The benefit of being a Yankees fan is that, even in a down year without a playoff appearance, you have a treasure trove of postseason successes and memories to look back on and smile. My first such memory was formed exactly eighteen years ago, when the Yankees defeated the Seattle Mariners in fifteen innings in Game 2 of the 1995 American League Division Series. While the series itself resulted in heartbreaking defeat, this game will always have a special place with me in no small part to the drama that unfolded. And the ravenous Yankee Stadium crowd, savoring their first playoff appearance in 14 years, was at a fever pitch that is simply unequaled in the Stadium's latest incarnation.
It was rookie phenom Andy Pettitte (who was never heard from again) versus Andy Benes. The Mariners featured several soon-to-be Yankees heroes in Luis Sojo, Jeff Nelson and, of course, Tino Martinez. In what became quite the crazy game, the absurdity of Vince Coleman (28 home runs in 5970 PAs) beginning the scoring for the slugging Mariners with a homer cannot be overstated. Bernie Williams tied the game at 1-1 in the fifth with an RBI double, and Tino (whose OPS was 1.071 for the series) gave the M's the lead back in the sixth with an RBI single.
The bottom of the sixth was when things got really fun.
Ruben Sierra swung with the kind of reckless torque-fuelled force that would make Gary Sheffield blush. So when he got a hold of a sub-par Benes offering, it's not a surprise that it went well over 400 feet. Mattingly's home run was the sort of moment a fan can only dream of . It was the perfect combination of nostalgia and immediate importance. Even the most optimistic fan would assume a home run would be unlikely with Mattingly's power mostly sapped from his chronic back problems (7 home runs in '95), but it happened and it was glorious.
But the Mariners decided to be jerks and not let Donnie Baseball's jolt be the winning run of Game 2, so they scored two runs in the seventh. In the bottom of the inning, another guy you've probably heard of tied it up.
Damn, I really miss those signs. Poor Norm Charlton got stuck pitching four innings in this marathon.
The game was tied all the way until the top of the 12th, when Ken Griffey Jr. came to the plate to face Yankees closer John Wetteland. It is no hyperbole when I say this: Griffey Jr. was a godless killing maching in this series. He hit five homers in a five game series! No batter has ever terrified me me since like Junior did in 1995, even though Edgar Martinez did out-OPS him in the series 1.667 to 1.488. But it felt every at-bat for Griffey would end in a home run, and it did against Wetteland, making the score 5-4 Mariners. But Sierra came through again in the bottom of the twelfth, hitting a clutch 2-out double that scored pinch-runner(!) Jorge Posada to tie the game. Williams attempted to score as well but was gunned at home plate.
This game could also be considered the coming-out party for one Mariano Rivera. Rivera had been pitching exclusively as a reliever for a few weeks, but his appearances were not particularly dominant or noteworthy. Things were different on that night, however.
It's certainly not the surgically precise Rivera we know and love of today, aside from a broken bat. That's just a rookie rearing back and throwing gas past some of the best hitters in baseball. And he would earn his first postseason win thanks to Jim Leyritz's heroics in the bottom of the 15th.
The pouring rain only enhances the moment: it makes it feel like the end to an overly dramatic movie. Leyritz's postseason exploits are well-documented (.415 SLG in the regular season/.607 postseason) and they began on this night.
It would only be a few days later when baseball would first break my heart, as the Mariners came back to win the ALDS and send the Yankees packing in excruciating fashion. But even that was not enough to sully the memories of such a phenomenal game. Mattingly's home run, Pettitte beginning and Rivera ending a game eighteen years before their ceremonious farewells: it's those memories that make being a Yankees fan such a unique and wonderful experience. There are just so many of them to choose from.