It was 20 years ago today. I watched with my father in a small television in our condo in Sunriver, OR. We had the vacation planned all year. No one from Seattle had ever thought to plan a vacation around a pennant race.
TV technology has come along ways in the past few decades. HD brings sports into your living room in a way that in 1995 would seem like something out of Back to the Future II. But those TVs still carried sound just fine. So, for the first 15 glorious seconds of its broadcast ESPN did what is so often the very best thing we commenters, writers, broacasters, and media #content providers can do: They just shut up.
If Seattle sports has one, defining, signature trait it is that roar. The 1995 Seattle Mariners didn't create that; that honor belongs to Steve Largent and Kenny Easley, Warren Moon and Sonny Sixkiller before them. What '95 did was take that sound, bring it to a sport that had just last year tried to kill itself through work stoppage, add in a team that was literally playing to save the existence of major league baseball in its city, toss in a few decades of pent up frustration, and pack it all in a giant, concrete pressure cooker that, while an abomination in many respects, conducted and reflected noise in a way no place has perhaps before or since.
Listen to that 15 seconds. To me, that's who we are. It's who we will always be. We're just waiting. But we're ready.
How do you explain Randy Johnson to younger and/or newer baseball fans? He only retired 6 years ago but Johnson's page on baseball-reference is a glance into another era. I grew up not able to comprehend Cy Young's win total, Bob Gibson's 1968 ERA, Rogers Hornsby's .424 BA in 1924, and so on. So too will it be when today's fans look at Randy Johnson.
You want comps? Here's a comp:
2015 Clayton Kershaw: 294 K, 229 IP, 20.2 league K% 1995 Randy Johnson: 294 K, 214.1 IP, 16.2 league K%— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) October 2, 2015
The thing about Randy of course is not just what he did, but how he did it. You can talk about his style, the intimidating glare, the hair, the height, etc. How about pitch counts? Let's talk pitch counts. In 30 starts in 1995 Randy Johnson, in his age 31 season, threw 100+ pitches in 25 of 30 starts. For comparison, Felix Hernandez in 2014, his age 28 season, threw 100+ in 19 of 34 starts.
Ah, but it gets more extreme. In 2014 Felix's highest pitch count was 116, which he did twice. Randy exceeded that total in '95 21 times! Or, to break it down further:
Times throwing 100+ pitches: 25
Over a random 12 start stretch in '95 here are Johnson's pitch counts: 141, 141, 122, 123, 134, 99, 123, 160(!), 140, 137, 110, 130.
You could pick almost any of those totals and if Felix Hernandez reached it one time the manager would be fired before the game was over. Randy Johnson didn't just dominate starts, he consumed games entire, effectively forcing the opposing team's pitcher to throw nearly perfectly to keep up. He was, and remains, the greatest defense any Seattle sports team has ever had.
It was this massive, almost supernatural entity that pitched the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time. Jim Edmonds, a borderline hall-of-fame candidate approaching the peak of his career, looked like you that time your freshman year you played Dizzy Bat:
Were it for a more gracious and understanding legal entity in charge of baseball moving imagery this entire post might consist of nothing more than Randy humiliating the greatest hitters in the world. I'll settle for just one more pic here of poor Chili Davis:
John Miller on the broadcast gives a concise and accurate description: "Woah. Chili looked like an old man right there."
It was a masterpiece, even by Randy's standards. A complete game, 3-hitter, 12 strikeouts. In his last 6 starts, while the Mariners played the baseball that perhaps kept them from leaving Seattle, Johnson's numbers were:
We'll never see his kind again. Ever.
Vince Coleman was pissed. With the Mariners clinging to a 1-0 lead in the 7th and the bases loaded Coleman slapped a line drive to RF. Mike Blowers broke for home, hesitated, then scrambled back to 3rd when Tim Salmon slid to make the catch. By the time Blowers had touched 3rd Salmon was already back on his feet and watched with all of us as his throw home perfectly reached the catcher.
Coleman threw his helmet twice. Once at first base, then again as ran back into the dugout. I don't know who exactly he was pissed at; Salmon? Blowers? Fate? but I assume if he had been asked in the moment his response would have been something similar to "all y'all".
It was in this deflated atmosphere, with two outs, against Mark Langston, at the time still the greatest pitcher in Mariner history and the man traded to acquire Randy Johnson (seriously, those of you that are fed up with '95 nostalgia, I hear you. But it was just this kind of shit for a month and a half straight) that Luis Sojo came up to bat. Let me show you a screen shot of the contact of arguably the single most important hit in Mariners history:
Here's where the ball skittered to, in the direction of perennial gold glove first basemen J.T. Snow:
That? That's how a franchise was saved, a legend born, and four runs scored. There's no reason one run should have scored. Three runs wouldn't have scored if the ball hadn't awkwardly wedged itself under the Mariner bullpen bench or if the umpires had ruled the ball dead and a ground rule double. Four runs really shouldn't have scored. How did Luis Sojo not fall on his face running like a drugged out huffalump from third to home?
It's fitting that the only way the Mariners could break through almost 20 years of incompetence was an absurd combination of serendipity and sidespin. There would be, somehow, more iconic moments that year. But this is the one that made it possible. The game was over, and for the next 2 innings the Kingdome got a head start on partying.
Randy looks to the sky
Ideally I would have something good to say here, to wrap this all up. But I'm just a guy wallowing in nostalgia, trying to put off the idea of middle age, clacking away on this keyboard while avoiding work. What I could say about the end of it that Dave Niehaus didn't?
"Now the left-hander ready. Branding iron hot. The 1-2 pitch. He inserted it! Right over the heart of the plate! Randy looks to the skies, and is covered by the dome and bedlam.....19 long years of frustration is over!"
The Mariners spent 19 years before 1995 doing seemingly everything possible to keep their fans from loving them. They have now spent 20 years since 1995 doing largely the exact same thing. It's been mostly a dumb, frustrating, exhausting experience. But the moment Dan Wilson leaped in the air my dad and I hugged. I was 13, not a prime dad-hugging age. I think back on that now, and I think about the hug my son and I shared a few months ago after Hisashi Iwakuma threw a no-hitter.... It's coming again. We'll be there again. Safeco will be packed. The broadcast will start, and they will be helpless against our sound. We are ready, ready for bedlam. We know it well.