An Interview With Andy Benes About His 1995 Mariners Season

Randy Johnson and Norm Charlton seem to dominate most fans’ memories of the pitchers on the 1995 Mariners; some remember Jeff Nelson, or Chris Bosio, or Bob Wolcott for his start against the Indians to begin the ALCS. But Andy Benes and Tim Belcher, two in-season additions via trade who were two-fifths of the rotation starting in August, didn’t remain with the team after 1995, and don’t get much attention from fans. I recently got in touch with Benes, looking to add an interview of a player to this site’s project of looking back at the ’95 Mariners. I was also hoping for a different perspective on the season, from a player who hadn’t been part of the team’s pre-’95 struggles and doesn’t get asked about his Mariners experience often.

Benes lives west of St. Louis and is involved with the Cardinals’ community and charity programs. That reflects his two stints with the Cardinals after 1995, and fits in pretty well with his spending the first 20 or so years of his life in Evansville, Indiana, along the Ohio River near the Illinois line. He also helps coach the Westminster Christian Academy baseball and softball teams, hosts an annual golf tournament to benefit the school, and he and his wife, Jennifer (married for 26 years), have six children. The two youngest are adopted from Central Russia. After breaking off his studies at the University of Evansville to play baseball, Benes recently finished a degree in business from St. Louis University.

Here are the thoughts and memories Andy shared about 1995.

What was your response to getting sent to Seattle? The team’s history wasn’t impressive, but it had talent. Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez were having remarkable seasons, and Griffey was going to come back soon. Did you think you had a chance of making the playoffs, even though the Mariners were just around .500 at the end of July?

I was surprised that Seattle was my destination. I had heard that I may get traded to many different places, but Seattle was not discussed. I really did not follow the American League much at all because there was no interleague play at that point. The team was very, very good and extremely talented. The GM told me that Seattle was just several games out of the Wild Card hunt, but 11 or 12 games behind the California Angels.

The team definitely knew that the playoffs were a real possibility and anything short of that would have been disappointing.

I’ve heard Mariners players say they had a unique chemistry in ’95, a strong togetherness and focus, and that helped sparked the run at the pennant. Did you sense that spirit among the players when you joined the Mariners, and on into October?

The chemistry was unbelievable. They all truly cared about each other and played the game in an unselfish way. I had not experienced that in my big league career to that point. It seemed like there was a different hero every night. I don’t think teams can win consistently without some type of cohesion, and this team had it. They genuinely liked each other and hung out together away from the ballpark. I think that was a culture set from the leaders (Buhner, Bosio, etc.). The Refuse to Lose motto was very appropriate for this team because there was a genuine belief that destiny was on the M’s side and nothing was going to get in the way.

Looking at your stats with the M’s, you had some up and down starts for the first month, but then had four very good starts in a row in September as the team went into the division lead. Was there any clear catalyst for that change? Was it mainly a question of adjusting to a new league and the Kingdome and other new ballparks?

The American and National Leagues at that point were very different. The teams were built differently with the use of the DH and more runs were scored. As I remember, I either pitched well and won or not very well at all. Not too many games in between. I kind of found my groove and pitched well down the stretch. I enjoyed watching the rest of the staff pitch as well and the guys were so good to me. Randy, Bosio, and Belcher really took me under their wings and made me feel welcome. I could just be one of the guys and not have the pressure of being the #1 guy in the rotation as a young pitcher. It was awesome to watch the veteran guys pitch and they really helped me with the hitters.

I also had the luxury of knowing our team was a great offensive team and would score a bunch of runs. That was a foreign concept for me as I came from having the worst run support in the NL for 6 years. I remember Jay Buhner coming up to me before my first start and saying, “just keep us within 6 runs in the first 5 innings, and we will figure out a way to win.” I hadn’t ever had six runs scored for me in a game, so I thought, “wow, this could be fun.”

I’m not sure how many fans remember your start in game 5 of the ALDS, given all the drama that happened after you left the game. It looks like you were on for the first three innings, facing the minimum nine Yankee batters, then battled through the rest of the start. What are your memories of the game, first pitching and then watching the late-game drama?

What a pressure packed game. I remember the Kingdome was rocking and everyone in Seattle was on fire for the M’s. It was my turn and I was excited and nervous to have the ball. I really do not remember that much about the time I was in the game. I believe I gave up 4 runs on 4 hits thru 7 against a good Yankees team.

I remember wondering why David Cone was left in the game as long as he was. He eventually walked in the tying run in the bottom of the 8th. Then it got exciting. The Big Unit came in after throwing a complete game two days earlier. It was insane. That is about the only way to describe it. He wanted the ball and all of his teammates wanted him to finish. He pitched well and then came the heroics of Cora, Junior, and Edgar. Seeing Griffey Jr. score from first on that double in the corner was as good as it gets in baseball. What a game. What a privilege to be a part of it.

How do you think of your time with the Mariners at this point, 17 years later? Are there strong memories of those 11 or 12 weeks?

It was a special time in my career as I got to compete in the playoffs for the first time. I am thankful for the faith the organization placed in me and have fond memories of my time there. I am especially thankful to have played with such a close knit group of guys who would do anything to win. They embraced me as one of their own for the time I was there and that is a testament of their character.

johnsonbenes This picture of Johnson, Andy, and a Mariners trainer, I believe, was taken at a road game vs. the Angels in early August of ’95, just after he joined the team.

Dave Niehaus Looking Back at 1995 in 2008

In the wake of Dave Niehaus’s death, Jason Pagano at KCTS Television passed on a link to a Conversations at KCTS 9 interview of Dave that Enrique Cerna did in the fall of 2008, talking about his career. The nearly half-hour video is available here, but I’ve typed out a transcript of Dave talking about a few things that have to do with the ’95 run.

First, he said the Mariners first game on April 6, 1977, was his most memorable moment as the Mariners broadcaster, not anything from 1995. He emphasized the importance of being able “to be the man to reintroduce major league baseball to this area.”

When asked where the “my oh my” phrase came from, Dave said, “You tell me where ‘my oh my’ came from. I don’t know, when there’s nothing else to say, what do you say. ‘My oh my’-I’ve just always said that.”

In explaining where “get out the rye bread and the mustard Grandma, it’s grand salami time” came from, Dave said:

It was 1995, when Tino Martinez seemed like he was hitting a grand slam home run every other at-bat, but he wasn’t. But I’ve always called a grand slam home run a salami. And I went back to the hotel one time and said, “Well, what goes well with salami?” And I came up with rye bread and mustard, and then I thought when I was a little kid and never got my way I went to my grandmother’s house-I wanted that extra piece of candy, and I’d go over there, and Grandma would say, “You mean they won’t give you another piece of candy?” and she’d say “here.” And I’ve never forgotten that, so it was sort of a salute to her.

We were in Detroit, and Ron Fairly was with me on television, and it was Tino Martinez who hit another grand slam. And I said, “Get out the rye bread and the mustard Grandma, it’s grand salami time.” He looked at me like I had taken a step on the other side, and I looked at him, and I knew I had taken a step on the other side.

I got back here, and the town went bananas about that phrase. The Oh Boy Oberto people had salamis sent up to the booth. At the Kingdome above me there was the upper deck and people used to drop jars of mustard tied on ropes and twine down into the booth for me so I could make my own sandwiches, they would send sandwiches down.

In talking about 1995, Dave said of the shadow the strike put over the start of the season:

That’s what I remember most, because we went to spring training with what they called replacement players. Guys who were trying to make a roster because the other guys were out on strike. And I’ll never forget we went through a whole spring training, we went over to Dunedin, Florida, to play the Toronto Blue Jays. Lou Piniella said to me, “If you see me walk down the right field line in the sixth or seventh inning you’ll know the strike is over. These other guys are going to be coming in a couple days.” I saw Piniella take off down the right field line and said, “This strike is over.”

After we beat the Angels you knew it was over because we went to New York, and I’ll never forget seeing Jimmy Leyritz hit that home run about 1:15 in the morning with the rain coming down at Yankee Stadium. And we had a three thousand mile flight home, and you had to win three games. That wasn’t going to happen. Ah but it did. Yes it did. That was the magic that captured the imagination here in Seattle.

The Mariners can win the World Series one of these days, and they will, I hope I’ll be here to see it, but they will win a World Series here one of these days. I might not be here, you might not be here, but let me tell you something, it will not be as exciting as 1995. It’ll be much talked about, it’ll be nice to hang that pennant out there that says “World Championship,” but nothing ever will take the place of 1995.

A 2005 Grand Salami Interview With Norm Charlton and Mike Blowers

When I reprinted my interview of Tom Hutyler in the Grand Salami magazine in May, Jon Wells, who runs the magazine, offered for me to reprint an interview Conor Glassey did for it in 2005. Glassey talked with Norm Charlton and Mike Blowers, looking back at ’95 from a 10-year perspective. Here’s the interview, from the June 2005 issue of Grand Salami:

Norm Charlton and Mike Blowers were two integral pieces of the 1995 Mariners team that came from 13 1/2 games out to beat out the California Angels for the AL West title. Blowers had the best season of his career that year, belting 23 home runs and knocking in 96 runs. Charlton, aka “The Sheriff,” was signed as a free agent that July after being released by the Phillies and saved 14 games in 15 chances down the stretch, posting a 1.51 ERA. Charlton (1993, 1995-97, 2001) and Blowers (1992-95, 1997, 1999) are two of the three players to have had three stints with the M’s (Jeff Nelson is the other). Blowers and Charlton are now radio reporters covering the M’s, Blowers for KOMO-1000 and Charlton with KJR-950. To honor the 10th anniversary of the ’95 M’s, The Grand Salami sat down with the pair in June for a dual interview.

GS: It’s been ten years since that magical 1995 season. Can you guys talk about what that ’95 season was like?

BLOWERS: It was a blast! It was a great group of guys. That’s why it was the most fun for me. We played some great baseball in the second half of the season but, for the most part, it was just a great group of guys to run around with. When you’re playing a Major League schedule, you’re with these guys every single day. It just made it fun. For me, I looked forward to coming to the park every day.

CHARLTON: It was easy to come to the ballpark. The playing part drags on and gets hard, because the season is long. Farther and deeper into the season, it gets harder and harder to go out there every day. But, like Mike said, we had a great group of guys. We had guys that kidded with each other, and we did all sorts of fun things together. And, I think that’s what made it so good, and I think that’s why we won. We had a great group of guys that picked each other up and played good ball together.

GS: What are some of your best memories from the ’95 season?

BLOWERS: Of course Edgar’s double. The job that Randy (Johnson) did, coming down the stretch, was unbelievable. But, because it was a good group of guys, we all knew that we needed everybody on that club. That’s why you saw Doug Strange, Alex Diaz and Richie Amaral winning games for us. Even though they weren’t regular players, they knew we needed them. Those guys didn’t play every day but they were as important as anybody on the club.

Another thing I remember is just how relentless Lou (Piniella) was. It’s a 162 game season, and I don’t think guys ever take a day off, but it’s a grind. And, I think at times, you can lose a ballgame and just think, “Well, that’s just one loss out of 162 games we’re going to play” But, the thing that I got from playing for Lou for four years was that every loss means something. I mean, this guy would lose a game in May, and it would drive him crazy. And, that’s infectious on everybody and you get to a point where you don’t accept losing at all, even though you know you’re going to lose games. I remember Lou, early in the season when we weren’t playing particularly well, saying that to us.

And it took a while for us to really get it, but I think that’s one of the reasons that we had the success that we did. And as it turned out, we did need every win that year, because we tied for the division and had to win the one-game playoff against the Angels just to make the post-season.

CHARLTON: The thing I remember most about it was that we had a great time, and we were a good team. Like Mike said, every night we got a contribution from somebody different, whether it be the best guy on the team, or a guy that you would consider to be the worst guy on the team. It wasn’t just Mike or Jay or Edgar or Randy doing a great job. Everybody in our lineup did their job every night, and did it well.

GS: Now I know it was certainly fun to watch, but was playing on that ’95 team the most fun you had playing baseball?

BLOWERS: For me it was. I played on three playoff teams, but that was by far the most fun. I’m not sure if it was because it was the first time I’d ever gone to the post-season, or because I’m from this area originally, or because of the group of guys, or how we started the season drawing about eight or nine thousand people, and at the end, we had about 50,000 in the Kingdome and I couldn’t hear the shortstop standing next to me. So, yeah, it was a blast. It was an absolute blast. I had fun.

Typically, guys will come to the clubhouse at around 2:30 or 3:00. Heck, we were there at 1:00, just to hang out. And then, after the game, nobody was in a hurry to get out of there. We hung out together, and that part of it was fun.

CHARLTON: I was on the Cincinnati team that won a World Championship in 1990 and I was on the Seattle team that won 116 games. But, by far, the ’95 season was the most enjoyable, for the same reasons Mike said. We all had fun together.

GS: How much of a role do you guys think “chemistry” plays on a team’s success?

CHARLTON: Huge. It’s huge. You can see some of the teams Baltimore’s put together when they had huge payrolls (Charlton played with the Orioles in 1998) and you can look at other teams that have had huge payrolls, but the guys don’t mesh together, and they don’t win. But then you get a team like Minnesota, or a team like we had in ’95, and the guys like each other and they get contributions from everybody, and they all enjoy being around each other, they win.

BLOWERS: I agree. I think, in the end, you have to. I think if you get to a point, in your clubhouse, where you look around and you have respect for the people and know that’s an automatic, then you can form friendships that last and enjoy the people you’re around, that’s huge. It makes things so much easier, especially with the amount of time we travel and are on the road. That’s when you’re really going to test it, and I think if you have it, it makes everything else that much easier.

Some Players’ Memories on the 10-Year Anniversary of 1995

Back in spring training 2005, the Seattle Times’ Larry Stone put together a long oral history of the ’95 season by talking with a host of players from that year. You can read all of it on the Times’ site, but I’m going to present a few excerpts below, with a focus on perspectives that are unique and probably neglected by Mariners fans as they remember the season.

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.”

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.”

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.’ “

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.”

Randy Johnson Looking Back at 1995

These are excerpts from two interviews Johnson gave in 1996 and 2010 that touched on the ’95 season. The first originally appeared in Nolan Ryan’s Pro Baseball Yearbook 1996 and was reprinted with permission in the Mariners Magazine for the start of the ’96 season, which is where I found it.

Johnson: It was a year that any ballplayer would dream of having, in terms of being part of something so successful and also to be counted on so much. I’m used to being counted on to go out and do my job every fifth day during the regular season. But as a competitor, I always wondered what it would be like to be counted on in the postseason.

So it was great last season to get to the postseason and to pitch in games that were all do-or-die in nature-the one-game playoff against California, then being down two games to the Yankees and then the games against Cleveland. Any competitor loves to be in that situation, and it’s a level that I’ve never been to. I hope I can grow from having experienced it and can go into this season with more confidence than I’ve ever had. . . .

You all know the history of the Mariners. I’ve been there seven years, and we’ve only finished over .500 three times now. As a competitor or a fan of the team, you try not to think about the lack of success, but it’s there. That’s what made it so magical to watch one guy after another come off the bench and deliver a game-winning pinch hit or a clutch performance in relief. We had chemistry last year more so than in the past. That type of chemistry sometimes is more important than going out and signing the most expensive players, because it all comes down to how well the players play together, not what they make. . . .

I now realize that after having some successful years and pitching well when I needed to pitch well, that the expectations are going to be there. For example, when I pitched well during the regular season and in the one-game playoff against the Angels, it got to the point against the Yankees and Cleveland in do-or-die situations that people would say, ‘Don’t worry, we have Randy on the mound.’ So you go to the mound with a little extra weight on your shoulders because of other people’s expectations. And in the back of your head you think, ‘Well, I’ve done it before, but I am only human as well.’ . . .

The Cy Young means the reward for all my hard work and the dedication that I put forth even before the 1995 season started. There were other people who were deserving, but it felt great to get it because I had worked so hard to become a pitcher, not just a thrower.

It was a nice honor. It’s something I never thought about. My main objective was to become the best pitcher that I could be, so I could fulfill the promise I made to my dad and to myself. If winning the Cy Young means that I was the best pitcher in the American League last year, then I want to continue to be that.

You asked me a question earlier about whether I thought I was at my peak or could I get better. That’s a tough question, because you never know. The most games I ever won was 19, when I went 19-8 (1993). Last year, I was 18-2, which was much better percentage-wise. But was I a better pitcher?

And, Johnson speaking at a press conference before throwing out the first pitch of the 2010 season at Safeco Field (as transcribed by Seattle Times reporter Larry Stone and printed on his blog):

Who would have known…some of the reporters who covered me, would you have ever thought I was a candidate for 300 games? When it was in front of me, I felt I owed it to myself and everywhere I’ve been to try to do that. . . .

Seattle, obviously, professionally and personally, has always had a great deal of meaning. To be part of the history of this franchise at probably the biggest time of the franchise, when the team was floundering and possibly on its way out. Remember back to ’95, this team was looking at maybe being relocated to Florida. The team doing what it did, and the fans supporting us the way they did. That’s one reason this new stadium is here. To be a part of that, I look back and see all the memories. Some of the players I played with, I stayed in touch with a few. Scott Bradley, I just ran into Jay, had a few battles along the way with Junior. Edgar, I congratulated him with his name being on the ballot for Hall of Fame. It really says a lot about the players that were here at that time. It’s really unheard of to have that many talented players, like Omar Vizquel. I have a lot of positive memories, myself developing and being able to watch those players develop.

From a professional standpoint, I learned how to pitch (in Seattle). I was given the opportunity. This was a team until ’95 hadn’t finished .500. So they had the flexibility to be able to let myself go out there and all the other pitchers win, lose or draw, and get back out there five days later.

Back then, that was acceptable. Now, it’s like, the team’s gotta win now. There is not a lot of time to develop a pitcher at the major league level because everybody wants to win. So I kind of learned, as we all did, kind of on the fly. I learned how to pitch here essentially. I got the foundation of that and a lot of other teams got to benefit from that. I continued to go on and learn more in other areas, but for nine years or however long I was here, I really kind of learned how to pitch and came into my own. . . .

That [1995] was the first opportunity to be in the postseason. That ranks right up there. I mean, not knowing what to expect. Obviously, I do vividly kind of remember the last game of the ’95 season, we were in Arlington and we were boarding the plane and we were told that the California Angels had lost and we had the won that game. We had the same record and there was going to be a one game playoff in the Kingdome. The opportunity to pitch that game. I remember pitching against Mark. There’s a lot of memories here. Now I’m pitching against Mark Langston, the player I got traded for. This stuff is all pretty book-worthy or real bad movie worthy. If you think about it, to pitch a one-game playoff against Mark, and the team goes on win the division and then we go the playoffs. No one in this franchise nor I had ever experienced that. That was great stuff.

Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner, and Norm Charlton on ’95

On August 25, 2009, Mitch Levy of the KJR sports talk radio station interviewed Wilson, Buhner, and Charlton about the ’95 experience. About a week ago I contacted the Mariners’ front office, and they sent me a cd recording of the interview. Here, from the interview, are some key excerpts of the three players talking about different elements of ’95:

When asked “What’s your favorite year?,” Charlton replied: ’95 is the season. In ’95 we weren’t supposed to do it in the fashion in which we did it. It was a whole lot of fun. The underdog. . . and I was only here for half a season. It was a pretty good half, for everyone involved, because of the way it came about, . . . the things John Ellis did behind the scenes to keep baseball in Seattle.

Wilson: ’95 had such an impact. Not just here in Seattle, but in baseball generally, because we were coming back from the strike, and we really put baseball on the map here. I get people all the time telling me, “I wasn’t a fan until the ’95 season.” When you have that kind of impact, it’s a powerful thing.

Charlton: Everybody mixed together, everybody matched. I don’t think there was one time during that season when someone sitting on the bench was saying, “I hope Jay strikes out so I can get a chance.”

Dan Wilson on Griffey’s injury in May: Immediately when you saw Rick Griffin and Junior walking in, you knew something was wrong… his bone was almost out of his skin. But that’s when our strength came in. . . guys like Amaral holding onto his position until he came back.

Buhner: Confidence bred confidence. It didn’t matter who it was. It seemed like every night there was a new hero. You couldn’t script games to win the way we were doing.

Junior always loved to hold court, especially with the media. But he was still around, still going to do that part of it. I think he took it on himself to continue to do that.

Lou knew who he was going to count on, who he could lean on to pick up for Junior.

In response to the question of what lit a fire for the ’95 Mariners, Charlton said: I think it was the way the guys who replaced him [Griffey] picked it up, the team gelled into an actual team. Nobody really gives a damn about what they do tonight, as long as we win this game.

Wilson: I remember having a conversation with Lee Elia one of those days. I remember Lee saying, “We’re only eight games back in the wild card.” We still had a chance at that, we really do have some hope.

Buhner: There was extra hope, no doubt about it. I don’t know what it was that clicked, but we kept producing, and Anaheim kept losing.

I think our mentality whenever we lost a game was we didn’t lose tonight, we just ran out of outs.

Charlton: The wild card saved baseball in this city. We were basically out of the division race. Without it, we wouldn’t have gone out and gotten the pieces we needed to get back in the wild card race. If we wouldn’t have done that, done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, we were going to Tampa.

Wilson, talking about the distraction of that rumored move to Tampa: There were a lot of questions. I mean, we were in Tampa, they had a stadium down there ready for us. There were occasions when they’d bring a city, a state official into the clubhouse, and we’d shake hands. So it was there, no question. Occasionally they’d ask us to go down to Olympia and rally a little bit. But no question, we were there to play baseball.

Buhner: The only thing we could control was what we were doing on the field. We were willing to do whatever it took to save baseball. On flights we had house, apartment locaters from Tampa, wondering where are we going to live next year, where’s spring training going to be.

Buhner on the home field advantage: The Kingdome, Bill the Beer Man, that crowd noise, that played so much to our favor, that place was so loud. We were talking to other guys, they’d say holy crap, it was crazy. You throw in the fireworks, everything else.

Charlton: I came from an open air stadium in Cincinnati, the crowd was more business like, expecting you’re going to win. Here it was nuts, like a college frat party, the enclosed place, all that noise. Other guys [on other teams] would come in and say, “We’ve got no chance.”

Buhner on the atmosphere on the team during the run: We made a pact, who’s going to be the first one in the ballpark. We had so much fun. Every day, 1:00 we’re going to meet, have lunch at the ballpark. By the middle of August it was the entire team meeting at 1. Normally, you stretch at 4:15, 4:20, get to the ballpark at 3 for the most part. We had lunch, talked baseball, went out for early bp. It was just real togetherness.

Buhner on the playoff vs. the Angels: I remember, the Kingdome parking lot, it’s packed at 1:00.  We had that trump card [Randy Johnson].

If you’re not nervous, something’s wrong with you. The biggest celebration I’d ever had was when Jimmy Lefebvre was the manager, the year [1991] we first finished above .500. There was a champagne toast. I’m thinking, “You’re crapping me, we’re celebrating finishing above .500?”

Wilson: We had Randy on the hill, we were very confident in his abilities. Lou, before the ballgame, giving a pretty good speech, the playoff he’d been through [in 1978 with the Yankees], it put us at ease, to know we’re not the first.

Buhner: Piniella, normally he didn’t say a whole lot. He’d let his veterans police the clubhouse, he was real great about that. When he did say something it got everyone’s attention.

When I saw Mark Langston, at home plate, slamming the barrel of Sojo’s bat down, we knew we’d pretty much beat them mentally. That was the nail in the coffin.

On the Yankees series, Charlton said: It would’ve been nice to not have to play a playoff. We would have had set up Randy in New York, for game 1. That crippled us, in terms of the rotation.

Buhner said: We were still riding so high, had that adrenaline rush [coming into the Yankees series]. I know I was tired when the third game happened. Once I came off that cloud a little bit, I was exhausted [for the third game].

Wilson I think coming home, everyone knew we had Randy, we were going to come back. We had the dome.

Buhner: The Yankees knew Randy was coming, they had a big task on their hands. We still believed we were going to win it.

Wilson: Johnson, he was a guy that could dominate a ballgame. In ’95 he had the physical tools, intimidation, he was in it mentally, locked in. He stayed mentally strong, then again in the playoffs, mentally was so tough.

It was his mental concentration, he was intimidating to catch, let alone hit; he’d throw it by you, or he was going to throw a slider at your back foot.

And on game 5, Buhner said: When he [Randy] walked down to the bullpen, the whole place went absolutely nuts.

I was nervous [before game 5], so many things are going through your head, don’t want this to end, you’re thinking this is the greatest time of my life. The game was such a blur, get myself ready, get to the ballpark, get going.

Wilson: I do remember Randy’s entrance, what that meant for the guys, to see him come in.

Buhner on Edgar’s double: I think they [the Yankees] were scared to death about that. They knew Edgar was going to put the play in play, hit the ball hard, it was just a question of where.

I’ve never seen, I mean it’s a ball down the line, goodness gracious, to watch him, on a ball down the line that was a smoker, and it comes right to the left fielder, it comes right up to Gerald Williams, who had a great arm, and Junior’s still safe, by four-five steps, it’s unbelievable.

Wilson: Wolcott being 17 feet off the ground, and the guys kind of split off, some going out to second, to Edgar, peeling off from Junior.

And Charlton on the Cleveland series: They were a pretty good ballclub, and we were pretty spent, our rotation, the pitching, that Yankees series, it did a lot of damage to our club.

Then one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen happened: we go into the locker room, nobody’s left. Piniella gave a little speech, we hear the crowd, and we all came back out onto the field, nobody gone. It was like a rock concert, the fans, like they kept their lighters going, for one last song.

And finally, a few miscellaneous comments from these three.

Buhner on Piniella’s impact on the Mariners: Lou brought credibility, accountability. Lou was not afraid to pull the trigger. He challenged everyone.

Charlton on how he felt about relieving for Randy Johnson: It was more of a challenge coming in after Randy, because hitters were facing that same kind of velocity [from me]; they didn’t have to adjust. It was much easier coming in after Bosio, Benes: guys changing speed, right handers.

Buhner: After the season ended, my thought was, “Let’s get back out there, I want to get right up to the buildup immediately.” That experience, the playoffs, that’s why you bust your butt so hard all winter, to get back to that moment.

Wilson on the years after ‘95: What had happened that season lessened the blow when those guys [Johnson, Griffey, Rodriguez] left. We understood that we can still win. All of us realized the winning wasn’t necessarily over just because those guys left.

Buhner: Baseball, it’s a business, even if you don’t want to see it that way. Sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do [trade players]. Randy, he was my roommate the first couple of years with the Mariners, and you never want to see your buds leave, but that’s what you’ve gotta do, it’s a business.

Buhner on Edgar Martinez: He spoke with his bat. Edgar, he never wanted the spotlight, ever; he was always very uncomfortable being there, being involved, being around the spotlight.

An Interview With “Baseball’s Greatest Series” Author Chris Donnelly

After receiving word of Chris Donnelly’s book on the 1995 ALDS, Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History, I wrote a quick summary of his book and printed an excerpt describing Edgar Martinez’s grand slam in game 4. I’ve followed up by asking Chris some questions about his project of researching the ALDS and writing the book on it. Here’s our exchange:

Arne: You came to this project as a Yankees fan, right? I’ve always assumed this ALDS was the province of Mariner fans, so I’m curious to find out why you decided to write about it from over in New Jersey.

Chris: I was born in 1981 so the ’95 series was the first time I had seen the Yankees make the playoffs. They have seemingly made it to the postseason every year since, but back in ’95, this was a huge deal in NYC. Plus, like many Yankee fans, Don Mattingly was by far my favorite player, so there was an overwhelming sense of relief that he finally made the postseason. The games were beyond anything baseball fans could have hoped for and despite the outcome, I often thought back upon the series and how exciting it all was. As I got older, I learned more and more about it and found there was more to the story than just the five games, so I thought it would make for a good book.

Arne: Your book’s to a large extent about the swan song of Don Mattingly. Could you talk a little bit about how he figured in the ALDS. It seems that him striking out three times against Randy Johnson in game 3 was an emotional turning point in the series.

Chris: I think for many Yankee fans, it was almost more about Don Mattingly making the playoffs and winning the World Series than about the Yankees doing so. Very few people knew for certain if he was returning after that season, so for fans, it became crucial that the Yankees win it then and there. Additionally, his performance during the series (10 hits, 6 RBI and a home run) reminded many of the dominating player he had been during the 1980s. Mattingly was the only left handed batter in the lineup against Johnson, showing Showalter’s faith in him. Unfortunately, it did not work out well for Mattingly and even Seattle fans, who had been mostly cordial to him, began taunting him after the three strikeout performance.

Arne: The N.Y. vs. Seattle baseball dynamic really got going in ’95, then it became a recurring rivalry for the next six years. And of course a lot of Mariner fans are still disgusted by Alex Rodriguez leaving town, so he’s helped make the Yankees a continuing object of dislike in the Northwest. It’s somewhat well known here that Seattle’s first name was “New York Alki,” or “New York by and by,” and Seattle still seems to emulate itself on New York City in some ways. What are your thoughts on the sports rivalry between the two cities?

Chris: From 1995 to 2001, the Yankees-Mariners was possibly the best rivalry in baseball. Most of that was driven by the Division Series, but you had dynamic players on both sides and there were always NY/Seattle connections, whether it be Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner, or Luis Sojo. I think just about every city takes pride in defeating the Yankees, but especially Seattle because they had a one up on everyone because of what happened in ’95.

Arne: What take does the average Yankee fan have on the ’95 ALDS?

Chris: I don’t want to speak for all fans, but for me it’s mostly bittersweet. I think the Yankees had an excellent chance of beating the Indians in the ALCS that year and getting to the World Series. Had they done so, it would have been very difficult for Steinbrenner not to have brought back Buck Showalter and other members of the team. It was disappointing for fans that off season to slowly see their favorite players start leaving for other teams, and then to not have Mattingly return was almost unthinkable. Yet the Yankee dynasty of ’96-’01 does not happen if the Yankees don’t lose that series, so in a twisted way, you almost seem grateful that Edgar hit that double (although the pain of watching that and reliving the moment, as a Yankee fan, never goes away).

Arne: What do you think was the biggest mistake the Yankees made during ALDS to help the Mariners come back?

Chris: I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but not utilizing Mariano Rivera. It’s not a mistake because no one knew just what Rivera brought to the table. He hadn’t pitched well during the regular season, and yet he dominated Seattle in the playoffs. Had Showalter known then what we all know now (a fact Buck admits), Rivera would have been brought in sooner in Game 5, possibly pitched out of that 8th inning jam without letting the Mariners tie the game, and today we would be talking about the Tampa Bay Mariners. But it would be unfair to blame Showalter for that because no one had a clue and anyone who says otherwise is simply not telling the truth.

Arne: I’ve always thought Yankee fans have a grudge against Randy Johnson because of his feats in the ALDS and the ’01 World Series, and because he then didn’t do too well in New York. Do you agree?

Chris: Again, I don’t want to speak for all fans, but I think that is probably fair. What is odd about that is that the Yankees actually performed very well historically against Johnson during the regular season. I don’t have the exact stats, but I believe few teams did better. But when it came playoff time, he simply dominated them in two separate years. Johnson came to NY with high expectations and, in the minds of fans anyway, never lived up to them.

Arne: How did the interviews for the book go? Who did you talk to, what did they say, and what were your impressions of them?

Chris: I spoke to approximately 70 people for the book. They ranged from umpires, to team personnel, people who had been on the teams in the ’80s, and of course, the coaches, managers and players who were there in ’95. Just about everyone was very supportive of the concept and for those who took part in the series, they all loved talking about the experience (even the Yankees). On the NY side, many of those guys had great memories of their teammates and coaches, many of whom they never played with again after the Game 5 loss. For Seattle, most of the players simply couldn’t stop talking about what a great experience it was and how Seattle baseball really came to life that year.

Arne: Along the same lines, which Mariner players and/or officials were the most interesting to research and to interview?

Chris: Researching the Mariners’ early history was fun because, frankly, the team was so bad. They were just so many oddities that I kept discovering, like Wills trying to make the batter’s box bigger, or a guy who gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw in the majors. Everyone I interviewed, and I sincerely mean this, was fantastic. No one hesitated to share stories or memories. Jay Buhner and Chris Bosio stick out most of all because I spent the most time with them. They are both open and frank guys who not only shared stories of the series, but also gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for little aspects of the game (how to pitch certain hitters, what to do against a David Cone slider, etc.).

Arne: The trade of Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson after the ’95 season was, along with the trade of Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe two years later, one of the great Mariner missteps that kept the team from doing more with its amazing talent in the ’90s. Did you have the chance to talk with Nelson and/or Martinez about the trade? Also, did any of the Mariners officials you talked with describe the reasoning behind it?

Chris: While I was able to interview more than half of the players who took part in the series, unfortunately, Tino and Jeff Nelson were not among them. Obviously, from the Yankees side, the trade became necessary once Don Mattingly made clear he was not returning for 1996.

Arne: There were so many themes and subtexts to the Mariners/Yankees rivalry in the ’90s and early ’00s, with all the players, and Piniella, having experience with both teams in their careers, and the re-emergence of the Yankees as a team good enough to be worthy of rooting against even if you were three thousand miles away. What was the attitude toward those Mariner teams in and around New York City?

Chris: I think Yankee fans always held a resentment against the Mariners for what happened in ’95, at least until the 2000 and or 2001 seasons. The Kingdome always seemed to be a nightmare for the Yankees, and players like Junior, Edgar and Randy Johnson were easy for New Yorkers to pick out as villains because they handled the Yankees well. After the 2000 and ’01 ALCS, I think that bitterness died away, not just because the Yankees won those series, but because so many of the key players were gone from both teams.

Arne: Stepping away from the ’95 ALDS for a final question, how do you remember the ’01 ALCS? It’s obviously overshadowed by that year’s World Series, but that was such a uniquely important and moving time, to have playoff baseball about 10 miles north of the World Trade Center site.

Chris: That entire playoff run for the Yankees was obviously a special moment in New York. It seemed like the one time when people, at least not collectively for a change, weren’t praying for the Yankees not to win again. The Yankees played many fantastic games that postseason, including Game 4 against Seattle, and to be able to clinch the League Championship at home meant a lot to the city that year. Additionally, at least from the fans’ perspective, the Yankees were trying to prevent the 116-win Mariners from eclipsing the ’98 Yankees as perhaps the greatest single season team in history, so to beat them and maintain that aura was especially satisfying.