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When the Yankees won the inaugural American League wildcard in 1995, it was their first postseason appearance in 14 years and the first ever for captain and fan-favorite Don Mattingly. After a slow start to the season, the team went 49-29 after the All-Star break to capture the playoff berth and, in the ALDS, took on the Mariners, who finished the season on a torrid streak of their own to grab the AL West crown in a one-game playoff victory over the Angels.
The series started off well enough for the Yankees. Mattingly’s hot hitting and a Game 2, 15th inning walk-off homer by Jim Leyritz staked them to a 2-0 series lead heading to Seattle. But the Kingdome would soon become a house of horrors for New York. The Ms scored 18 runs off Yankee pitching in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series, setting up a series-deciding Game 5.
The Yankees clung to a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to a two-run homer by Paul O’Neill and a two-run double by Mattingly, when starter David Cone ran into trouble. He allowed a solo homer to Ken Griffey Jr., before losing the lead on a bases loaded walk. After 147 pitches, the fourth most in postseason history, Cone was finally pulled and replaced by a young converted starter named Mariano Rivera. In the ninth, Seattle manager Lou Piniella called on Randy Johnson on one day of rest, and Yankee skipper Buck Showalter countered with his own Game 3 starter, Jack McDowell.
The game remained tied until the 11th, when Randy Velarde singled in Pat Kelly to give the Yankees a tenuous 5-4 lead. Instead of going to his closer John Wetteland, who’d been pounded for seven runs in four innings in the series, Showalter stuck with McDowell in the bottom of the frame. Joey Cora and Griffey started things off with back-to-back singles before Edgar Martinez, one of the great Yankee-killers, doubled to left, plating both runners with the tying and winning runs.
At the time, no one knew that the Yankees would go on to win four of the next five World Championships, but that night in Seattle marked a bitterly disappointing end to Showalter’s tenure as Yankee manager and to Mattingly’s career.