The first time, no one took the Seattle Mariners seriously - not until they extended the 1995 season by one day and won their first American League West title.
This season, they were favorites, and on Tuesday Seattle made those preseason picks look good, defeating the Anaheim Angels 4-3 to capture its second division title in three seasons.
It wasn’t easy. But manager Lou Piniella had told them seven months ago it wouldn’t be.
“Winning when you’re expected to win can be tough, because teams come after you,” he told them. “But winning when you expect to win is sweeter.”
Before a roaring, highly partisan Kingdome crowd on Tuesday, the Mariners used Jay Buhner’s monster home run and another big game from their “Big Unit” - Randy Johnson - to finish what began with an opening night victory April 1.
On Tuesday, 158 games later, they delivered on all that early promise.
For the second time in 21 years, Seattle’s year won’t end when the regular-season schedule does.
After spending 132 days in first place this season, the Mariners finally put away an Anaheim team that wasn’t supposed to be much of an obstacle but wouldn’t bow out quietly.
Buhner’s first-inning home run was one of those time-capsule swings - an unforgettable moment for Buhner, his team and the 52,884 fans in the Kingdome.
Not only did it break a tie, but it made Seattle’s right fielder just the 10th man in major league history to hit 40 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons and the first in 27 years. When the ball landed in the second deck in left field, the 13th ever hit there, it gave the Mariners the major league record for home runs in a season (258).
Clutch home runs are usually hit late in games, but this one turned the game around, even though it came in the first inning.
Ahead, 4-1, Johnson seized the game and tried to close it out. After starts in which he was held to 77, then 107 pitches, Johnson was allowed this time to go as far as he could. After eight innings, that meant 143 pitches, three solo home runs and 11 strikeouts, the 82nd time in his career - the 14th time this season - he has reached double figures in strikeouts.
But after that eight-inning grind, Piniella had seen enough.
He waved in Heathcliff Slocumb and asked him to make a one-run lead in the ninth inning hold up. Slocumb gave up a leadoff single, putting the tying run on first base, then retired the next two Angels.
That brought it down to one final confrontation - Slocumb against pinch-hitter Jack Howell - and the crowd stood and cheered each pitch.
Strike one. Strike two. A pitchout to make the count 1-2. A wild pitch to even the count and send the tying run to second base. Ball three.
Strike three - and bedlam.
sponsored You’ve probably heard of co-ops: food co-ops, childcare co-ops, housing co-ops, energy co-ops.