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.