Yes, boys and girls, this is what we call a ‘clickbait’ headline. You’ll get over it.
After watching the one and only Lou Piniella get inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame, in a ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of even grizzled Mariners fans like yours truly, it’s hard not to get all nostalgic for the ’95 Mariners.
After playing all summer without star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. (aka “Junior”), who had been badly injured in late May, the Ms didn’t inspire much hope for post-season play. The rest of the team fought through the adversity and kept things interesting, but as August began, they were just another bunch of boys of summer playing out the string. Then, somehow, some way, they started winning. The “Refuse to Lose” Mariners had arrived, and suddenly everyone in Seattle and around the Northwest remembered that we had a baseball team.
The ’95 team started August thirteen games back of the Angels. After two of the most amazing months in recent memory — you could not walk down a street in Seattle during a Mariners game without finding someone listening to Dave Niehaus calling the game on the radio — the team finished tied for the division lead with the Angels. That led to a one-game playoff: the Angels had not made the playoffs since ’86, and the Mariners had never been (before 1995 Seattle had only two seasons with a winning record in their 18-year history).
I was lucky enough to be at that game with my father. The old Kingdome was so loud , players on the infield couldn’t hear each other. That seems de rigeur these days, with the Seahawks 12th Man and the Sounders Gorilla FC, but in the 90s at a baseball game? When the Mariners ran away with it by a score of 9-1, pandemonium ensued. That of course led to the American League Division Series against the Yankees, who took both of the first two games. The Ms took the next two, setting up Game 5 at the Kingdome with anyone resembling a pulse in the Northwest watching. And that game, in the bottom of the 11th, well, it ended like this:
To bring us back to the present, on July 27th of 2014, the Mariners were 11 1/2 games back of the Athletics. As I write this, they’re six games back, and definitely not out of the conversation for the first wild card spot, or even the division title. I’ll be the first to admit I did not see this coming.
But wait, there are more parallels. The ’95 Mariners had 43 comeback wins in the regular season, twelve of them in September, and made comebacks in eight of their last eleven wins. Obviously the 2014 Mariners haven’t played September yet, but this year’s team already has 32 wins after falling behind — one more than the Refuse to Lose squad had at the end of August.
Keep typing things like that, you say? The ’95 Mariners featured Randy Johnson, who was 18-2 on the year with a 2.48 ERA, an insane number of strikeouts, and bruises about his neck and shoulders from carrying the team. The 2014 Mariners have King Felix, who’s 13-4 with a 2.07 ERA, on a team that is averaging far fewer runs per game than the ’95 team did. This year’s Mariners, however, have two more pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young, with 12 wins each and ERA numbers right around 3. The depth of this year’s pitching, and the fact they play at Safeco Field as opposed to the hitter-friendly Kingdome, are definitely differences between the two squads.
But perhaps the thing that really defined the ’95 squad was that intangible known as ‘chemistry’. Listen to interviews with Edgar Martinez or Andy Benes, with Norm Charlton or Mike Blowers, with guys who had career years that year or those who played on multiple championship teams, and what comes through is how much they loved that year in Seattle. They loved the fan support, obviously, but they liked hanging out together, too.
It’s too early, really, to know for sure if that’s a big factor for the 2014 Mariners, but there are little signs, like the laughter in the dugout, and the comeback wins, Fernando Rodney’s arrows when he closes out a game, and an impossible-to-quantify sense, at least from where I sit, that these guys are having fun and enjoying playing with each other. In a 162-game regular season, that has to count for something.
Coming off a sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway, the Mariners start a homestand tonight against the Texas Rangers, Sweeping this series and keeping pace with the A’s and Angels would be a great outcome and contribute to a gorgeous late August in Seattle.