Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Favorite Baseball Game Ever

In 1995, I attended Portland State University’s civil engineering school. I was friends with Alex and Tim, two of the most dedicated baseball fans I know. I was a huge hockey fan; I loved the Portland Winterhawks. But these guys wore on me. They hooked me, and I grew to love baseball.

The closest MLB team to our home was the Seattle Mariners, a measly 3 hours away. But Tim and Alex took me to see a game anyway. I was hooked. In the evenings after work, it was my joy to watch games on cable and then talk with Alex and Tim the next day about what had happened. I was a baseball fan.

On September 3, 1995, Mackenzie was born. I loved to hold her and stare at her beautiful face and smell her beautiful skin. One of the favorite things I did was sit with her asleep in my lap and watch baseball. I still remember my favorite spot on our blue couch.

Ken Griffey Jr. has broken his wrist that summer, but he was back and the M’s were making a run for the playoffs. Randy Johnson was throwing left-handed heat. The Mariners had to face the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, with the first three games in NY and the last two of the five game set in Seattle—if they made it that far.

They lost the first game 9-6. They lost the second game 7-5 in 15 innings. But they won the third game 7-4. Then back home to Seattle and a win in game four, 11-8.

On October 8, 1995, the Mariners faced the New York Yankees in game five to determine who would go to the ALCS. The Mariners were down 4-2 in the 6th. No score in the 7th. In the 8th they tied the game 4-4. No score in the 9th. Extra innings. In the top of the 10th inning, Lou Pinella brought Randy Johnson in to close the game. Amazing. The Mariners’ best starter on only a few days rest, coming in to finish the game. No score in the 10th. In the top of the 11th inning, NY scored after Randy Johnson gave a lead-off walk to Mike Stanley.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, facing black-jack McDowell, down by one run, the Mariners started off with their number two hitter, Joey Cora. Griffey would bat second, and Edgar Martinez ready to hit third.

My writing can’t do that moment justice. I remember sitting, standing, biting my nails, yelling at the TV, waiting and watching with anticipation as Joey Cora got on base with a weak bunt up the first base line. Imagine! Griffey could end the whole thing with one swing. Instead he hit a single in between the SS and 2B. Cora to third. Edgar Martinez, DH extraordinaire, was up to bat. A very young Alex Rodriguez was in the box.

Now, I must say, Edgar was one of my heroes. He was slower than molasses, but he could hit. He had an amazing inside-out swing that would drive balls into the left field. If I remember right Edgar had 52 doubles in 1995. So, what does Edgar do? He lines a double to left field. Cora scores from third. The left fielder retrieves the ball and throws as hard as he can for home, only to have Griffey, screaming around third from first base—on a double, slide into home plate just ahead of the throw.

Mariners win 5-4!

I have not since experienced such an exhilarating game. I hope to again some day, though.

This memory was re-awakened in my mind because on Friday night the Mariner’s unveiled a statue in honor of their former broadcaster, Dave Niehaus, who began broadcasting for the Mariners in their inaugural season in 1977. He died in November 2010 after working every year for the Mariners.

Here is how Dave Niehaus called the winning play that I just tried to describe....
“Right now, the Mariners looking for the tie. They would take a fly ball, they would love a base hit into the gap and they could win it with Junior's speed. The stretch... and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martínez swung on and LINED DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LINE FOR A BASE HIT! HERE COMES JOEY, HERE IS JUNIOR TO THIRD BASE, THEY'RE GOING TO WAVE HIM IN! THE THROW TO THE PLATE WILL BE ... LATE! THE MARINERS ARE GOING TO PLAY FOR THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! IT JUST CONTINUES! MY, OH MY!”
—Calling “The Double”, hit by Edgar Martínez, which scored Joey Cora and Ken Griffey, Jr. to win the 1995 American League Division Series in the 5th and final game.

No comments: