Twenty years ago, I was six years old. I knew little of stadium deals, less of heartbreak. Having the Cy Young winner, two MVP candidates, and a generational talent on the same team seemed like the natural order of things. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned - I did not fully appreciate the Seattle Mariners in late 1995.
"Refuse to Lose" gave birth to a new stadium, a pair of ALCS losses to the same Yankees, and innumerable marketing attempts to capitalize on the receding memories of a once-in-a-lifetime season. It’s understandable to feel jaded at what seems like another pointless trip down memory lane - I long avoided watching the MLB Classics’ replay precisely for that reason.
But two decades is enough for a classic to become a legend, and many of the details begin to blur. We all know the coin of the realm online is not bitcoin, but nostalgia (hey there, Buzzfeed), and no one does nostalgia better than baseball fans (looking at you, Ken Burns.) But if re-watching the game that saved a team - and maybe baseball in Seattle - was an exercise in wallowing the past, it was one that allowed a fuller appreciation of just how lucky we were.
Everyone remembers The Double - here’s how we got there:
[0:01:08] It’s "Decision time in the great Northwest" and on the call is the pride of Billings, Montana, and would-be boyfriend of Katherine Webb, Brent Woody Musburger, with Jim Kaat (whose career spanned 1959 to 1983!) as the color commentator.
For the first time since Joe Carter touched them all to end the 1993 World Series, the country had one single meaningful game of baseball to watch, and it was happening in Seattle.
[0:04:57] It’s fun that the tradition-bound New York Yankees - at the time, sitting at 22 world championships - would make it into the playoffs as the first AL Wild Card in history. On their jersey sleeves, they wore a black armband and the number 7 in memory of Mickey Mantle, who had died two months earlier.
[0:06:50] Andy Benes shrugs his shoulders and detonates the fuse on a full roar from 57,411, seemingly half of them in plaid.
Former King County Executive Randy Revelle had said he would stake his reputation on Seattle not being a baseball town. But in the Seattle media market, 734,350 households - 78 percent of all TVs being watched at the time - were tuned into Game 5.
Local radio stations re-recorded hits with team-specific lyrics - Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock n' Roll" became "Seattle Mariners Are On A Roll," and AC/DC’s "Big Balls" was re-titled "Randy Johnson’s Fastball."
[0:11:50] As the Mariners come up to bat, the Kingdome crowd sounds almost collegiate in its simple enthusiasm: "Let’s Go…Mariners…" Even the best-produced hype video on the largest video screen in pro baseball can’t lay a finger on the cheers that organically grow and overwhelm the whole stadium.
[0:15:11] Tom Hutyler intones "Batting third, center fielder, number 24, Ken Griffey, Junior," we hear Naughty by Nature’s "Hip Hop Hooray," God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world.
[0:23:42] Hearing Musburger say that "For many of you, the Seattle Mariners exist only in box scores" is kind of jarring. But before SportsCenter or interleague play, not to mention MLB.TV, it’s not crazy to think that for not a small percentage of viewers, it was the first time watching a live baseball game featuring the Seattle Mariners before.
[0:24:23] It’s said the "Ed-garrrrr" chants that accompanied his at-bats for the rest of his career started with this series. After knocking in seven runs in Game 4, he singles to become the first baserunner of the game.
After tearing his hamstring in an exhibition game at Vancouver’s BC Place and missing most of the 1993 season, Edgar’s future with the team had been in question. "Will trade talks to send third baseman Edgar Martinez and his $3.3 million salary to the Mets come back to life?" asked The Seattle Times’ 1995 season preview.
He played every game for the Mariners in the shortened ’95 season, never going more than two games without a hit. He averaged .356, had a .479 OBP, and his OPS+ was 185, all tops in the league.
[0:33:02] Alex Rodriguez is sitting on the bench next to Ken Griffey, Jr. The next year, Rodriguez would rack up 9.4 WAR, led the league in hitting, and finished second in the MVP voting - all while making $442,334, for an unfathomable $47,056 per win (that’s $72,000 in today’s dollars).
[0:37:24] With runners in scoring position and no out, the Mariners miss their chance to get to David Cone early as Jay Buhner, Luis Sojo, and "Danny" Wilson strike out in order.
[0:48:58] Joey Cora, all of five-foot-seven, hit three home runs during the regular season, so of course he would be the one to give the Mariners an early lead with a shot to right.
[0:56:45] A Paul O’Neill two-run shot is thrown back in probably the single rudest act up to that point ever committed by a Seattle sports fan. (Some Seahawks fans have taken it upon themselves to make up for lost time.)
In the Bronx, New York fans had thrown more than home-run balls onto the field. The New York Times detailed items collected by stadium security: "plastic cups, Frisbees, souvenir bats, stereo headphones, tomatoes, grapefruit, golf balls, bottles, batteries and an assortment of coins." Lou Piniella even pulled his team off the field during Game 1 after fans celebrated back-to-back home runs with a shower of debris.
George Steinbrenner shrugged the incidents off. "They found one Frisbee and the rest was toilet paper."
[1:05:18] Tino Martinez scores on a single from Buhner (who finished fifth in the MVP voting that year because #DINGERZ.)
[1:17:30] Jack Arute gives an update on the "secret finance plan" to build a "retractable-dome stadium" for $285 million.
A public referendum that would have used a sales-tax increase to fund a new baseball-only stadium had lost by 1,082 votes, leading ownership to initiate plans to sell the team. Thanks almost entirely to the Mariners’ miracle run, the Washington state legislature would go on to allocate public funds - paid for by increased taxes on food and beverage, tourism, and entertainment - for the new stadium. The final price-tag would be $517.6 million. I like to think my trips to Taco Bell in high school were my little way of helping pay for the House That Griffey Built.
[1:33:38] In the top of the sixth, Benes walks three in a row, and Don Mattingly doubles down the left field line for a ground-rule double - the Mariners get a break as the ball going out of play keeps the third run from scoring.
[1:39:55] With the bases loaded and one out, Piniella sticks with Benes rather than turning to the suspect Mariners bullpen. Two pop-ups later, the gamble pays off, but the Mariners are down two.
[2:15:21] With the season on the brink in the bottom of the eighth, Piniella has the Big Unit start to get loose, and the crowd notices. Cora flies out to right, dropping the M’s win expectancy to 14%, the lowest it would get to all game.
[2:18:10] Griffey launches the pitch from Cone into the second deck for his fifth home run in the series. "Thunderstruck" booms as Griffey pauses to watch his handiwork. In Baton Rouge, La., 15-year-old Jonathan Papelbon doubtless swore at the TV.
[2:26:05] Now comes possibly the most delightfully awkward postseason debut in modern times. Piniella scratches his left haunch and wanders onto the field to delay the game while for something in his dugout. After an interlude of about 30 seconds, who should appear to make his postseason debut as a pinch-runner than one Alexander Enmanuel Rodriguez!
[2:29:24] Cone’s been increasingly wild, and the bases are loaded with two out for pinch-hitter Doug Strange. Despite having a warm Mariano Rivera (who had an ERA of 5.51 in 67 innings in ’95) in the bullpen, Showalter sticks with Cone.
[2:33:03] Cone is clearly gassed and probably has been impacted by these guys putting the whammy on him from the third deck. Playoff baseball is the greatest.
[2:34:04] A full count, and Cone throws a splitter in the dirt. A #PitcherGif for the ages and A-Rod scores the tying run. In comes Rivera. Steinbrenner angrily gesticulates in his box. Doug Strange, a journeyman who played for six teams over a nine-year career, "still can't believe I didn't swing at the pitch…If it had been one inch higher, I would have swung for sure."
Later, Cone would tell Roger Angell, "It took me forever to get over that. I couldn’t sleep. I almost didn’t go out of my house for a couple of weeks after…I’d have thrown two hundred and forty-seven [pitches] to win that game."
Reader, please note - which 21-year-old rookie (who did not play in the series) is the first Yankee to greet Cone on his way into the dugout? Derek Jeter. Of course. #RE2PECT
[2:44:37] The roar that almost drowns out "Welcome to the Jungle" is gladiatorial. Cone again: "Here’s a man about to become a free agent who could name his own price anywhere, and he pitches on like that…Sitting in the dugout, I applauded him as a fan."
[2:48:30] At the end of 1995, Wade Boggs had 2,541 career hits, with three successful sacrifice bunts in the past eight years, so naturally Showalter has him try to bunt, which puts him behind in the count and leads to a swinging strikeout. Randy is throwing bullets, and the Yankees are retired.
[3:07:04] After Edgar strikes out with the potential winning run on, Alex Rodriguez comes up with a chance to win the game - and imagine his legacy if he had - but grounds out to short. Free baseball!
[3:23:58] One of the truisms about playoff baseball is that you never know who will be the hero (hello David Freese,) but having Chris Widger or Vince Coleman go through life as the hero of Game 5 would have felt…inappropriate. "Black Jack" McDowell, also pitching on short rest, makes sure that doesn’t come to pass.
[3:34:59] Johnson gets the low strike on O’Neill to close down the side, but the damage has been done after an RBI from Randy Valarde. Over the course of a week - the one-game playoff, Game 3, and in relief in Game 5 - Johnson threw 286 pitches over 19 innings, allowing eight hits, four runs, and striking out 28. The man was a beast.
[3:36:14] Showalter sticks with McDowell instead of turning to closer John Wetteland, in the bullpen with a 8.71 ERA against the Mariners in 1995. Joey Cora drags a bunt down the line and dives away from the tag.
Mattingly would say that Cora’s bunt was "the play that stands out for me when I look back. I didn't get him, but I thought he was out of the [base]line. It was one of those things. He got the bunt down."
Two days later, fans called 622-HITS for playoff tickets at such volume that the US West phone network was overwhelmed; telephones across the Seattle area experienced delays of up to an hour. A rally at Westlake Center drew 10,000 on a workday.
A storybook finish was not meant to be. And the wasted potential of the years that followed make it is easy to grow tired of laurels earned two decades ago while the Mariners continue to wear more question marks than Matthew Lesko.
But when - if - a World Series is held in Seattle (one dares not to dream further,) it will only be because of the jubilation, the incredulity, the magic of 1995. Without it, there would be no Mariners as we know them, and with two franchises lost in 25 years, perhaps no major league baseball in Seattle at all. Without it, we wouldn’t - with the full knowledge that the game is designed to break your heart - wait anxiously for pitchers and catchers to report every February.
The last word goes to Dave.
"I hope I’ll be here to see it, but [the Mariners] will win a World Series here one of these days. I might not be here…but let me tell you something, it will not be as exciting as 1995. It’ll be much talked about, it’ll be nice to hang that pennant out there that says ‘World Championship,’ but nothing ever will take the place of 1995."
Patrick T. Brown is a Seattle native currently writing from Princeton, N.J.