpens. As in 1995, the seventh inning proved a lucky one for Seattle. Third baseman David Bell picked up a leadoff home run against future Mariner Shigetoshi Hasegawa. Mark McLemore and Mike Cameron hit back-to-back singles, setting the table for Raul Ibanez and a two-RBI double, just his eighth of the year.
The Seattle 'pen was not above keeping things interesting for the Mariners. As soon as Sele was pulled, lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes loaded the bases for the Angels, then escaped the inning with a strikeout. In both the eighth and ninth innings, Anaheim put runners in scoring position with one out, but failed to score thanks to a timely strikeout by closer Kazuhiro Sasaki and the slick glove of Alex Rodriguez for the final two outs of the game.
However impressive the Mariners' win, it was not enough to salvage their hopes of another division title. The A's had also won their contest that day, sweeping the Rangers and bringing their win-loss record in September and October to 22-7. They finished the year atop the AL West by half a game, handing Seattle their first wild card in franchise history.