Not long after spring training started, I spent a few minutes talking with Rick Rizzs about his memories of the ’95 Mariners from a broadcaster’s perspective, and we discussed a few elements of the season. Here’s how the interview went:
Arne: Was there any sense coming into the 1995 season of what the Mariners could do?
Rick: There was a great nucleus, Junior, Randy, Edgar, but nobody really knows what’s going to happen before the season starts.
Arne: Coming off the strike that stretched into the scheduled start of the season, were fans upset at baseball?
Rick: The fans were upset, they were frustrated, sure. There was anger. But people really just wanted to see baseball again. The strike had extended into April, and we had spring training for two weeks before the season started in late April. There had been replacement players scheduled to begin the season. Thank goodness it didn’t come to that. The Mariners would’ve lost more games early, they wouldn’t have been in position later in the season to make their run.
Arne: At what point in the season did it begin to feel like the Mariners could do something?
Rick: All the pieces of the puzzle came together: everybody stepped up and got the job done. After Junior broke his wrist on May 24, Diaz and Amaral made some great plays. Edgar hit about .400 while Junior was out. Blowers played a huge role; he had something like 98 RBIs that year. Tino of course.
If you remember, that was the first year of the wild card, and in July, people were thinking in terms of that. But then Buhner said “hey, forget the wild card, let’s win the division,” and the Mariners picked up Charlton on waivers from Philadelphia in July, they made some trades for Coleman and Benes and people got serious.
Arne: As the season went along, the Mariners played under the rumor that they were moving to Tampa. Was there a sense that they were really going to leave without something happening?
Rick: Yes, that was the season that saved baseball in the Northwest. I remember on the 19th of September the vote on the stadium funding took place. Texas had the Mariners beat but they made a comeback against Jeff Russell. Coming out of the park after the game we learned there were 500,000 votes, and it lost by 1,000. That was for the 1/10th of 1 percent sales tax on restaurants, bars, car rentals, the lottery. But then a task force and the legislature got together and put together a creative funding package just as the Yankees series was ending.
Arne: How about the Angels playoff?
Rick: You know it was the 3rd largest comeback in the history of baseball. The Mariners had tied up the division to end the season, coming into the playoff with the Angels. You had Randy Johnson and Mark Langston starting. The Mariners had traded away Langston for Randy in 1989, and now they were matched up against each other. Just a great game. In the bottom of the seventh, Blow was on third, Tino on second, and Cora on first, and I remember Vince Coleman had a great at-bat. He fouled off pitch after pitch, finally on the 11th or 12th pitch he hit a low line drive to right and Tim Salmon made a great catch. Then came Sojo, and “Here’s the pitch. Swing, and it’s a ground ball, and it gets on by Snow. Down the right field line into the bullpen. Here comes Blowers. Here comes Tino. Here comes Joey. The throw to the plate is cut off. The relay by Langston gets by Allanson. Cora scores! Here comes Sojo! Everybody scores!!!”
Arne: People don’t seem to remember the Indians series so well; I haven’t really had anyone write about it. The Mariners were up 2-1 on the Indians, then lost the last three games and the series was over. Why do you think they faltered?
Rick: Sure, there was that stirring game in game 3, Buhner going from hero to goat to hero, hitting the homer in the second, not getting that fly ball in the eighth inning, then winning the game with his home run in the 11th. You know, it had taken so much just getting into the playoff with the Angels, then coming back from 2-0 against the Yankees. Randy had pitched three innings in game 5. The Mariners had to use Wolcott, who hadn’t even been on the roster, to start game 1.
Coming into the Cleveland series, you thought this is going to be their year, they had the magic working. But they just ran out of gas, they’d left everything on the field against the Angels and Yankees. They tried to drum up the energy, but they’d used all their magic dust just to get there. The Indians had so much talent, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Omar, and of course Jim Thome at third, but also their pitching, Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershisher, Charles Nagy.