It was Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series. The Seattle Mariners were down 4-5 to the New York Yankees in the bottom of the 11th inning. Second basemen Joey Cora was on third base and the speedy Ken Griffey Junior was on first. At the plate was designated hitter Edgar Martinez, a savvy-right handed hitter who would spend his entire 18-year career with Seattle.
On the mound for the Yanks, making a rare relief appearance, was Jack McDowell. Of course in elimination games it’s all hands on deck. The Mariners had used their ace, Randy Johnson, in relief in the top of 11th.
All fall the M’s rally cry was “Refuse to Lose.” Now when it was crunch time, Martinez took that sentiment to heart. He stepped up to the plate and smashed the ball to left field. Cora easily scored. Griffey, one of the M’s fastest runners, rounded third and was barreling for home. The throw to the plate was on target but too late. Griffey slides safely into home to score the winning run!
The hit is known as “The Double” and it’s the most indelible moment in franchise history. It also saved baseball in Seattle. The franchise was in serious jeopardy of being relocated, but thanks to the Mariners making the playoffs—the first time in their 18-year history—they renewed interest in the team and made a new, baseball-only stadium possible.
That new stadium opened in 1999 and is called Safeco Field. Before that, the team played in a concrete edifice known as the Kingdome. In 1994, ceiling tiles began falling from the roof of the Kingdome forcing the team to play 20 road games in 21 days. Had a players’ strike not ended the season prematurely, the team would have played the rest of their scheduled on the road. Needless to say, the Kingdome was imploded.
The Mariners joined the American League in 1977. For the first 15 years of their existence the Mariners did nothing but lose. Still there were a few highlights of note, like Gaylord Perry winning his 300th game, Alvin Davis winning Rookie of the Year, and All-Star appearances by Harold Reynolds and Mark Langston.
In the late 1980’s, the team began assembling a great core of talent that included one of the games best all around players, Ken Griffey Junior; baseball’s première designated hitter, Edgar Martinez; probably the last 300-game winner in the Major Leagues, the hard-throwing Randy Johnson; the extremely popular bald slugger, Jay Buhner; and a very young shortstop named Alex Rodriquez.
While Martinez and Buhner finished their careers with the Mariners, the Hall Of Fame trio of Griffey, Johnson and Rodriquez were eventually lost to other teams due to the economics of baseball.
Those successful teams of the mid- and late- 90’s were managed by “Sweet Lou,” Lou Piniella. Hired in 1993, Piniella would spend a decade with franchise. During that time he won two Manger Of The Year Awards, and lead the team to all four of its postseason appearances, and seven of its nine winning seasons.
Speaking of winning, Piniella’s 2001 Mariners did a whole bunch of it. They finished with 116 wins, matching the Major League record for most wins in a season. The star of that season was Ichiro Suzuki, the first everyday Japanese position player to make it in Majors.
In his rookie season, Ichiro won a Gold Glove, Rookie of Year and the MVP award. In 2004, Ichiro set a single-season Major League record with 262 hits. Ichiro complied 200 of more hits in each of his first eight seasons. If Ichiro had begun his career in America instead of Japan, the fleet-of-foot, rocket-arm right fielder would have certainly rewritten the record books even more.
While the M’s have won three postseason series they have never won a pennant, making them one of only three teams (the other two being the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals) to have never played in a World Series.
Despite this lack of success, this American League West team has still fielded some of the baseball best players and produced one of baseball’s greatest moments.