The 1995 pennant race saved baseball in Seattle. The final month was the stuff of legend for Mariners fans. It was the year of Randy, the first year of Buhner, the season we lost Griffey for 3 months, and the summer in which Northwesterners who didn’t even follow baseball became familiar with signature home run calls of broadcaster Dave Niehaus: “Grand Salami Time” and “Fly, Fly Away.” Our list below chronicles the last 36 games of that magical season.
Background: A baseball strike prematurely ended the previous season and canceled the World Series for the first time in 90 years. The strike continued into ’95 spring training and was settled in April only after trimming 16 games off the schedule.
The Mariners were facing more struggles than most teams. It didn’t have many wins in its history to cheer about, and it had spent the closing weeks of the strike-shortened ’94 season as a homeless wandering road team due to safety concerns with falling Kingdome ceiling tiles. Recurring rumors that the embattled franchise would be leaving town seemed to be growing in credibility. There was little support for financing a new stadium.
The Mariners started the ’95 season in relatively good shape. After 17 years sportswriters were even talking about them as — gasp — contenders. They ended May six games over .500. Then star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr fractured his left wrist going for one of his routinely amazing catches on May 26. He would be sidelined for nearly three months. The team held on in his absence. This was, after all, a team touting the talents of Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner (who Seattle had picked up in a very favorable trade with the Yankees during the off-season), and even a new kid by the name of Alex Rodriguez. They also acquired relief pitcher Norm Charlton from Cincinnati in July, but his worth was not fully appreciated until the pennant race to come.
The low water mark of the 1995 season was Aug 2. Seattle had just dropped their third game in a row, sat 3 games below .500, and 13 games behind division leader California Angels. There was a glimmer of hope, though: They were still within striking distance of a wild card spot.
The Mariners had won 36 of 73 games (nearly half) while Griffey was on the disabled list. Things began to change when he finally returned to the line-up Aug 15. Within a week the stage was set for a magical, miraculous “refuse to lose” comeback. On Aug 23, 1995, third place Seattle had a 54-55 record and trailed California by 11.5 games. The magic began the next night. They went on a 25-11 tear thereafter, often winning during their last at bat, inspiring the “Refuse to Lose” fan mantra, and finding a different hero almost every night. Seattle surged. California choked. It was a comeback for the ages.
THE LAST 36 GAMES OF THE 1995 SEATTLE MARINERS’ REGULAR SEASON
- Aug 24: Win, 9-7 vs. New York.
- The Yankees were in Seattle for a big four game series. Down 7-5 in the eighth inning, the Mariners picked up 1 run in the 8th inning, and another in the ninth to tie it. With two outs and a man on base in the bottom of ninth, Ken Griffey Jr stepped to the plate. It was barely a week since he returned from a 3-month stint on the disabled list for a wrist fracture. He blasted the first pitch for a 2-run walk-off homerun to win the game. (Video: Griffey’s home run.) It was his 10th homerun of the season (a small number for him due to his injury) and his first career walk-off homer. And it came against the Yankees. That moment triggered the mood and the spirit for the rest of the season. Earlier in the game, Edgar Martinez had hit his 22nd homerun and Jay Buhner added his 24th — a grand slam. Jeff Nelson (5-1) got the win, but since California also won this day, Seattle stayed 11.5 games behind first place. That would change.
- Aug 25: Win, 7-4 vs. New York.
- Edgar Martinez hit two home runs and drove in 4 runs in this game as Chris Bosio (9-6) got the win. Seattle picked up a game on California; the Mariners moved to 10.5 games back.
- Aug 26: Win 7-0 vs. New York.
- The Mariners moved within 9.5 games of first place California. Buhner hit his 25th homerun and Mike Blowers added his 19th. Randy Johnson (13-2) struck out 7 in a complete game, shutout win.
- Aug 27: Loss 2-5 vs. New York.
- Seattle star of the game: “Little” Joey Cora had a double, single, and a run scored. Buhner and Griffey got base hits, too. That was about it. Power shortage. Coleman, the two Martinezes, Blowers, Wilson, and Sojo combined as 0 for 19.
- Aug 28: (No game scheduled.)
- Aug 29: Win 6-4 at Boston.
- Felix Fermin went 3 for 4 with three runs and Dan Wilson hit his 4th home run of the season to move Seattle to within 8.5 games of California. Andy Benes (7-8) got the win. Norm Charlton threw 15 pitches (13 for strikes) to earned his 3rd save of the season. Understatement: It would not be his last.
- Aug 30: Loss 6-7 at Boston.
- Buhner and Blowers hit doubles, Joey Cora added two triples, and Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez hit homeruns (their 25th and 27th respectively), but a 5-run Boston surge in the bottom of the 8th inning, pushed the Red Sox ahead of Seattle.
- Aug 31: Win 11-2 at Boston.
- Seattle had 19 hits in this game but only one (Buhner’s 26th) was a home run. Ten different players combined for 3 doubles and 15 singles. Four (Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Vince Coleman, and Luis Sojo) — had three hits each. Edgar’s batting average edged up to .369 after this game. Mike Blowers finished the month with 33 RBIs, a new team record. The Mariners slid past Texas into second place with the blowout victory, and moved within 7.5 games of first-place California. Bob Wolcott (2-1) got the win, Lee Guetterman the save.
- Buhner’s home run, by the way, was the last of a new team record 46 home runs in the month of August. They hit 182 for the year.
- Sep 1: Win 4-3 at Baltimore.
- Cora and Wilson hit homeruns — their 3rd and 5th respectively — while Coleman, Buhner, and Tino Martinez hit one double each. The game remained close throughout, never more than one score per inning and no lead greater than 2 runs. A win is a win, though, and Seattle’s 60th of the season moved them another game closer to first place. The Mariners were now 6.5 games behind California. Tim Belcher (9-9) got the win, Charlton the save.
- Sep 2: Loss 2-3 at Baltimore.
- Edgar’s 26th home run came in the 5th inning. Seattle lost a close game but didn’t lose ground in the pennant race because California also lost.
- Sep 3: Win 9-6 at Baltimore.
- Doubles by the two Martinezes (Edgar & Tino) and a home run by Rich Amaral (his 2nd) lifted Seattle past the Orioles and within 5.5 games of first. They had reduced the distance to first place by half in only ten days. Rafael Carmona (2-4) got the win. Norm Charlton earned his 5th save of the season and 3rd in 6 games.
- Sep 4: Loss 3-13 at New York.
- The Yankees took control of the game early, scoring in the first four innings. They led 10-2 by the 4th inning. Mariner highlights: Edgar’s 27th home run in the 1st inning and doubles by Sojo and pinch hitter Doug Strange.
- Sep 5: Win 6-5 at New York.
- Home runs by Sojo (5), Griffey (11th), and Buhner (27th) led Seattle to another win. Edgar hit his 45th double of the season. Wolcott (3-1) got the win, Charlton picked up his 6th save.
- Sep 6: Loss 3-4 at New York.
- Tino Martinez was the Mariners star of the game with two singles and his 28th home run. A 4-run 6th inning was sufficient, though, for New York to take the win.
- Sep 7: Loss 1-4 at Cleveland.
- Buhner’s 28th home run and a double by Tino Martinez was simply not enough to win this one-game series in Cleveland. It was one of only two times during this 1995 stretch run that Seattle lost consecutive games.
- Sep 8: Win 4-1 vs. Kansas City.
- Randy Johnson (14-2) pitched 7 innings and struck out 8 batters to get the win. Sojo connected for a double and home run (his 6th). Norm Charlton earned his 7th save.
- Sep 9: Win 6-2 vs. Kansas City.
- The Royals scored first, but the Mariners moved ahead in the second inning and stayed ahead. Andy Benes got the win. Tino and Buhner each hit their 29th home runs. Five Mariners had a multi-hit game.
- Sep 10: Win 5-4 vs. Kansas City.
- Joey Cora’s run-scoring double in the 8th gave Seattle its third consecutive win and moved the team to within 5.0 games of first place California. Bobby Ayala (5-5) got the win. Charlton picked up his 8th save, his 6th in 13 games. Buhner’s 30th homerun and Wilson’s 6th added to the fireworks.
- Sep 11: Loss 10-12 vs. Minnesota.
- The final score is deceiving. Minnesota led 3-0 as late as the middle of the 6th inning. Then Seattle scored 6 in the bottom of the inning, the Twins answered with 4 in the seventh and 5 in the eighth. Five RBIs by Buhner and home runs by Wilson (7th), Buhner (31st), and Griffey (12th) lifted the Mariners to ten runs, but it wasn’t enough in this crazy 22-run, 28-hit, and 13 pitchers contest.
- Sep 12: Win 14-3 vs. Minnesota.
- This was a power game with two home runs by Buhner (his 33rd and 34th) and one each by Blowers (20th) and Wilson (8th). Tino added two doubles and 4 RBIs. With Seattle leading 10-4 by the fourth inning, manager Lou Piniella began resting up his players. All nine starters were replaced in the line-up or the field by the end of the game. Bosio (10-8) got the win. Rafael Carmona earned his first save of the season.
- Sep 13: Win 7-4 vs. Minnesota.
- Down 4-0 in the seventh, the Mariners’ “Refuse to Lose” spirit erupted with a 7-run rally in the last two innings. Home runs by Blowers (21st) and Buhner (34th) buried the Twins. Randy Johnson struck out 13 batters in seven innings, before turning the game over to Jeff Nelson (6-3) who got the win, and Norm “The Sheriff” Charlton who pulled down another save — his 7th in the team’s last 16 games. Seattle was now 5 games over .500.
- Sep 14: (No game scheduled.)
- Sep 15: Win 3-2 at Chicago.
- It was a rare no-homer game for Seattle, but Vince Coleman made up for that by going 4 for 4 with a double, triple, a walk, and two stolen bases. The Mariners moved to within 4.0 games of first place California. Andy Benes (9-8) got the win. Charlton earned the save.
- Sep 16: Win 5-3 at Chicago.
- Buhner hit his 35th home run in the 2nd inning, but Dan Wilson was the hero. He was 3 for 4 and his blast in the 9th broke a 3-3 tie. Both men also had doubles. Seattle’s fourth consecutive win (and 7th win in 8 games) moved Seattle to within 3.0 games of first place. Tim Belcher (10-10) pitched eight innings for the win. Guess who picked up his 3rd save in a row, 11th save of the season, and 9th in the team’s last 18 games? Who else? Norm Charlton.
- Sep 17: Loss 1-2 at Chicago.
- The Mariners had 8 hits but could only muster one run — a Tino-scoring double by Wilson in the 5th.
- Sep 18: Win 8-1 vs. Texas.
- Randy Johnson (15-2) returned Seattle to the win column with 10 strikeouts in 8 innings. He was supported at the plate with a triple by Wilson and home runs by Blowers (22nd) and Edgar (28th). The Mariners now had 70 wins and were within 2.0 games of California.
- Sep 19: Win 5-4 vs. Texas.
- Texas led the game from the first inning, but Seattle’s “refuse to lose” spirit pushed across a run in the 8th and two in the 9th (thanks to a Doug Strange pinch hit home run) to tie it. Then, in the bottom of the 11th, Griffey slapped a base hit scoring Strange to win the game. (Griffey had earlier hit his 11th home run.) The walk-off drama pulled Seattle within 1.0 game of first place. Norm Charlton did NOT get the save this game. He pitched the two extra inning frames and took home the win (3-6) instead.
- Related news: A King County referendum to fund a new baseball stadium and hopefully retain a major league team failed by 1% on Election Day, Sep 19. It was remarkable that the vote count was so close. Polls only a month earlier had showed support from only a third of voters. The 1% margin of defeat signaled a dramatic change of public opinion. In a matter of weeks, Seattle had transformed into a baseball town. County officials would meet over the next several months to draft funding plans for a new stadium despite the ballot failure. That was not without controversy. Nonetheless, Safeco Field opened less than three and a half years later.
- Sep 20: Win 11-3 vs. Texas.
- Seattle’s third consecutive win gave the Mariners a share of first place for the first time since May 17. They had been 11.5 games back less than 4 weeks earlier and now they were atop the American League West. Seattle turned on the power early and scored in each of the first five innings. Both Vince Coleman and Luis Sojo went 4 for 5. Coleman contributed two doubles, Sojo had a home run (his 7th), and Griffey checked in with a 2-run homer (14th) of his own. Benes (10-8) got the win.
- Sep 21: (No game scheduled.)
- Sep 22: Win 10-7 vs. Oakland.
- More last at-bat fireworks — but this time in front of 51,500 fans. Trailing 7-6 in the 8th inning, Edgar hit his 29th home run of the season to tie the game and pinch hitter Alex Diaz knocked a 3-run homer to put it away. Blasts by Griffey (his 15th) and Coleman (5th) also left the park. Seattle’s fourth win in a row put the Mariners 10 games over 500, and 1 game ahead of California. Nelson (7-3) got the win and Charlton threw 8 pitches for the save.
- Sep 23: Win 7-0 vs. Oakland.
- With Randy Johnson on the mound and 54,500 “Refuse to Lose” Mariners fans in the Kingdome (the largest crowd of the year), Oakland simply didn’t have a chance. Johnson struck out 15 Athletics and gave up only 4 hits in 7 1/3 innings. He dominated to earn the shutout win (16-2). Buhner had 4 RBIs with his 37th and 38th home runs of the season. Rookie Alex Rodriguez hit a triple, and Coleman, Edgar, and Griffey added doubles. (It was the 50th double of the season for Edgar Martinez.) It was Seattle’s fifth consecutive win and moved them 2 games ahead of California.
- Sep 24: Win 9-8 vs. Oakland.
- Seattle and Oakland swapped the lead three times in the last two innings, but the Mariners came away the winners with a 2-run walk-off home run by Tino Martinez. It was his second blast of the night, leaving him with 32 on the season. The walk-off gave the Mariners their sixth win in a row and 75th for the year. Norm Charlton (4-6) gave up the lead in the top of he ninth but was redeemed three batters later to get his second win a week.
- Sep 25: (No game scheduled.)
- Sep 26: Win 10-2 vs. California.
- Seattle’s seventh consecutive win (and 14th win in 16 games) came against their primary rival in the pennant race. It was accomplished with power and a steady accumulation of runs throughout the game. Buhner blasted his 38th home run, Griffey had his 16th home run, a double, and 3 RBIs. Tino had a double and 3 RBIs, too. Benes (11-8) got the win. Seattle was now 76-63 on the season. After trailing by 11.5 games one month and two days earlier, they were now 3 games ahead of the Angels with 5 season games remaining.
- Sep 27: Loss 0-2 vs. California.
- Two first inning runs was all the Angels needed to regain a game on Seattle. The Mariners managed only 3 hits, two by Edgar and one by Blowers. 50,200 fans watched the division lead slipped to 2 games.
- Sep 28: Win 6-2 at Texas.
- Ken Griffey Jr’s 8th inning grand slam broke up a 2-2 tie and put the game away for Seattle. It was his 17th home run of the year. Buhner hit his 39th in the 5th inning. Edgar “Mr. Double” Martinez had his 52nd two-bagger of the season, too. That was a new team record. He would finish the season leading the league in doubles, runs scored, and batting average. Everything was routine on the pitching side: Randy Johnson (17-2) won the game and Norm Charlton picked up his 13th save.
- Griffey would eventually tally 12 career grand slams with Seattle but this was his only one in 1995. It was a year full of “grand salamis” as Dave Niehaus would call them. A team record 10 were hit. Blowers had 3 (all coming in August), Buhner 2, Tino 2, and Edgar, Coleman, and Griffey 1 each. Grandma got out a lot of rye bread and mustard in ’95. (Those were more Niehaus-isms.)
- Sep 29: Win 4-3 at Texas.
- This game was won with “small ball.” Down 3-2 in the 8th inning, Coleman singled, Amaral reached base on an error, both advanced on a double steal, Griffey walked, then Edgar and Tino hit consecutive run-scoring sacrifice flies. Ayala (6-5) got the win in relief for Chris Bosio. Norm Charlton earned his 14th — and last — save of the season. He had 12 saves and two wins during the last 29 games. The Mariners’ win clinched at least a tie for the American League West division title.
- Sep 30: Loss 2-9 at Texas.
- The Rangers jumped off to a 7-2 lead over Andy Benes in the second and coasted from there. Seattle slipped to 1 game ahead of California with 1 regular season game to go.
- Oct 1: Loss 3-9 at Texas.
- Buhner smacked his 40th home run in the 2nd inning and Blowers hit his 23rd in the 6th. But Texas was able to keep adding runs to their total and Seattle couldn’t contain them. The loss, combined with a California win — their fifth in a row — left the two teams tied for first place as the season came to an end. A one-game playoff to decide the American League West Championship was scheduled for next day in the Kingdome.
- Oct 2: Win 9-1 vs. California.
- The 1995 regular season came down to one game. The Angels put Mark Langston (15-6) on the mound against the Mariners’ ace Randy Johnson (17-2). It was a fair fight for six innings. But in the seventh, with Seattle leading 1-0, the home team mojo erupted. A single, fielder’s choice, and a hit by pitch loaded the bases for Seattle. Then (with two outs, of course) Luis Sojo delivered a shallow hit down the right field line that not only cleared the bases but allowed Sojo himself to score as the panicked Angels compounded the play with errors. (Video: Coleman & Sojo at bats.) It was officially a double, but incredibly it scored four runs. The play ended with Langston flat on his back at home plate, staring up at the Kingdome ceiling. California’s catastrophic collapse was complete. Seattle added 4 runs the next inning, too, wrapping up the championship in front of 52,300 fans with a score of 9-1. Upon getting the final out, Johnson raised both arms high above his 6’10” frame. Dave Niehaus memorably called it: “Randy looks to the sky, that is covered by the dome, and bedlam!” (Video: last strike of the game.) Johnson (18-2) threw the complete game win on 125 pitches, 12 strikeouts, 1 walk, and only 3 hits. He finished the season leading the league in winning percentage (.900), ERA (2.48), and strikeouts (294). He narrowly missed winning the pitcher’s Triple Crown — it would have been the first in 50 years — but he accepted the American League Cy Young Award once the World Series was over.
POST-SCRIPT: The regular season officially ended with the stunning 9-1 victory over California. The 1995 post-season, however, was just beginning. Seattle carried on the “Refuse to Lose” excitement into two playoff series and 11 more games. One of those games, Game 5 of the ALCS, perhaps became even more legendary than the pennant race. It seems appropriate that we will eventually give the post-season run its own list.
SOURCES: Much of this magical season is still fresh in my memory, including listening to the closing innings of the Aug 24 game on a car radio and being in the center field stands Oct 8. Many of the basic facts included on this list, however, were double-checked with Baseball-Reference.com. I also relied on three books: A Magic Season (1995) by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History (2010) by Chris Donnelly and Shipwrecked: A People’s History of the Seattle Mariners (2012) by Jon Wells.
VIDEOS: WA-List has no connection to those who posted videos cited here, but appreciate the added resources.