18 , 2001: Seattle Mariners
at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
Back for More
Forget the Boston
Red Sox. Forget the Cleveland Indians. Forget the Oakland A's. The preeminent
rivalry in the recent history of the New York Yankees the time I've
lived in New York City is with the Seattle Mariners. From the epic five-game
Division Series in 1995 to last year's American
League Championship Series, to this year, when the Mariners are tearing
through the rest of the league in a buzzsaw fashion reminiscent of the 1998
Yankees, this is a pairing charged with electricity. On a personal
level, the Yanks-M's rivalry carries more than a little baggage as well.
A little history...
Before 1995, the
Seattle Mariners had never distinguished themselves beyond a reputation for mediocrity
and the presence of a few star players, among them Ken
Griffey Jr., a prodigious home run hitter who reached the major leagues at
the age of 19 and had become one of the game's most marketable personalities.
On August 24, the Mariners found themselves one game below .500 and 11 1/2 behind
the California Angels in the American League West. But the M's caught fire, winning
25 of 36 and forcing the Angels into a one-game playoff, which Randy Johnson won
and a second-baseman named Luis Sojo hit a game-breaking bases-loaded double.
The M's then faced the Yankees in the Division Series, lost the first two games
in New York, only to come back and win the next three in Seattle in stirring fashion.
Game Five went into extra innings, with Johnson called out of the Mariners bullpen
on one day's rest. The Yanks scored one off of him in the 11th inning, but the
M's came back with two of their own to win their first postseason series ever.
More importantly, the Mariners' success down the stretch and in the playoffs saved
baseball in Seattle.
It was from that
angle that I entered into this rivalry. I had moved here to New York City that
season, still full of a genetic predisposition against the Yankees. The Yanks
at the time were emerging from a dark spell which saw them as the poster boys
for signing overpriced free agents, trading away hordes of prospects who could
have helped the team, and in general characterizing the seediness of George Steinbrenner.
Steinbrenner was only recently back in baseball after a "lifetime" suspension
by then-Commissioner Fay Vincent for his dealings with gambler Howard Spira. I
rooted for the Mariners that series, and it remains one of the highlights of my
life as a baseball fan. A sizable portion of my family resides in the Pacific
Northwest, and I pulled hard for them to finally have something to cheer about.
In 1996, my brother
Bryan moved to New York City. Himself a Mariners fan, we initiated ourselves to
Yankee Stadium in a game with the Mariners, a 13-12 slugfest which lasted almost
five hours and lived up to the tense quality of the previous season's playoff
round. But my allegiances began to shift that summer. I found myself drawn toward
this new set of Yankees. Gone was the blathering manager, Buck Showalter. Gone
was the sacred cow of the Yanks' New Dark Age, Don
Mattingly, and the continuous erosion of his skills in the face of which no
criticism could be made to Yankees fans.
In their place
was a new model, led by Joe Torre, which resisted the hair-trigger responses to
George Steinbrenner's egotistical outbursts at the quality of the team's play,
and jettisoned head cases like Ruben Sierra and Steve Howe fom their ranks. The
medical travails of David Cone, who'd joined the Yanks for the stretch run the
previous season as a hired gun and delivered the fateful game-tying pitch in that
series, captivated me. Cone endured midseason surgery for an aneurysm in his pitching
arm, then returned to throw seven innings of no-hit ball in his first outing.
The stellar play of a new Yankee poster boy, rookie shortstop Derek Jeter, the
emergence of a quiet, dignified superstar centerfielder named Bernie Williams,
and the amazing depth of a bullpen which Torre skillfully manipulated to his advantage
gave the team new angles and subtle nuances which I could appreciate. They made
it to the World Series that year, against the Atlanta Braves, a team which I had
enough beef with to open my own fast-food outlet. I actively rooted for the Yankees,
and they won in
thrilling fashion. I was not quite a convert, but the door had been opened.
Since then, Bryan
and I have continued our tradition of attending one Yanks-M's game a year together,
and the two teams obliged us with some wild and woolly slugfests, which I've summarized
in the sidebar.
Back to this season.
The Mariners, managed by former Yankee Lou Piniella, are chasing greatness just
as the '98 Yankees were. The rest of the league is but prelude to bigger things
for them since their torrid start, which at last count encompassed their 87-34
record coming into this series. On the other side of the ledger sits the three-time
World Champions, still with several key components of '98 team and even some which
go back to that 1995 battle. First baseman Tino Martinez was traded from Seattle
to the Yankees after that season, and he has been a pillar (albeit an occasionially
eroding one) of the franchise since then. Reliever Jeff Nelson, acquired in the
same deal (for pitcher Sterling Hitchcock, himself recently returned to the Yankees
fold), helped to anchor the Yankee bullpen for those four titles before returning
to Seattle as a free agent this past winter. In his absence, the Mariners trio
of superstarsJohnson, Griffey, and Alex Rodriguezhas departed due
to the financial pressures of the market for baseball talent. But the team has
built itself by replacing those superstars in key trades and by importing two
Japanese League superstars, closer Kazuhiro Sasaki and rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki,
the latter of whom is currently the hippest trend to hit the Northwest since either
sliced bread or premium coffee.
The M's rolled
into Yankee Stadium having won six straight games in the Bronx, having been shut
out only once this season, and having not lost more than two consecutive games
all year. Mike Mussina halted the first two of those trends with a gutty 4-0 victory
on Friday night. The message was clear: IT'S ON.
On this lovely
84 degree afternoon, the stadium was filled to capacity, partially thanks
to the celebration of Dave Winfield Day, to honor Winfield's recent induction
into the Hall of Fame and his burial of the hatchet with George Steinbrenner.
Absentmindedly, I forgot the Winfield celebration a great player,
but he was never a favorite of mine, and I don't retroactively embrace
every Yankee I spent so long rooting against.
The M's took no
time erasing the memory of Friday night. Ted Lilly struck out Ichiro to begin
the game, but the M's pummelled the rookie starter for three runs in the first
inning, thanks to doubles by Edgar Martinez and Mike Cameron. But Derek Jeter
provided some power of his own in his new-found role as Yankee leadoff hitter.
For the fourth time in the past six games, the second in a row, and the second
consecutive time in my trips to the Stadium, Jeter led off with a home run. This
one came off of rookie starter Joel Pineiro, who entered the game with right-handed
batters managing only 1 hit in 52 at bats against him during his short career.
So much for sample size.
But the M's came
back to torment Lilly in the second. Keyed by an error by Yanks third baseman
Clay Bellinger (subbing for an injured Scott Brosius) on an Ichiro bunt in which
he would have been safe anyway, the M's chased Lilly after he retired only one
more batter. By the time the bleeding stopped, Lilly had received a shower of
boos en route to the more traditional postgame one, and the Mariners led 7-1.
Here I must find
fault with Joe Torre's managing of his bullpen. Lilly, coming off of a week-long
suspension for hitting the Angels' Scott Speizio in a beanball
war, had been shaky in his previous outing and worse in the first inning.
The sensible thing would have been to ready someone in the bullpen in case Lilly
faltered and the game got out of control. But not until it was 6-0 with runners
on first and third did Jay Witasick even begin to stretch in the Yankee bullpen.
The score was still the same by the time Lilly's elaborate stalling routine had
enabled Witasick to warm up, but the new pitcher allowed another run to score
on a fielder's choice by Brett Boone, the leading RBI man in the majors.
At this point,
two fans in the row in front of us with whom I'd been casually chatting decided
they had better places to pound lite beer, and took their leave of the Stadium.
"Dude, we're outta here," one said into his cel phone. I had a similar impulse,
based on my previous experience with
the Yanks being blown out early, but I resisted. Two weeks earlier the vaunted
Mariners bullpen had blown
a 12-run lead to the Cleveland Indians on national televisionif a twelve-run
comeback was possible, then six certainly wasn't out of the question. "Like Yogi
says," I muttered under my breath as the cel phonies made their exit, "it ain't
over 'till it's over."
Sure enough, the
Yanks started to justify my decision to stay in the bottom half of the third inning.
With Paul O'Neill fighting out of an 0-2 count to draw a walk, they loaded the
bases and brought the shellshocked crowd back into the game. Bernie Williams's
sacrifice fly netted a run and reminded the remaining 55,000-plus that one swing
of the bat could bring this game within striking distance.
the cel phonies departed, a frazzled-looking family of four showed up. The
bewildered father, carrying his four-year old daughter, looked as if he'd
suffered untold humiliations in traffic or in his search for parking only
to arrive with the game seemingly well in hand. He complained aloud about
his inability to find their seats, yet another defeat in what was turning
into a fiasco, then directed his family to take the empty seats in front
of us. They hunkered down with the rest of us, hoping for something to cheer
about. The children began to wander up and down the row, endearing themselves
to our section. The daughter made friends with an eight-year-old bearing
one of those Squeeze Breeze spray bottles with a tiny fan. The son, a six-year-old
in a Tino Martinez tee with the sleeves cut off, tried out every vacant
seat in the row, including several on the other side of a lone fan from
Delaware who'd shown up between innings with a beer in each hand and a carefully
wrapped hot dog in his pocket (I am NOT making this up).
The boy soon became
our section's personal rally mascot. Derek Jeter drew a one-out walk, and Williams,
Martinez, and Jorge Posada rattled back-to-back-to-back doubles around the Yankee
outfieldMartinez with a nice bloop down the rightfield line to drive in
two, and Posada caroming a shot off of the plexiglass leftfield wall. After Martinez's
hit, when the boy tried to return to his father, the Delaware Hot Dog Guy told
him to stay: "That's your lucky spot, kid." Never one to waste a good
rally omen, I chimed in as well. The boy's father smiled at us and echoed
our sentiments, "Yeah, stay there, it's good luck."
Posada's hit chased
Pineiro before he could become the pitcher of record. Suddenly clinging to a 7-5
lead, Lou Piniella went to his bullpen for the lefty arson specialist, Norm Charlton,
who has rebounded from what we shall charitably refer to as the
airplane years (1997: 7.27 ERA for Seattle...). Charlton got David Justice
on a grounder to escape the inning.
his bullpen over the next several innings, flaunting the Mariners' depth
in an area where the Yanks have become vulnerable. That vulnerability, of
course, is directly related to Nelson's departure. Several pitchers, such
as Brian Boehringer and Carlos Almanzar, have failed their early auditions
to fill Nelson's shoes, necessitating general manager Brian Cashman to trade
some of the Yankees Grade B prospects for what has turned out to be Grade
C middle relief. But on this day, the trio of the damned Witasick,
Randy Choate, and Mark Wohlers kept
the Mariners at bay with six innings of shutout ball.
which had filled the park when the Yanks finally made a game of it in the fifth
reached a fever pitch in the bottom of the eighth. David Justice managed a single
off of his personal whipping-boy, Arthur Rhodes (Justice had a key double off
of Rhodes in Game Two of the ALCS, then hit the decisive three-run homer off of
him in Game
Six). Jeff Nelson, the man whose comings and goings may well have signalled
the league's power shift, came on and promptly allowed a double down the rightfield
line to Shane Spencer, with pinch-runner Gerald Williams holding at third. For
Spencer, it was his third hit on the day, continuing a hot streak which has relegated
Chuck Knoblauch to the bench.
But after Nelson
struck out Alfonso Soriano, Knoblauch emerged from the dugout to cheers worthy
of a Yankee legend. Whatever the Lil' Bastard's troubles have been, Yanks fans
still recognize that his ability to draw the game down to one pesky at bat is
an invaluable tool in the middle of a rally. Here he drew a walk off of Nelson
to load the bases, earning Nelson a brief visit from Piniella, and bringing up
Derek Jeter. But the gods did not smile on Derek as they usually do. Jeter lined
a sharp shot back through the box; it caromed off of Nelson's leg and directly
to third baseman David Bell, who threw to first for a dramatic third out.
The Mariners' Japanese
closer Kazuhiro Sasaki came on in the ninth, and again the Yanks mounted an effort.
After O'Neill grounded out, Williams, Martinez, and Posada loaded the bases on
singles. Posada's smash ricocheted off of Sasaki's right thigh; Piniella emerged
to argue the call at first base, while the M's pitching coach and trainer checked
on Sasaki's health. Cleared to resume, Sasaki faced Gerald Williams, batting .202
and having earned his release from the wretched Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Williams
took one for the team as Sasaki's pitch hit him in the shoulder, forcing in a
run. With one out and the tying run at third base, Sasaki yielded a long, breathless
foul ball by Spencer down the leftfield line before striking him out. Down to
their last hope, the Yanks came up short as Soriano flied out to left.
Though the Yanks
lost, looks of exhiliration were common among those who'd made it through the
four-hour ordeal. The game fit in well with our tradition of wild Yankees-Mariners
matches, and provided several take-home lessons:
- The back end of
the Yankees rotation is a disaster, with Lilly and Hitchcock fighting a war of
attrition for demotion upon the anticipated return of "El Duque," Orlando
- The Mariner offense
can light it up in a hurry. Still.
- The Mariner bullpen
is deep, but vulnerable; the Yanks have proven they can get to Rhodes, Nelson,
- Moral victories
are not something one wants to rack up, but the Yanks showed far more resilience
with their comeback than either the crowd or likely the Mariners anticipated.
- All of this is
prelude; see you in October.
Mariners 7, Yankees 6. One hot dog, countless waters, one full-throated
heckling for Ted Lilly, and one comeback that just fell short.
of Slugfests Past
games I've attended with my brother Bryan over the past five years have
been some of the wildest (not to mention longest) games I've ever seen.
Including this season's contest, the two teams have combined to average
18 runs per game, and these epics have lasted an average of 3:57. The Yankees
starters' cumulative ERA is an ungodly 14.82 in these games, and Ken Griffey
Jr. hit five home runs.
1996 Bryan and I initiated our Yankees-Mariners routine. Dwight Gooden
started for the Yankees, and was scorched, allowing 7 runs and 10 hits
in 2 2/3 innings. But the Yanks came back, closing the gap to 8-7, then
tying it at 10-10. We departed after nine innings; the game ended up
going 12 innings, with the Mariners winning. Somewhere in there Randy
Johnson, struggling with back pains, made a relief appearance and got
hit hard; he was shut down for the season following this game. Here is
the line score:
Sea 421 102 000 00313 19 0
NY 000 703 000 00212 19 0
FINAL SCORE: Mariners 13, Yankees 12.
Time: 4:50 BOX SCORE
1997 A group of us sat in the upper-deck in right field, seats so
high we were above the top of the foul pole. Hideki Irabu made his fourth
big-league appearance and was bombed, allowing six runs in two-plus innings,
including home runs to Jose Cruz, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Even from where
we were sitting we could see Joe Torre hand Irabu a ticket to Columbus
when he yanked him. Balls continued to fly out even after Irabu departed.
The other Junior Griffey, that is added a home run, as
did Jay Buhner. Tino Martinez homered twice, Paul O'Neill hit a three-run
shot and the Yanks nearly came back, but fell short.
SCORE: Mariners 9, Yankees 7.
Time: 3:09 BOX
1998 This four hour epic featured something I'd never seen before the
two teams combined to score in every inning. David Wells gave up two
home runs to Griffey, but the Yanks took a 7-4 lead that included a home
run by Darryl Strawberry into the black batter's eye in center field.
Their bullpen coughed up four runs in the eighth, but the Mariners notoriously
horrendous bullpen returned the favor by yielding a game-tying homer
to Tim Raines in the 9th and a run-scoring single by Tino Martinez in
the 10th won it for the pinstripes.
Sea 102 000 140 08 11 2
NY 020 113 001 19 15 1
FINAL SCORE: Yankees 9, Mariners 8.
Time: 4:08 BOX SCORE
May 8,1999 Amid
a relatively unmemorable 14-5 drubbing by the Mariners (which featured
Ken Griffey's 361st home run, tying Joe DiMaggio), two incidents stand
out in sharp relief (though sharp relief was not what the Yankees got).
The game wouldn't have been as memorable as others except for what has
become known forever as the David Segui Foul Ball Incident. Bryan,
my roommate Issa and I were sitting in the front row of the Upper Deck,
near third base. Segui, batting left-handed, fouled one off, and as I looked
at it spinning against the overcast sky, I judged a fly ball correctly
for possibly the first time in my life. "That's yours," I told Issa, who
was on the aisle seat. He is a soccer player, with no baseball experience
whatsoever. The ball indeed came right into his hands, but rather than
cradling it, he lunged at it, knocking the ball over the railing. Dejectedly,
he slumped down into his seat as the entire crowd of Yankee Stadium showered
him with boos.
note on this one: This game marked the final big league appearance of Tony
Fossas. Fossas, a former arsonist for the Mariners (see here)
and before that a relatively solid spot lefty for several teams (after
reaching the majors at the ripe old age of 31), had been signed by the
Yanks to shore up a shaky bullpen. Here he got absolutely shelled, and
when Joe Torre came to pull him, I stood up and booed his exit with exuberance.
But something happened then. From where we were sitting, I could see into
the Yankee dugout. I spied Fossas sitting on the bench, looking dazed and
somber, avoided by his teammates. And a tide of sympathy overcame me. I
knew very little about Fossas beyond the fact that he was 42, Cuban-born,
and washed up. but I sat there and contemplated the complexities of the
journey he must have taken to reach the majors (it turns out he spent eleven
years in the minors), and the realization that must have been hitting him
right then: it's over. I felt a bit of remorse for my harsh reaction, and
since then, I've reserved my most vocal ire for petulant superstars.
SCORE: Mariners 14, Yankees 5. Time: 3:48 BOX