When the memorable postseason series of baseball are recalled from now on, that between New York and Seattle, which wound up right-side up for the Mariners, will have to be among them.
Not the snickers over the ever-expanding playoffs nor the snide asides about the division series format can ever remove the scenes of two ballclubs, good and, more telling, determined, going at each other for five games, 20 hours, 53 innings, to climax, 6-5, in the Mariners' magnificent 11th last night at the Kingdome.
"In a year when baseball needs all the positives it can get, what could be more positive than this series was?" asked Seattle Manager Lou Piniella, after Edgar Martinez's two-run double pushed the Mariners into the American League Championship Series starting tomorrow night against Cleveland.
"I have never seen better baseball, better played or better battled. It's a damn shame someone had to lose it . . . because there was no loser on that field."
At its end - as if to tell all how classic and classily contested this series was - both teams' aces were on the mound. It is expected that No. 1s, the Randy Johnsons and Jack McDowells of the game, take games to the final out.
But when before have two of them entered the same game as relievers, both in the ninth to snuff threats? Simply, never.
Managers Piniella and Buck Showalter of the Yankees each had made their moves, grand masters fighting off checkmate.
"That," Piniella said, marveling over the rarity of the strategy - only four times before in league championship play had pitchers started and relieved in the same series, "tells it all.
"I've never seen that, never even heard of anything like it. Unbelievable. Randy has carried us on his big shoulders all year. I have the utmost respect for McDowell. Two outstanding competitors."
"Two warriors going at it, that's what it should come down to," Showalter said. "One probably has as good as stuff as there is in baseball, and the other with as good a heart as ever has been in this game.
"It was the type of night where you put your head on the pillow and know that you had your warriors in there and just didn't quite get it done. Seattle has a great team and played a great series. I know, because I thought our team played a great series, and I know what it took to beat us."
The weekend before, in Texas, Johnson had gone to Piniella and volunteered to pitch "a batter or two" in relief if his team needed him. The need never came, until yesterday, two days after Johnson had thrown 126 pitches and beaten the Yankees to start the weekend, six days after the left-hander had thrown 116 and beaten the California Angels to put Seattle into the postseason.
(When you talk history, along with this series, you will always include Johnson's week on the edge: 3-0, 19 innings pitched, 8 hits, 4 earned runs, 7 walks, 28 strikeouts, a 1.90 earned-run average.)
Saturday, Piniella went to Johnson. "I asked him if he could give us an out or two," the manager said. "That was the polite way, the gentleman's way, of getting him out there . . . then we had him go three innings."
Piniella swore Johnson would have gone only one more inning. The problem would have been getting Johnson to leave the game.
"If we didn't go for it tonight, there might not have been a next Tuesday to look forward to," said the Unit who has never been Bigger. "I got through this with the help of all my teammates, for no individual stands out in our room . . . or if anyone does, it should be Edgar Martinez for his game-winning hit. Now, I'm going to have to go out and find a gas station for a fill-up."
Johnson entered a ninth with none out and two runners on base. Was he focused on the hitter, Wade Boggs? "Were there TWO runners on?" Johnson asked. "I thought there was only one."
He fanned Boggs and got Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill to pop out. In the 10th, he struck out the side, and Ruben Sierra, Don Mattingly and Gerald Williams all barked at umpire Jim Evans. Running on empty, Johnson walked Mickey Stanley to open the 11th. Tony Fernandez bunted pinch-runner Pat Kelly up and Randy Velarde, a pawn putting the king in check, singled to make it 5-4.
Coming back for the Mariners was nothing new, this game, this series or this season. Trailing 4-2 in the eighth, they got one run back when Ken Griffey Jr. hit his fifth home run in five games, tying a major-league record for a postseason series (Reggie Jackson, 1977 World Series, six games). And the other when Yankee starter David Cone lost his control with two away, walking three to go with a Jay Buhner single. The last of the three, to Doug Strange on a 3-2 pitch, forced home the tying run.
But down 5-4, down to the last three outs of 1995, this was not a tiring Cone, whom the Mariners had beaten already this year. This was Black Jack McDowell, who as a White Sox or Yankee had never lost in Seattle (6-0 lifetime) and was 10-1 against the Mariners overall.
Yet, straining the credibility of even those who had come to expect such things, Seattle rose again. Joey Cora, who had homered in the third for Seattle's first run, bunted for a hit, a mirror of his crucial safe bunt of Saturday. Griffey, who is back as if he never missed a day, rocketed a single to center that moved Cora to third.
Edgar Martinez followed.
Edgar M. had had a chance at McDowell earlier when Black Jack entered the game, two on and one away. He fanned, "on a bad pitch," high, Martinez said, embarrassed even after the game despite finishing the series with a .571 average, 12 hits, 10 RBI and 6 runs scored. "I was thinking what he'd throw me instead of just trying to make contact."
When Edgar went back to the dugout, reliever Norm Charlton approached him. Charlton said, "I told him, `You're going to get another chance.' He looked at me with the look in his eye that said, `I know.' "
This time he laced an 0-1 split-fingered fastball into the left-field corner. Cora danced home to tie it. Griffey's run was more serious. "I knew unless I got stopped I was going to go all the way," he said. "I don't know if I can run any faster. I just ran as fast as I could."
Outfielder Jay Buhner, watching on the training-room TV after being accidentally kicked in the jaw earlier by Tony Fernandez, said that not only was third-base coach Sam Perlozzo waving Griffey home, "but so was the entire team. Seriously, every guy on the bench was out on the field, not just the mat (warning track), either. They were almost on the turf. They were waving and screaming."
The multiple instructions worked. Griffey scored, and another layer of the bad years, seasons of flops and follies, fell away.
As the players piled first on Griffey at the plate, then on Martinez at second, the Kingdome erupted. The balconied press box actually shook in the pounding pandemonium. Tim Hevly, Mariner public-relations man, announced, "4.19." It was either the time of game or a Richter scale measure of the madness.
"You watch this happen, game by game; you even play a part in it," Buhner said. "You enjoy it, but something inside of you sits back and scratches its head and wonders, `Is this really happening to us? Is this a dream? Or is this fate?' "