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Tuesday, October 3, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Champagne Splashing In Locker Room Washes Away All Those Seasons Of Futility

He was the man for all of the seasons. The man for 18 years of losses and laments. The man to erase the memory of all the bad trades, and bad teams and bad decisions.

It seemed impossible to match the size of the stage of yesterday's game, but Randy Johnson did it.

It seemed impossible to live up to this game's billing, but the Seattle Mariners did it.

So what if it took an extra game, the 145th of the season. It really took 19 years.

It took threats to move this team to Tampa and Orlando and Phoenix. It took too many flatline seasons that were finished before the All-Star break.

It took gosh-awful trades that stole Dave Henderson, Spike Owen and Danny Tartabull. It took Mike Moore leaving for Oakland.

It took all of the teasing teams that looked so good coming out of Arizona and so bad when they arrived in Seattle. And it took the years of suffering and sweat from longtime uncomplaining troupers like Alvin Davis, Harold Reynolds and Dave Valle.

It took new ownership, who saved this team from the certainty of Tampa and made a commitment to winning that stuck through the falling tiles, a strike and the loss of tens of millions of dollars.

Yesterday was Fantasyland inside the never-looked-better Kingdome.

Fifty-two-thousand-plus fans clung to every pitch. They were on to every count. They rose to their feet on almost every two-strike pitch, unleashing a tsunami of noise that didn't quit until the next batter came to the plate.

It was nine innings and almost three hours of Mardis Gras. It was the Sonics in '79 and the Seahawks in '83.

And it ended with a Johnson strikeout. A paralyzing, paint-the-corner fastball to Tim Salmon that should have gone straight to Cooperstown.

Catcher Dan Wilson leaped into Johnson's long arms, looking like a long, tall Yogi Berra in the arms of Don Larsen almost 30 years ago.

Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Luis Sojo, Vince Coleman and Joey Cora met at second base and exchanged leaping high-fives.

The Mariners won the American League West yesterday, beating the California Angels, 9-1. And Randy Johnson was right when he said you could't write a story any better than this game.

It was a win that you could feel in the pit of your stomach. A visceral win like none before in the club's 19-year history.

It took two straight losses in Texas to get to this game. It took five straight wins by the Angels. It took a magic number stuck for more than 48 hours at one.

"To come back here, in front of the home fans and finish it off, I think, is a little bit of destiny," Manager Lou Piniella said. "This is the way it should have happened and that's the way it did happen."

Inside the clubhouse, plastic was draped over each locker, protecting it from the champagne spray. Cigar smoke was getting thick as fog. T-shirts and caps proclaimed this team the best in the AL West.

These scenes are among the most cliched in sports, until one happens to the home team. Then it seems as fresh and creative as a Broadway opening.

Team president Chuck Armstrong hugged third baseman Edgar Martinez and both of them were crying.

"After all these years, Edgar. All these years," Armstrong cried.

Buhner was drenched with the bubbly and surprised by the burn he felt in his eyes.

It took eight years in Seattle to feel that burn. His pain never had been so pleasurable.

"This is a dream come true to this organization, this city, this town," he said. "People are going crazy and yet bigger and better things are yet to come. Who knows what's next? We've just got to keep riding the magic carpet."

They were down 13 games to these same Angels. They spent most of the summer without the center of their universe, Griffey. They struggled with their starting pitching and searched almost four months for a leadoff hitter before acquiring Coleman.

They got an MVP season from Edgar Martinez and career years up and down the lineup from Tino Martinez to Jay Buhner, Luis Sojo to Mike Blowers.

"I was 12 years old when I came to my first Mariners game," said Blowers, a Spanaway native. "They were playing Oakland and they lost. The Mariners have come a long way since then."

All the way to the champagne and championship and tsunami of emotion that just probably saved the sport in Seattle.

Want to comment or pass on an idea? You can contact Steve Kelley by voice mail at 464-2176.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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