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Essential Games of the Seattle Mariners, The (DVD Review)

27 Sep, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 9/28/10
$39.95 four-DVD set
Not rated.

Though satisfying the “Essential” challenge becomes tougher when a team has never been to a World Series, one has to go a long way to find a continuing DVD series more reliable than the packaged paeans to specific franchises that arrive from A&E a few times a year (though never quite enough for my satisfaction). This time, the stars (over the years) include Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki, Jay Buhner, consummate Yankees killer Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez when he looked young enough to be a prom picture, manager Lou Piniella and two stadiums: the Kingdome and Safeco Field.

“Junior,” who was 19 when he started for Seattle and retired there at 40 earlier this year after stop-offs elsewhere (including a beloved one in Cincinnati) was the human catalyst who turned Seattle into a Major League Baseball force (though a rich minor league history gets explained in the bonus section of the fourth disc). The seasonal catalyst was 1995, which is why two of this collection’s four complete games took place six days apart in October of that year.

But as onetime right fielder Buhner explains in another bonus section featurette, the city had initially turned down a request for a new stadium to get the Mariners out of the Kingdome, and team members spent a lot of each ’95 day checking out Tampa Bay real estate ads in anticipation of a new locale. But suddenly, the AL West heated up in the summer, as Seattle (deep back in the standings) kept finding ways to win while the division leading California Angels kept finding ways to lose. Of such stuff are one-game playoffs (much rarer in MLB history than even perfect games) made, as you’ll see here.

Assembling this kind of set must be like a lobbyists’ picnic as those in charge strive to reach consensus. The selections have to placate local fans first and foremost — it’s a given that more copies of this set will be sold in Seattle than Boston — but generally speaking, including blowouts should probably be avoided in favor of tight dramatic contests capable of grabbing anybody. Three of the four contests here satisfy this last point, and the fourth is of such transcendent record-setting importance that its exclusion would probably be foolhardy. The extras naturally deal with key principals we see in the games. Buhner, for instance, plays in two of them and rates his own bonus footnote featurette:  the 1993 game where he hit for the cycle (doing it the hard way with the triple coming last). In the end, though, the make-or-break feature is the set’s games themselves, and the selection committee has voted that “essential” means:

1995 AL West Division One-Game Playoff: You look at a 9-1 win over the Angels ignorant of details and assume it’ll be the kind of blowout that can’t be that interesting. But for the first six innings it was a 1-0 game until the Mariners scored four in the seventh and four more in the eighth as Randy Johnson went all the way and struck out 12. I did not remember that the big blow in the seventh came from shortstop Luis Sojo, a   dependable clutch player who hit a bases-loaded (and clearing) double before scoring himself on a follow-up Angels misplay. Five years later, Sojo got the final single that won the 2000 World Series for the New York Yankees over the Mets, amassing five Series rings in his career.

•1995 ALDS Game 5: This is a game that neither Mariners nor Yankees fans will ever forget. In the final season before manager Joe Torre took over, the Yankees — then under current Orioles manager Buck Showalter — went up 2-0 in the Divisional Series with a lineup that combined the old (Don Mattingly, his final season) with the future (Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill). At this point, the Mariners swept the rest with three lively affairs in a row, climaxed by this 6-5 game in which the Yanks went ahead twice and were then tied twice before the 11th inning — when Yanks scored once and the Mariners came back with two. The big blow was the game-winning double by Edgar Martinez — sometimes called “THE double” in Mariners lore — though there was early indication that the fates were with Seattle when second baseman Joey Cora (eight home runs in his entire career) blasted one early in the game. A classic.

•2000 ALDS Game 3: Finally out of the Kingdome and into Safeco Field, the Mariners took a 2-1 squeaker against the Chicago White Sox (who were swept, despite the AL’s best record) in a game that dealt in dink hits; one screamer that ricocheted off the pitcher; the sight of a 41-year-old pinch runner (Rickey Henderson for John Olerud); and Alex Rodriguez electing to bunt with a runner on first and no one out. None of this compares to the bat-on-ball combo that finally won the game, a stunner that was pulled off in about the time it takes a swallow one bite of a sandwich.

•Record-Setting Season, Division Champions, 2001: It took the Mariners all of three seasons to top the Yankees’ record 114 regular-season wins from 1998. This division clincher from Sep 19 put them at 106 (and let’s make that 106-40, for extra perspective) — though given the 5-0 final score, the losing Anaheim Angels never posed much of a threat. It was an eerie period (baseball in the wake of 9/11), and the Mariners ended up losing 4-1 to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. This set up a Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series that was probably the greatest since 1975’s Reds-Red Sox epic and certainly one of the greatest from modern times.

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