“Baseball’s Greatest Series”: The Book on the 1995 ALDS

A few days ago I learned about this book, called Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History. The author, Chris Donnelly, then sent me the text, and having read it, I can say that the book is the most comprehensive retrospective analysis of the ’95 ALDS that I’ve seen. Donnelly has written a biography of the two teams from the ’80s up through 1995. In Seattle’s case he begins with the Pilots and then discusses the Mariners’ various travails before focusing on Lou Piniella’s job of transforming the franchise; in New York’s case he focuses on George Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ revolving cast of managers during the ’80s and early ’90s.

Donnelly then describes the course of the Mariners and Yankees’ regular seasons in ’95, but this is all a prelude to the main event: a highly detailed account of the five games of the ALDS. Donnelly describes each game at an inning by inning level, interspersing short profiles of players on the two teams–not just the superstars, but also players like Tim Belcher, Sterling Hitchcock, and Joey Cora. For key at-bats,  Donnelly zooms in even closer to describe individual pitches and the mentality of the pitcher and hitter during the at-bat. You can read some more about the book and buy it here. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt describing Edgar Martinez’s grand slam in game 4:

Wetteland, working cautiously, threw two straight breaking balls to Martinez, both outside. It was impossible to pitch to Martinez, regardless of the situation, but Wetteland wanted to keep the ball outside, hoping Martinez would end up hitting the ball hard somewhere for an out and keep the damage to a minimum. Wetteland’s breaking ball was not working and he could not afford to walk Martinez. Down 2-0 in the count, he delivered a fastball straight down the middle. Martinez swung under the pitch, sending a high pop down the first base line in foul territory and the Yankees almost caught a break. Randy Velarde made a mad dash for the ball, nearly tripping over the visiting team bullpen mounds in the process.

Stretching as far as he could, he stabbed at the ball, but it dropped just out of his reach in foul territory. Had Velarde caught it, Vince Coleman would most likely have scored from third base giving the Mariners the lead, but considering how the Mariners’ bullpen had pitched in the series, a one run lead would not have assured victory. Instead of an out, Martinez was presented with a second chance.

Wetteland fired two more fastballs and Martinez fouled off each of them. The tension and anticipation inside the Kingdom on each pitch was utterly nerve racking. The count now 2-2, Wetteland got the sign from Mike Stanley, brought his hands to his belt, checked the runners, and delivered a fastball straight down the middle. “I wanted to get just one good slider over to Edgar (but) I had to come in with it (a fastball). When you do that you have to live with the consequences,” said Wetteland. Martinez, following through with a lightening fast swing, sent the ball screaming to straight away center field. It was hit so hard that fans didn’t have enough time to contemplate whether it may or may not go over the fence. The ball quickly sailed over the center field wall just to the right of the 405 foot mark and crashed into the batter’s eye tarp for a grand slam. Mariners’ announcer Dave Niehaus, sounding like he might blow a vocal chord, could barely contemplate what he was seeing. “Get out the rye bread and the mustard…a graaaaand salaaami,” the overly excited broadcaster screamed into his microphone. “I don’t believe it, my oh my!” In the Mariners’ dugout, Lou Piniella high fived Lee Elia with both hands.

The crowd reaction surpassed anything that had ever taken place inside the Kingdome to that point. It was ear-shattering, painful, and unreal. A mix of elation and pure pandemonium.

Martinez, mild mannered and rarely one to wear emotions on his sleeve, raised his right arm in triumph after seeing the ball clear the fence. The emotional display was certainly justified. Martinez had just hit the biggest home run in the history of the Mariners’ franchise. “I was only trying to make contact,” said Martinez. “I was surprised it went out. I was so excited. As a kid you always dream of hitting a home run like that, and here it is in the playoffs.” His team, once down 5-0 and looking at the end of their season, was now leading 10-6. Just two hours ago they had been thinking about spring training in 1996. Now they were starting to think about Game 5 the next night.

John Wetteland stood dejected on the mound. Things had collapsed so rapidly it was hard to contemplate what had just happened. “It was just a poor, ugly, non-inning,” said Wetteland after the game. “I started off bad and things caved in on me from there. The walk, the ball off Griffey’s foot…it was just ugly all around.” Seconds after Martinez’s shot had crashed behind the centerfield wall, Buck Showalter was already making his way towards the mound. Chaos ensued all around him as “Shout” blasted from the loud speakers and 57,000 people sang along. Just a minute after giving up the home run, Wetteland sat on the bench in stunned silence.

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