It was a seminal moment in Mariners lore, so much of which seems to be fixated on the 1995 miracle comeback.
Hopelessly out of the AL West race in August — or so it seemed — the Mariners decided to replace the flags in the Kingdome that denoted the divisional standings with flags for the wild-card race.
As Jay Buhner told me later: “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.’ ”
That became the Mariners’ rallying cry, and we all know how it turned out: 13 games out of first place on Aug. 2, the Mariners ran down the faltering Angels, won a one-game playoff, and saved the world. Or, at least, saved baseball in Seattle.
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It’s nearly 20 years later, and the Mariners are trying to create some new lore. It’s past time to stop clinging to long-ago triumphs, which happens when that’s all you’ve got. But now they’ve got something happening, right here and now, that could be the next chapter.
I know I’m not the only one who is starting to see similarities to 1995. And it might be time for someone on this year’s team to revive Buhner’s rallying cry, with a slight revision to reflect the new rules of baseball: “Let’s not settle for third best.”
One of those people on this wavelength is broadcaster Mike Blowers. The Mariners have gone from 11½ games out of first place on July 27 to 6½ games behind the Angels, and 6 games behind the Athletics.
“Now there’s two wild cards, and we’re in front of the second one,’’ Blowers, the third baseman on the ’95 Mariners, said Monday in Philadelphia before broadcasting the Mariners’ 4-1 loss against the Phillies. “You have to start looking at the division. The schedule is in our favor over the next nine games (against the second-division Phillies, Red Sox and Rangers), and then all of a sudden we’re playing those teams ahead of us down the stretch.
“It’s still going to be difficult. Those are two pretty good teams to run down. But the possibility is there if we take care of our own business. Why not look at it? I am. I wasn’t until yesterday.”
It’s hard not to think that way when a team with the historic pitching of the Mariners suddenly is starting to hit — slightly more than five runs per game since July 31. Mind you, this is a team playing .782 ball (61-17) when they score a mere three runs per game. If they can maintain this offensive uptick, or even a semblance of it, they will be dangerous.
Another member of the ’95 team, Norm Charlton, said he believes that Buhner’s insistence on focusing beyond the wild card helped subtly change the mindset of the team, which had finished above .500 just once in its history.
“I think it took everyone’s thoughts from being the Mariners of old, where we’d be happy to play .500, and if we really played well we could make the playoffs as a wild card,’’ Charlton said.
“Jay said: ‘You know what? Forget the wild card. We’re going to win the damn division.’ It changed the atmosphere. We weren’t just the lowly Mariners trying to get to the playoffs for the first time. We could be the bold Mariners.”
Who wouldn’t want to see these once-lowly Mariners go bold?
I realize it’s not a perfect analogy, because those Mariners had three Hall of Fame-caliber players in their prime in Ken Griffey Jr. (who missed nearly three months with a wrist injury), Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez. But these guys might have two, Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano.
A bigger issue was pointed out by Charlton: “Honestly, what kills them is that instead of just having the Angels, like we did, they have two teams. Granted, we had an unbelievable season in ’95, but at the same time the Angels had a catastrophic failure. I don’t think both Oakland and Anaheim will fall flat on their face.”
To which his old teammate, Blowers, counters, “We were 11½ out back (in 1995), not 5½.”
He’s done his homework. The Mariners were exactly 11½ games out of first with 39 games remaining. But momentum was building, just as it is now for the Mariners.
Of course, the Mariners also began play Monday just a half-game ahead for the second wild card, with four, maybe five, teams in hot pursuit. Now, they’re in a virtual tie for that second wild card.
And it’s only been a couple weeks since skeptics (like myself) were questioning whether this team had the offensive wherewithal to go the distance.
Still a valid question. But for a team with precious few magic moments in its vault, it seems fitting for it to dare to dream. Again.
Shades of ’95?
|How this year’s Mariners stack up with the 1995 Mariners in the standings with the same amount of games remaining in their seasons:|
|Team||Record||Games behind 1st-place Angels|
|* A strike delayed the start of the season, and MLB played a 144-game schedule|