Mark Langston sees the big picture of his 1995 loss to Mariners
When Mark Langston calls it the biggest game in Mariners history, it's not hyperbole. Because if the Mariners didn't win that one — a one-game playoff at the Kingdome for the AL West title — then Edgar's double never happens. And maybe Safeco Field never happens.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The events of Oct. 2, 1995, are emblazoned in Mark Langston's mind. He doesn't need to see a replay of the fateful seventh inning to be reminded, in intricate, agonizing detail, how the Angels' hearts were broken.
If you could somehow hook a monitor to his brain, Langston says, you'd be able to see their entire demise played out, just precisely as it happened in real time when Rick Rizzs, on that fateful Luis Sojo squibber, wound up making his signature "Everybody scores!" call.
When Langston calls it the biggest game in Mariners history, it's not hyperbole. Because if the Mariners didn't win that one — a one-game playoff at the Kingdome for the AL West title — then Edgar's double never happens. And maybe Safeco Field never happens.
But nobody knew that back then. All they knew was that in a great twist of fate, Langston was pitching that game for the Angels against the guy he had been traded for six years earlier, Randy Johnson.
At the time, the May 1989 deal that sent Langston to Montreal for three unknowns — one of them 6-foot-10, gangly, mulleted and with a propensity for scowling — was hugely unpopular, because Langston was hugely popular. But in a scenario that would be played out again — when Johnson left for Houston as a superstar in July 1998, for instance — the Mariners couldn't come to contract terms with Langston, though he recalls it going down to the wire.
"I never, ever thought I would leave the Mariners," said Langston, in town to throw out the first pitch at Safeco Field on Saturday as part of the club's 35th anniversary celebration.
He remembers being alone in the Fenway Park clubhouse on May 25, 1989, charting pitches. The phone rang in the office of manager Jim Lefebvre, and Langston answered it. He was told negotiations on a new contract were going down to the wire, but a deal was possible.
"This was in the middle of a game, mind you," he said. "My agent (Arn Tellem) told me what the negotiating numbers were. I told him, if the numbers are close, close it out, get it done. For whatever reason, it didn't get done, and I was traded after the game."
The initially panned deal turned out to be a huge boost for the Mariners, of course, as Johnson became an ace, and one of the catalysts of their amazing comeback from a 14-game deficit to Langston's Angels in that sainted '95 season.
"It's one of those trades — heck, with Randy, I feel almost privileged that one worked," Langston said. "It was a trade that worked, and I was part of it."
And it seemed almost preordained that those two would square off in the playoff game at the Kingdome after the Mariners and Angels finished in a dead heat at 78-66. The Mariners were clinging to a tense 1-0 lead when Langston took the mound for the seventh.
"It was such a weird, bizarre game," he said.
Langston remembers all the maddening intricacies of the Angels' undoing, but mostly, he remembers what happened when Sojo stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
"Randy was as good as anybody I've ever seen that night," he said. "But at 1-0, you never know — a guy can run into something."
Langston threw a sinker, six inches off the plate, he estimates. Sojo broke his bat on his swing. Langston flinched, fearful the barrel might be coming his way. Instead, he was greeted with a joyful sight.
"I looked at this little weak ground ball headed to first base," he said. "I started to run to first base. J.T. Snow, our first baseman — I've only seen one first baseman better, Don Mattingly, or at least equal. J.T's bending to pick it up. In my head, I'm going, 'I'm getting out of this inning.' "
Somehow, the ball scooted by Snow. Langston remembers his thought at that moment: "We're done. We're in big trouble."
Sure enough, the ball got caught up in the bullpen as Mariners runners — Mike Blowers, Tino Martinez and Joey Cora — raced around the bases. Langston still can't figure out why he cut off a perfect throw home from Tim Salmon and fired the ball past catcher Andy Allanson, allowing Sojo to race home with the final run.
But an extra run didn't really matter much in the big picture. And the big picture is what Langston sees now that the hurt has eased over time.
"Luis comes around to score from a broken-bat ball off the end of the bat," he marveled. "It turned out to be an unbelievably huge play in Mariner history. Probably the biggest play in Mariners history, if you boil it down."
Langston, who now broadcasts Angels games and does some coaching within the organization, says the memories of his five-plus years in Seattle are nothing but positive. I asked him if just a small part of him was happy for the Mariners after their breakthrough win on Oct. 2, 1995.
"I can say it now: Sure," he replied.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry.
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Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.