Refuse to lose: The magical 1995 season
They are spread out across the country and even the world now. They are retired, running businesses, running teams, and some still running around the diamond playing ball for a living.
But for all the old Mariners who lived it, who romped through that magical summer that made baseball matter in Seattle, the 1995 season remains a benchmark, a life-altering event and a fantastical, mystical story that still warms the heart.
"That was just the greatest run I've ever been a part of, as far as winning every day when it counted," said Tino Martinez this spring from Yankees camp in Tampa, Fla.
That's a sentiment echoed in interviews this spring in Florida and Arizona with virtually all the major participants of that electric run, when the Mariners chased down the Angels, overcame the Yankees, nailed down a new stadium, and coaxed out of near-oblivion a fan base that has become one of the most loyal and intense in all of baseball.
That was where it all began, in 1995, when the Mariners refused to lose, and Seattle refused to let baseball leave. Here, 10 years later, is what it was like from the inside, in their own words.
MIKE BLOWERS, THIRD BASEMAN: "At the start of the season, there were no expectations of us winning the pennant. We were talking about improving and playing over .500. There weren't many fans to start the season."
RANDY JOHNSON, PITCHER: "That was the year a lot of people were talking about the franchise going on to Florida. Had that team folded and not risen to the occasion, that franchise might be somewhere else, without a doubt."
CHUCK ARMSTRONG, TEAM PRESIDENT: "It just looked really bleak at the start. We had the replacement debacle, the players were on strike. About this time (in March), they decided to put the stadium issue up for a vote within King County, and polls showed us losing, two-thirds to one-third. The strike finally ended, and we started off kind of slow. And then when things started to pick up, Junior makes that all-world catch and gets hurt — just a disaster."
MIKE BLOWERS: "Then we started playing some exciting baseball, winning a lot of late-inning games, scoring a bunch of runs. As players, all of a sudden you could sense the Kingdome getting full. It made it a lot more fun. We were still keeping our eye on the Angels. It was neat for us. For the first time, as players, we felt the city and fans actually excited about us."
LEE ELIA, BATTING COACH: "We get hot, they (Angels) get cold, and all of a sudden, we cut the gap pretty good. I can remember walking out when the other team was taking BP, and I came back into the coaches' room and said, 'Is this a special night, bat night or something?' They said, 'Why.' I said, 'There's 35,000 people out there.' The juice the people brought to the park, that kicked us. That got us going."
MIKE BLOWERS: "Junior missed a ton of time, and when he came back, we were playing real good baseball. One of his first games back, he ended up hitting a home run off John Wetteland, upper deck, to win a game. We all looked around. If this guy is healthy and ready to go, we had a chance to do something special. His injury had been so serious, we didn't know what we'd get. He comes right back and turns a 96-mph fastball right around. We all smiled and said, 'Here we go.' "
JAY BUHNER, RIGHT FIELDER: "I think that's when everyone kind of said, 'Hey, something really special is happening.' We got on a roll, and we had an unbelievable amount of confidence. We had the mentality we could beat anyone. Anyone could be the hero. People were contributing in every way, from top to bottom. The few games we did lose, we thought we just ran out of outs."
MIKE BLOWERS: "We were about 10 games back, playing really well. After one game we had won, another one of those eighth-, ninth-inning deals, I remember sitting at my locker. At one side is Jay, the other side Tino. We're all talking about the game, and Tino looks at me and says, 'You know what? I have a feeling the Angels are going to start losing.' Right after that, the next day, was the first time I started paying attention to what the Angels were doing."
RANDY JOHNSON: "I just remember the electricity of that year, and the things that continued to domino, where we'd be behind in the game, and something magical would happen. And the roles that certain people played off the bench. They always seemed to come through — Doug Strange, Joey Cora, Luis Sojo, Alex Diaz — just a lot of the people that weren't the Edgars and the Juniors. You need to have quite a few of them to exceed everyone's expectations in order for things to fall in place the way they did that year."
JEFF NELSON, PITCHER: "The whole last two months was the season. I remember, right about the time we got Norm (Charlton), we got Vince Coleman, we made the trade to get Andy Benes. We had a big meeting in the weight room. A lot of guys talked. It had to have been sometime in the beginning of August. From that point on, we just went on a tear. We started winning, and we never stopped."
LUIS SOJO, INFIELDER: "I don't care who we played in that particular month, we knew we were going to beat them, because we were so confident, and had such good chemistry. I mean, we did everything it takes to win a game, and when you have a manager like Lou Piniella, it makes it a lot easier."
JAY BUHNER: "Ask anyone, it was crazy. If you got to the park at 2, you were the last to get there. We were there at 12, 1, the whole month of September. We got superstitious — we had to have a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut. The guy would show up with the pizza, we'd play cards and shoot the cud. That's the way baseball is supposed to be played — playing baseball and having a blast. We'd pull up a cooler after the game, sit around talking about the game until late at night, and then hurry home so we could come back."
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, SHORTSTOP: "What happened to us in September, it was like a movie. Every game, we were down in the seventh, and somehow we would win every game, it seemed."
JOHN MCLAREN, BENCH COACH: "The fans would not let us quit. They absolutely supported us, pushed us to the hilt. We were on the bench one day, I'll never forget it. We're waiting for the umpires to come out, and I'm looking out toward left-center, and there's this sign: "Refuse to Lose." I said, 'That's a neat thing, Lou.' And Lou started talking about it. He said, 'You know, that's got a little rhyme to it.' As we kept going, there were 10, 20 signs, and they were all over the place. After a while, we rode it. Refuse To Lose. That was our thing."
MIKE BLOWERS: "It would be interesting to find out what the Angels were thinking and how they felt, having such a big lead. That was almost as much fun — flipping on the TV, or asking one of the writers, 'What's their score? What? They lost again?' We're all cracking up — 'Can you believe it?' We're holding up our end. We can't believe they're not winning."
REX HUDLER, ANGELS INFIELDER: "What happened was, Lach (manager Marcel Lachemann) was not skilled on the motivational side of things. He didn't have a way of rallying us verbally. He was a hard worker, a very prepared manager — I loved Lach — but he didn't have the motivational skills, and looking back all these years later, that's what we missed, someone to say, 'Don't worry, guys. We'll be OK.' We couldn't get out of it. It was the nastiest funk I've ever seen in baseball. Just my opinion, but we needed our manager to step up, and Lach couldn't do it. He went into his shell, went into withdrawal. He let us figure it out ourselves. They had Lou, who had been through this before, and he had the intangibles. He knew how to handle his boys. We had a manager who had never been there before."
KEN GRIFFEY JR., CENTER FIELDER: "I remember Vince Coleman hitting a grand slam — the first one he ever hit — and his feet weren't even on the ground. You look at the picture in the paper — full contact, and he jumped at it. The last six weeks were six weeks you'll never forget. Everyone contributed, 1 to 25. That was the biggest thing. It wasn't just a one-man show. Every day it was a different guy showing up to help the team win, and that's what it takes."
DOUG STRANGE, INFIELDER: "We were so far out, it seemed no one was interested in baseball staying in Seattle. Next thing you know, we get on a roll, and we're right there. Whether it was Diaz hitting a pinch-hit homer to win a game, me doing the same, Sojo breaking his bat, Randy being unbelievable, Junior being the fantastic player he was, (Rich) Amaral contributing every time he went on the field — everyone found a way."
JEFF NELSON: "All the World Series I've been in, it was still probably the most exciting two months I've ever been in."
NORM CHARLTON, PITCHER: "We started creeping and creeping, and there was some talk about the wild card. I think Jay stepped up and said, 'You know what' — and I don't know how you're going to print this — but basically, 'bleep the wild card.' For me, that probably was the turning point, where everyone looked around and said, 'You know what?' The way we're playing, he's right. Not only is it a possibility, it's probably going to happen."
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "The apocryphal story is true. We had flags at the Kingdome denoting the standings. One day we said, 'We're kind of out of it. Let's put up the wild-card flags.' Buhner said, 'What's going on?' "
JAY BUHNER: "I said it very politely, I thought. I was shagging in right field that night, and a kid was putting the banners up right above me. I yelled at the kid, and he came down to the field. I said, 'What are you doing? Take that bleeping banner down.' He said the front office told him to do it. I said, if they had a problem, to come down and talk to me. When they did, I told them, 'Look, we're playing great right now. I don't think we should be setting our sights on the wild card. Let's not settle for second best.' "
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "That night we were so excited. We won the game and continued our march to the title, then the vote came in, and it was despair. There was no certainty at all whether we could pull it off. I felt the owners were about to say, 'What more can we do?' "
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "The A's at the time — and this still upsets me — all their starters laid down. They just wouldn't play. None of their frontline guys would play. I guess from a historical standpoint and dramatic standpoint, however, it worked out great."
MIKE BLOWERS: "I guarantee you, (the Angels) didn't want any part of Randy. Flying back, we felt we were going to win that game. With Randy going, we felt good."
REX HUDLER: "On the bus, after sweeping four from the A's and knowing there would be a playoff, we were thinking, 'If they throw (Tim) Belcher, we're going to the playoffs. If it's Randy ... we don't know.' "
BILL BAVASI, ANGELS GM: "It just came down to Lou having saved Randy. If he didn't save Randy, I really believe we would have beaten them."
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "This was like a Shakespearean play — Langston returns. I was confident that morning."
REX HUDLER: "Randy was throwing pellets. You could barely see the ball."
RANDY JOHNSON: "It was just kind of interesting I was now pitching against Mark Langston, who I got traded for. I don't think, up to that point, I had ever pitched against him, and now I was, obviously, in a very big game. It was everything you thought it was going to be."
JAY BUHNER: "Every pitch, every out was very intense, nerve-packed. And as the game drew closer and closer to the last inning, it was more and more nerve-racking. That whole Sojo play, the way that whole thing transpired, it was almost in slow motion. ... the way it all ended, with him sliding in, made it that much more special. We could finally relax a little bit."
LUIS SOJO: "Bases loaded with one out (actually two). The first thing I said, 'You have to put the ball in play.' Langston had pitched an unbelievable game, him and Randy Johnson going at it. I said to myself, 'This is your moment. Concentrate on what you're doing.' It was kind of a lucky shot, but it worked. I've never heard a place as loud as the Kingdome after that play. We weren't able to talk for the next 20 minutes."
REX HUDLER: "That's the only nightmare that had a hard time going away — that ugly bleeder Sojo hit to clear the bases."
JEFF NELSON: "After the game, people were just all over the field. People were taking dirt off the mound. They were trying to cut out the plate. We were just going crazy in the locker room. This was something a lot of us had never experienced before."
JOHN MCLAREN: "We needed to get on a plane to New York, but no one cared. We'll worry about that later, let's enjoy this. I mean, there were guys in Jacuzzis, guys smoking cigars. When we finally left the stadium, it was something you might not experience again. We had probably a 25-police escort, and the whole street was lined up, wishing us well, air horns. It was absolutely fabulous."
BILL BAVASI: "I don't know, maybe we didn't respect them enough. I just know they had the magic the rest of us didn't have."
KEN GRIFFEY JR.: "We go down 0-2, and you're just trying not to embarrass yourself. It's your first (playoff) series, and you try not to get too high. But then when you're down 0-2, you've got nothing to lose."
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "I remember walking out of Yankee Stadium after we lost Game 2. It was 3 in the morning, but there's still thousands of fans outside the ballpark. Lou looks at them and says, "It's good to see you all out here in the rain. Over 90 percent of people have jobs in the morning. Apparently, you guys don't. I'm glad you're supporting your team, because you've just seen the last home game of 1995."
EDGAR MARTINEZ: "I knew we were in trouble, and this would be tough, down two games. But I also felt that if we could just win that first game at home, we had a great chance to win the series, because the fans were such a big part of '95. All we needed was one game, one big game. Once we won, I felt we were in the driver's seat."
KEN GRIFFEY JR.: "That fifth game was probably the funnest of all, because all the pressure was on them, not us. As the game went on, the more you realized how big a game it was."
DOUG STRANGE, INFIELDER: "I still can't believe I didn't swing at the pitch. First, I can't believe he threw a forkball. If it had been one inch higher, I would have swung for sure. ... As a player, we were used to tons of people watching us. It's part of the gig. You're in the spotlight. But during that at-bat, I remember stepping out of the batter's box and saying, 'I can't believe how loud it is.' "
RANDY JOHNSON: "I went to Lou and told him I'd be available. At that time, he told me, 'Go get your spikes on,' and that's when I went down in the clubhouse, got my spikes on, and ran down there."
DOUG STRANGE: "Randy came in and blew three fastballs by Wade Boggs. I'm playing third, and I couldn't even see them hardly. Usually I can pick them up out of my periphery, but I couldn't see them. He was so pumped."
DON MATTINGLY, YANKEES FIRST BASEMAN: "The bunt by Cora, that's the play that stands out for me when I look back. I didn't get him, but I thought he was out of the (base) line. It was one of those things. He got the bunt down."
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: "I was so nervous, being on deck, trying to think about every scenario in my mind — months removed from high school. It was crazy. All that stuff was humbling and a great experience."
EDGAR MARTINEZ: "I had struck out against McDowell in the ninth. I came back to the dugout, down at not coming through. I remember Norm said, 'Stay ready, it's going to be up to you.' And it happened. In the 11th inning, the chance came back again. I was swinging the bat so well that entire series, I was so confident, even though I had struck out. I wanted another chance. I felt I could get to him. That's how high my confidence was.
"The second pitch was a split-fingered fastball. That was the pitch that I had struck out on previously. The count was 0-1, and I said to myself, 'I have to hit the split.' That's what he had me set up for. He left one up in the zone, and I hit it hard."
KEN GRIFFEY: "I'm still a little upset about Edgar hitting the ball down the left-field line. He could have just hit it out of the ballpark, and I wouldn't have had to run."
TINO MARTINEZ, FIRST BASEMAN: "The whole team came running on the field before Junior scored. He's running around third, and he came right by us. We were already on the field. He ran great. It was just so smooth. We knew he had it."
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "I remember Woody (Woodward, Seattle GM) and I looked at each other and one of us said to the other, 'Unless Junior falls down, we win."
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: "I can just remember Junior running around those bases like I've never seen anyone run so fast. It was just one of those magical moments. When you think about the Space Needle, you also think about Junior rounding third, and Dave Niehaus giving that great call."
DOUG STRANGE: "Hey, we're all big kids, grown men playing a kid's game, but when he hit that double and we won, I felt like an 8-year-old, running around, jumping, yelling. We really wanted to win that bad. They sent us the video, and it got to the point my wife was laughing. You see me sprinting out of the dugout. I don't know where I'm going, just running. She said, 'How old are you?' I was just in the moment."
JAY BUHNER: "I was in a hallway, hitting off a tee, because I was coming up. I came running out, jumping and screaming. I couldn't get by (pitcher Bob) Wolcott; he was 10 feet in the air. Just awesome. I think everyone always remembers that picture of (Griffey) laying on the ground, with a big grin on his face. It was totally incredible. Junior's a fast guy, but the way he cut the corners on the bases on that play, it was amazing. From mid-shortstop to home plate, he was flying."
EDGAR MARTINEZ: "As I was running, I looked around third base, and I couldn't believe he was about to score on that ball. I had never seen him run the bases that way. It was amazing."
KEN GRIFFEY JR.: "I just remember looking up and seeing a hand waving, and that was it. I don't think I seen it but once, and that was all it took. If he had stopped me three seconds later, I wouldn't have seen it. I just was gone.
"The first guy on the pile was Vince, or it might have been Alex. I just remember being on the damn bottom. Remember that picture? I'm trying to get out of that pile, because I had a bad wrist. For the most part, it was exciting, nervous, nerve-racking, happy, sad — all the emotions you can go through in a day."
JOHN MCLAREN: "It was just crazy. I remember David Cone coming by, congratulating us. That was a nice gesture. I remember the mayor of New York coming by."
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: "I remember (Yankees owner George) Steinbrenner leaving in a huff in a limo."
LEE ELIA: I remember it like it was yesterday. I never cried so much in my life, from joy."
JEFF NELSON: "I thought we had a great shot at beating Cleveland, but looking back, I think we were just too tired. We just didn't have a lot in the tank. We exhausted ourselves those last two months, and in the Yankees series."
MIKE BLOWERS: "When we were knocked out, people were in the stands crying. The players were emotionally spent. When the last out was made and it was done, we were sitting in the clubhouse, looking at each other, and saying, 'Can you believe we went through that — and what a blast.' I remember going home and thinking, 'I've never been so tired in my life.' I didn't even realize it."
NORM CHARLTON: "For me, everything the players did on the field was impressive. But when Cleveland finally beat us, we all went to the locker room, and we were kind of down. Then, someone came in and said, 'Man, you've got to get outside.' We walked back out onto the field, 30 or 45 minutes after the game. We had just lost, we're going home. We walk out on the field, and all our fans are still there. The stadium is still packed. They're standing — a standing ovation. That was as much a moving moment as when we won 116 games in 2001, with 9/11 and all that, and we carried the flag around the field. I'm very proud to be able to do that, and that was a pretty emotionally moving moment. But I think after we lost and the fans stayed, that's probably the most emotional and the most moving moment I've ever had in baseball. That's probably the one moment that put baseball to stay in Seattle.
"I talk to fans, and it will happen a lot this year with the 10-year anniversary. They say, 'Man, we really had a good time. We appreciate what you guys did.' I say, 'I'm glad you enjoyed it, glad you appreciated it. And I'm sure you had a lot of fun. But you should have been in that locker room.' "
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
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