Classic M’s preview: Randy Johnson gets the ball with 1995 ALDS on the line
With baseball season delayed for the foreseeable future, 710 ESPN Seattle will be broadcasting classic Mariners games throughout March and April. Tonight is time to “Refuse to Lose,” as the Mariners return home to the Kingdome down 2-0 to the Yankees for Game 3 of the 1995 American League Division Series.
ALDS Game 3: October 6, 1995
The Mariners return home from New York facing an elimination game – three elimination games if things were to go well – down 2-0 in the best-of-five series against the New York Yankees.
The previous 10 days had been a whirlwind. The regular season ended in Arlington with a 9-3 loss, a game that left the team to sit in the visitor’s clubhouse watching a game taking place in Anaheim between the Angels and A’s. They had to see if they would travel to New York to enjoy an off day before game 1 of the ALDS or if they would need to head home to face the Angels the next day in a tiebreaker game.
To Seattle they would go, and go confident as Randy Johnson was slated to pitch. The romp of the tiebreaker game would take place with the Mariners upending the Angels 9-1 at the Kingdome. There was little time for celebration, however, as Game 1 against the Yankees was scheduled the next day across the country.
“We had a brief celebration and then we had to get going again,” remembered Mike Blowers, the Mariners’ third baseman at the time. “The biggest was we didn’t have Randy for Game 1. Obviously going to New York is difficult for anybody.”
It was daylight by the time the Mariners arrived in New York, but no rest for the weary (if they were indeed weary). Blowers said the adrenaline and the excitement of the situation carried them through the day. Workouts and batting practice were held as usual but the team came out on the losing end of Game 1, falling 9-6 to the Yankees despite two home runs hit by Ken Griffey Jr.
Game 2, even rougher. It was a back-and-forth affair that saw Rubén Sierra and Don Mattingly go back-to-back in the sixth inning to take the lead, and then the Mariners getting it right back in the top of the seventh. In the bottom half of the frame, they were tied up again. The Yankees would have a chance to win it in the 12th but Bernie Williams was thrown out at the plate. In the 15th, the Yankees would win it on one of the more painful home runs in Mariners history, the two-run shot off the bat of Jim Leyritz.
The Yankees came away with the 7-5 win in 15 innings with the rain coming down in the Bronx. The Mariners were down 0-2.
“The second game was super difficult,” Blowers said. “I just remember being on the flight back to Seattle after those two games and all I could think about was, man, we have come all this way, we fought through an entire season without Junior and now Junior’s back and here we are. We have got to find a way just to win a game.”
A deflating loss, overnight travel, elimination game later that day. How does a manager get his team ready for such a situation? What Lou Piniella did might not be exactly what you would have imagined.
“Everyone thinks of Lou and he is so fiery, he’s throwing bases and his hat, he was a completely different guy which I saw for the first time in mid-95 once we rolled into mid-August,” explained Blowers. “He was calmer even though the games meant more. In the most difficult situations it wasn’t uncommon for him to say something to make us laugh. Completely opposite of the grind through the season.
“He hated to lose in New York more than anything and I think all of us were looking for his reaction knowing we were up against it. He was fine. He was kind of matter of fact after the game in some of the comments he made. I think some of that helps again that he knew we had Randy going in Game 3 and we were going back to our park. He just hadn’t changed, he was as calm as calm could be and I think that was the right way to handle our group. He didn’t have to worry about motivating us. At that point, we knew what was going on.”
Randy Johnson being called upon to pitch his second must-win game in six days, the same.
“That was normal,” said Blowers with a chuckle. “He was sitting in his corner – stay away from him. He’s going to go through his routine. He’s going to be super quiet and nobody is going to say a word to him.”
Randy Velarde, LF
Bernie Williams, CF
Mike Stanley, C
Rubén Sierra, DH
Don Mattingly, 1B
Gerald Williams, RF
Russ Davis, 3B
Tony Fernández, SS
Pat Kelly, 2B
Jack McDowell, P
Vince Coleman, LF
Joey Cora, 2B
Ken Griffey Jr., CF
Edgar Martinez, DH
Tino Martinez, 1B
Jay Buhner, RF
Mike Blowers, 3B
Luis Sojo, SS
Dan Wilson, C
Randy Johnson, P
The Mariners would do damage against McDowell in this game and of course Game 5. In Game 3, Seattle scored five runs off of him on three hits and four walks. The scouting report going in?
“I remember that even when I was younger when I was playing for the Yankees at that time,” said Blowers, “Don Mattingly told me that if (McDowell) had the lead, three or four runs, he’s just going to pump heaters and try get through the game as quickly as possible and deep as possible. But if the game is in balance he’s never going to give into you. He will throw that split at any moment. He will flip a breaking ball in there in a hitter’s count, and if he walks you, so be it, he will work on the next guy. So don’t chase pitches out of the zone. At that point, we all knew he wasn’t going to give in.”