The 1996 team beat the Chicago White Sox by a final score of 12-2 in a game in which Brian Hunter went 4-5 with a homerun and Bobby Ayala pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two.
In 1997, the M’s put up 15 runs against the Rangers. Jay Buhner was the hero in this game, knocking in 5 runs via a three run homer and a single. Mike Maddux earned what would be his first and last win in a Mariners uniform.
The Mariners’ game on this date in 2000 provided yet another offensive explosion in which the team bested the then Devil Rays 8-5. Ozzie Guillen, current Marlins’ manager, started at third base for Tampa Bay but would only play another 22 games before retiring.
Not to be outdone, the 2001 club scored 12 runs against the Athletics, winning their 54th game of the season. Just in case you weren’t sure how good that team was, the team with the most wins today has a mere 44. Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, David Bell and Al Martin all homered. Ichiro stole two bases. The Mariners recorded 17 hits. Times were good.
Even in 2006, the Mariners put up eight runs against an interesting Dodger team. Chad Billingsley was making just the second start of his career and earned a no-decision. The Dodger lineup was full of an interesting combination of aging veterans – Kenny Lofton, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent and Jose Cruz, along with some up-and-coming rookies in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
For me, however, none of these games come close to the Mariners’ 1998 contest against the Oakland Athletics in front of 37,665 in the Kingdome. The opponent wasn’t the flashiest, the final score wasn’t the most dominant, but this game sticks out more than most for me. The reason? I was there.
I don’t remember many of the specific games I went to as a kid – I can easily count them on one finger. I remember being at Ken Griffey, Jr.’s first game back in Seattle with the Cincinnati Reds and the emotional pregame ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of thousands in Seattle. I remember Alex Rodriguez’s first game in Safeco as a member of the Texas Rangers and the completely opposite reception he received. And then there’s this game.
As a fan of only eight years, I loved seeing popular players, both on the Mariners and on opposing teams. I still remember watching Cal Ripken, Jr. play in the Kingdome and watching Roger Clemens dominate the Mariners. There was nothing like the Mariners though. I could recite the Mariners’ starting lineup by heart and would do so proudly to anyone who would listen.
I always liked signs that people brought to games, so I decided to make my own for this game. The only tools at my disposal were sheets of 8 ½ x 11 paper and pencils, so I did what any sensible fan would do – I wrote the starting lineup as big as I could on that piece of paper, sure that it would gain me some attention at the game. When I showed my creation to my dad that afternoon, he gently let me know that my brilliant creation wouldn’t garner the attention I was searching for, so I resigned myself to watching the game sans sign.
The A’s, who were 33-39 at the time, put together a lineup full of interesting names including Rickey Henderson, Matt Stairs, Jason Giambi, Mike Blowers and a young Miguel Tejada, with their starting pitcher being Mike Oquist. The Mariners, on the other hand, possessed a 31-44 record and sent Bill Swift to the mound. Swift, who was an extremely effective reliever in the early ‘90s, would start only 12 more games that year before retiring. On this night, however, the story wasn’t the pitching.
My seats were down the left field line, deep into the bleachers. I don’t remember much about the game. I don’t have my ticket stub anymore, and for the vast majority of this article, I’m having to rely on a box score and play-by-play summary.
Hall-of-famer and best leadoff hitter of all time, Rickey Henderson, led off the game with a walk, which should surprise nobody. He did it 796 times to lead off innings in his career. It should come as even less of a surprise that Rickey stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error by the catcher, Dan Wilson, and scored on a throwing error by the center fielder, one Ken Griffey, Jr. The Athletics had a 1-0 lead without so much as a hit to their credit.
In the bottom of the second, Edgar Martinez led off the inning with a walk and advanced to third on a David Segui double. A Jay Buhner single and Glenallen Hill groundout later and the Mariners were back in business, leading 2-1.
Rickey Henderson helped his team again in the fourth, sending a single to center that would drive in Miguel Tejada. Henderson’s reputation on the basepaths drew a balk from pitcher Bill Swift, allowing him to move to second, where he promptly stole third as well. Performances like his on this night, although they may seem extraordinary, were commonplace for this hall-of-famer – he notched 1,406 steals in his career.
A Jason Giambi homer just an inning later brought the A’s back on top and the Mariners went into the bottom of the fifth trailing 3-2. Dan Wilson led off the inning with a harmless pop fly, which would bring up the third baseman.
Now, the starting third baseman for the Mariners for much of the late ‘90s was Russ Davis. I didn’t like Russ Davis. He was known for his horrid defense and his bat didn’t make up for it. Although I would take his 1997 .271/.317/.488 and 20 home runs in a heartbeat here in 2012, it looked feeble next to the likes of Griffey, Martinez and Rodriguez. In 1997 I attended my first Spring Training and Russ Davis was one of the first players I saw, unfortunately. Even at the young age of seven, I despised Russ Davis. To this day, I still remember an older lady asking Russ if he could smile for a picture – he simply looked at her with a stern face and said “I don’t smile.” Russ wasn’t my favorite.
Imagine my excitement when I saw that Russ Davis wouldn’t be starting the game I was attending. It felt like Lou Piniella knew I would be at the game and adjusted the lineup just for me. In his place, however, was a replacement by the name of Rico Rossy. Even being the crazed little fan that I was, I had never heard of any Rico Rossy before. It turns out Rossy played in limited time with the Braves and Royals from 1991 to 1993, putting up a .216 batting average over 276 plate appearances. Between 1994 and 1997 the Padres, Mets and Expos all signed Rossy to minor league contracts, but he never earned another shot at the big leagues. Until June 21, 1998.
With one out, Rossy came to the plate. Rico Rossy, without a major league hit since September 15, 1993, stood in against Oquist. At this point I was still clueless as to who Rico Rossy was, but I was elated to see somebody other than Davis manning third and I didn’t care what his offensive production was. Rossy’s at-bat in the bottom of the fifth, however, will always remain perfectly clear in my memory, even 14 years later.
Sitting in the left field bleachers, I had a clear view of the ball as it came off the bat. It looked like it was headed towards left field, but I couldn’t tell how far. Along with the rest of the fans in my section, I got up to cheer, not realizing until a few seconds later that many fans were holding their gloves up as if they were expecting to catch a home run ball. To my astonishment, the ball landed a mere two rows in front of me in the hands of another fan. I went into the game expecting nothing from our third baseman and instead I got to witness a homerun from an unknown player land less than five feet in front of me. I still remember what I exclaimed once I collected myself:
“Rico Rossy is my favorite player ever now!”
Rico Rossy, if only for a night, and if only in one eight-year-old’s mind, was the best baseball player in the world.
The Mariners went on to win the game. Later that inning a Griffey sacrifice fly and Edgar home run blew the game open, but to tell you the truth, I don’t remember either of those plays. On that night I saw four future hall-of-famers score a combined seven runs, drive in five and steal four bases, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was Rico Rossy, hitting a homerun right at me as if it was meant to be.
It’s doubtful many other fans remember this specific game, let alone at-bat, but it helped shape me as a baseball fan. To this day, 14 years later, when I’m asked who my favorite baseball players or plays are, I’m reminded of my evening out at the Kingdome back in June of 1998.