As in the stillness after a stubborn storm has blown its last
breath, there was the wreckage. One manager wept and another
slumped deep into a sofa, pulling hard and long on cigarettes.
Many pitchers ached, having worked themselves to such exhaustion
that at least one of them could hardly lift a comb to his hair.
A grueling American League Division Series between the Seattle
Mariners and the New York Yankees left the Mariners not so much
victors as survivors. Only then, after the unprecedented became
commonplace and the unexpected became familiar over five
excruciating nights, did respite come. Seattle pitcher Randy
Johnson, the largest man of them all by any measure, ducked his
head under the doorway of his manager's office late Sunday and
wondered about a workout for the next day.
"Nothing," came the reply from Lou Piniella, puffing away on his
office couch. "Enjoy the day off."
"Trust me," Johnson said. "I will."
In a seven-day span the 6'10" Johnson at the least had matched
the October gallantry of Los Angeles Dodger pitchers Orel
Hershiser in the 1988 National League Championship Series (24 2/3
innings in four appearances over nine days) and Sandy Koufax in
the 1965 World Series (two shutouts, including one in Game 7, in
four days). Johnson pitched three times in those seven days and
won all three games, beginning with a three-hitter on three days
rest against the California Angels to win a playoff for the
American League West regular-season title.
October 15, 1995
On short rest again--and with Seattle trailing the best-of-five
Division Series two games to zip--he threw seven solid innings to
beat the Yankees 7-4 last Friday. Then, with only one day off,
he came out of the bullpen on Sunday to give Piniella three more
innings, the last three of an 11-inning, 6-5 Mariner victory
that will be remembered as long as people look for citations
that help define the game. Pitching each time with his team
facing elimination, Johnson went 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA and 28
strikeouts in 19 innings, during the last of which he willed the
baseball past hitters at 99 mph.
Still, Johnson pointed reporters over to the locker of
designated hitter Edgar Martinez and said, "He's the man.
Edgar's the real hero here. He's been our MVP all year long."
Martinez had provided the game-winning hits in Seattle's last at
bats in Games 4 and 5.
Even after all of that, the Mariners had barely dipped a toe
into a postseason pool that has never been so deep. They had won
no title by outlasting the Yankees and still faced the
possibility of two seven-game series, starting with the American
League Championship Series this week against the Cleveland
Indians, the team with the best record in baseball. Because of
his heroics against New York, Johnson would be unavailable to
pitch until Game 3. In fact, so taxed was Seattle's staff by the
Division Series that on Sunday night Piniella was thinking about
giving the ball in Game 1 against the Indians to Bob Wells, who
had started four games all year, none since May.
"I've got to rest my staff," Piniella said Sunday night. "We've
got to get guys back in sync. Do you think anybody's going to
give us a chance against Cleveland?"
The Indians demonstrated the advantage of breezing through a
Division Series, enjoying three days off after allowing the
Boston Red Sox only six runs in their three-game sweep (page
28). Said Yankee righthander David Cone, "I'm sure Cleveland is
sitting back and smiling, watching Randy Johnson pitch like this."
Likewise, the Cincinnati Reds hardly worked up a sweat in
disposing of Los Angeles in three games (page 33) to set up a
meeting with the Atlanta Braves in the National League
Championship Series. The Braves were pushed to four games by the
Rockies, whose Game 3 triumph forced Atlanta to use Greg Maddux
on three days of rest for the first time this season (below).
The ferocity of the Seattle-New York series exposed a dangerous
underside to the expanded postseason. Both the Mariners and the
Yankees heaped heavy workloads on their closers and best
starting pitchers, even with as many as 14 more postseason
games looming. Seattle closer Norm Charlton, who missed all of
last season following two surgical procedures on his left elbow,
threw four innings in Game 2 (his longest outing since 1991) and
then pitched in each of the next three games too. His New York
counterpart, John Wetteland, threw 3 1/3 innings in Game 2 (his
longest outing of this decade) and was so awful coming back in
Game 4 that Yankee manager Buck Showalter lost without using him
in Game 5.
If one accepts the safe assumption that Johnson will be voted
the Cy Young Award this year, the series ended with two Cy Young
winners (Johnson and the Yanks' Jack McDowell) pitching out of
the bullpen on one day's rest in a game started by a third Cy
Young winner (Cone), who was left in to throw 147 pitches--a
total of 282 in two series starts.
"I can barely lift my arm over my head, but I would have stayed
out there all night if it would have gotten us a win," Cone said
after Sunday's marathon. "The guys put their careers on the
line. One pitch could have blown out their arms. You hear the
rap people put on the modern-day player--I, I, I and me, me,
me--well, this series was anything but that. If this doesn't do a
lot to diminish the greedy ballplayer image, I don't know what
Said Tim Belcher, one of only nine pitchers Seattle carried on
its 25-man Division Series roster, "After this, I think you'll
see teams carry more pitchers because of the extra round of
playoffs. It used to be teams carried nine. Ten was gobs of
pitchers. Now, maybe the Rockies had the right idea. They had 12."
The player strike that began last year reduced the 1995 regular
season by 18 games. Given a full season, a team might have to
endure 181 games to win a world championship. (The 1927 Yankees
played a total of 158 games.) And de facto commissioner Bud
Selig has floated the idea of expanding the Division Series to
another best-of-seven round. "Only if you play a shorter season
and then get a couple of off days to set up your rotation,"
Piniella says of that prospect. "I think a best of five for the
first round is sufficient, anyway."
It's hard to imagine what could happen in seven games that could
come close to matching the epic between the Mariners and the
Yankees. In many ways no one ever saw anything like it. In the
previous 781 games played in 144 postseason series since the
first World Series in 1903:
Never had a player hit five home runs in five games. Seattle's
Ken Griffey Jr. did so after renewing acquaintance before Game 1
with Reggie Jackson, heretofore the only other man to hit five
in a postseason series, though Jackson needed six games in the
1977 World Series to do so. "Mr. October," Junior said upon his
audience with Jackson. "I'll go rub my bat against him."
Consider the crown passed.
Never had a player driven in seven runs in one game. Martinez
did so in Game 4, three on a third-inning home run that took a
large bite out of a 5-0 New York lead and four on an
eighth-inning grand slam off Wetteland that broke a 6-6 tie.
When a crowd of reporters converged on him after his record
night, Martinez first excused himself for 20 minutes of exercise
with a stationary bike and weights. "I do it every day," he said.
Never had a player hit home runs from both sides of the plate
in the same game. Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams did that
in Game 3 at the Kingdome, first taking Johnson out righthanded
to the opposite field and then pulling a pitch from Bill Risley
into the third deck in rightfield.
Never had a series included as many as 22 home runs. Only twice
did the Mariner and Yankee pitchers make it through more than
three full innings without a ball leaving the yard. Five homers
were hit in Seattle's 11-8 win in Game 4, when not once in 17
tries did either team retire the side in order.
Never had a game lasted as long as five hours and 12 minutes or
a team overcome four deficits. Both distinctions occurred in
Game 2, when New York wiped out deficits of 1-0, 2-1, 4-3 and
5-4 before winning 7-5 in the 15th inning on a home run by Jim
Leyritz into the raindrops at 1:21 in the morning. Belcher threw
the last of 463 pitches that night. "I wish I had a large enough
vocabulary to describe it," Cone said of Game 2. "It's got to be
up there with the five best playoff games of all time."
Alas, it will go down as the Best Game Almost Nobody Saw.
Because of the embarrassment known as The Baseball Network,
which provided regional coverage of four simultaneously played
Division Series games, four out of every five households in the
U.S. were unable to tune in to the game. Showalter's mother, at
home in the Florida panhandle, finagling a way to watch the
Yankees while also dealing with the impact of Hurricane Opal,
saw the game only through extraordinary effort: She had to use a
satellite dish to intercept a Canadian feed while hooking a TV
set to a generator and watching by candlelight.
"It's the kind of game that should have given baseball a big
boost, and it's treated like the first round of the NCAA
tournament--Xavier against Indiana," Cone said.
Likewise, a stirring Cleveland victory the previous morning was
similarly kept out of sight of most fans. When Indian catcher
Tony Pena beat Boston with a 13th-inning home run at 2:08 a.m.,
some Red Sox fans in a New York bar were forced to huddle
around a radio to hear the dismal news. Such an abomination is
The Baseball Network that in Seattle, where people don't cross
against a red light on the emptiest of streets, fans booed
whenever the Kingdome P.A. announcer made mention of it.
Yes, sir, that's baseball: America's regional pastime. It was
only by happenstance--the other three series had concluded--that
the deciding game between Seattle and New York received national
exposure. That provided an overdue spotlight for Martinez, the
32-year-old hitting machine who has won two batting titles. "The
best overall hitter in the league," Piniella calls him. "I never
have to talk to him much about his hitting. What I do is implore
him to share his knowledge with our other guys."
Griffey and Martinez, the third and fourth hitters in the
Seattle lineup, respectively, combined to hit .477 against New
York (21 for 44) with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. Griffey's
final homer, a one-out solo shot off Cone in the eighth on
Sunday, pulled the Mariners to 4-3. Cone then retired Martinez
on a grounder but filled the bases on two walks and a single. At
3 and 2 to Doug Strange, Cone missed with a forkball to force
home the tying run. He immediately bent at the waist, his head
hanging, the last fumes of his energy--and his season--spent.
Still, New York took its third lead of the game in the 11th,
this time on a run-scoring single by Randy Velarde off Johnson.
The day before and that morning, Piniella had asked Johnson,
"Are you good for a couple of batters?" Admitted a sheepish
Piniella later, "That was the gentleman's way of getting him out
there." Johnson faced 12 batters, striking out half of them.
Now closure was left to McDowell, who upon entering the game
with two runners on in the ninth fanned Martinez. "Two warriors
going at it," Showalter would say of the endgame pitchers. "One
guy with probably as good stuff as there is in baseball and the
other guy with as good a heart as there is."
Joey Cora nicked McDowell for a bunt single to open the Mariner
half of the 11th. Next Griffey smoked a single to centerfield.
Then, when McDowell hung an 0-and-1 splitter to Martinez, the
game was over. Martinez pulled it into the leftfield corner.
Seattle third base coach Sam Perlozzo preferred not to send
Griffey home from first with no outs, but when he saw Griffey
near second base "running faster than I've ever seen him
before," he waved him onward. Griffey scored easily.
Twenty hours and 22 minutes of edge-of-your-seat baseball--on
average, more than four hours every game--ended with the Mariners
mobbing one another as fire-works burst above them. Showalter
retreated to his office, his eyes moist with tears. Outside his
door Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was talking about
unspecified changes. "You'll see," he told reporters.
In the other clubhouse Martinez was still in full uniform,
dripping with champagne, beer, ice water and the sweat from
another honest day's work. "I thought Game 4 was the greatest
game I ever played," he said. "But this is the best one."
Like an oyster pried open to reveal the pearl, only then did
Martinez seem discovered. Of course, the pearl had been there
all along. "It's nice," he said, "but the satisfaction I have
inside is most important."
Soon--after the television lights were turned off and his
teammates were gone--Martinez would mop the champagne from his
brow and put in another workout session on the exercise bike.
"Yes, I will," he said. "Every day." There was, after all, still
so much work to be done.
"In the future, starting times will be arranged so that games
will not conflict."--Baseball's chief TV negotiator, Barry Frank