The Mariners and the Yankees locked antlers in a heart stopping 5 Game Division Series. The final image of that series is one of the most famous baseball moments of the decade and career defining for one certain Hall of Famer (Ken Griffey Jr) and another probable Hall of Famer (Edgar Martinez.)
Lost in the memory of that hit was Joey Cora, who set up the drama with a risky play and scored on the series ending double.
Fans who did not turn their backs on baseball after the 1994 World Series was cancelled by the strike were treated to a dramatic opening round.
The playoffs had officially expanded in 1994 but they were called off. So 1995 saw the first annual Division Series. Bizarrely, a Division Series was played in 1981 as a result of the season split in two by the strike, but now it was going to be a regular event.
Two of the series were sweeps. The Indians made quick work of the Red Sox and the Reds dispatched Los Angeles in 3. The Rockies put up a fight against the eventual champion Braves but eventually lost in 4.
The fourth match up was one of the greatest post seasons in baseball history. The Yankees, who incredibly had not seen a post season since 1981 split season and were denied a Division Title when 1994 was cut short, stampeded into the playoffs with a dynamic September, buoyed by the mid season trade of David Cone. Beloved captain Don Mattingly finally would play in the post season.
The Mariners had never been a contender since their first season in 1977. On August 2nd, they were a sub .500 team, 14 games behind the California Angels and playing in an empty Kingdome in front of a handful of indifferent fans.
Led by Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and a fresh off the DL Ken Griffey Jr, the Mariners played .643 ball the rest of the way while the Angels played .393 ball. The two teams played a one game playoff for the West which Randy Johnson won with a complete game 9-1.
Without Johnson available to start the first two games, the Yankees beat Seattle and took a 2-0 lead. The second one was a 15 inning thriller with a Jim Leyritz walk off. The Big Unit won Game 3 and the Yankee bullpen collapsed in Game 4, forcing a winner take all finale in Game 5.
In the bottom of the third with no score, Joey Cora faced David Cone.
Cora was hardly the biggest name on either roster, but the former Padres and White Sox second baseman fit in perfectly as a spark plug for the Seattle sluggers. He enjoyed a 24 game hitting streak over the course of the season. He got on base, scoring twice, in the Game 4 comeback victory. Now he was asked to spark the offense in the finale.
He did so not with his speed or guile but with power. He homered to right field, giving Seattle an early 1-0 lead.
The game went back and forth. Paul O’Neill homered. Jay Buhner drove in a run. Mattingly doubled home 2. Cora flew out to lead off the 8th with the Mariners down 4-2, Cone dealing and Seattle running out of outs.
Then Griffey hit his 5th homer of the series and Doug Strange walked with the bases loaded to tie the game.
Both teams threatened in the 9th, which included a Cora sacrifice bunt. Both teams brought their game 3 starters out of the bullpen. 1993 Cy Young winner Jack McDowell stuffed out the Mariners rally. Eventually 1995 Cy Young winner (and Hall of Famer) Randy Johnson extinguished the Yankees fire.
In the 11th, Randy Velarde singled home Pat Kelly and the Yankees had the lead. But remembering how closer John Wetteland was clobbered the night before, Yankees manager Buck Showalter decided to bring out McDowell again for the bottom of the 11th.
With the season on the line and Griffey and Martinez both putting up on real numbers behind him, Cora had to get on in any way possible.
With the count 2 balls and one strike, Cora put down a drag bunt. Don Mattingly, one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, picked it up and dove to make a tag. Cora eluded the tag and touched first.
Showalter and Mattingly argued that Cora went out of the baseline but umpire Jim Evans disagreed and called him safe. (Replays showed it was close but he stayed in the lane.)
Now Griffey and Martinez could come up as the winning run. Showalter stuck with McDowell who allowed a single to Griffey that sent Cora, the tying run, to third with nobody out.
When Edgar Martinez doubled to left, Griffey famously made the dash to home, scoring and ending the Yankees hopes. Everyone remembers Griffey. Nobody remembers Cora came in to score on that play to tie the game.
Cora finished the series with a .316 average and a .935 OPS. Normally that would make a batter an MVP candidate. Compared to Ken Griffey’s 5 homers and Martinez’s .571 average and 1.667 OPS, his numbers were dwarfed.
The Indians would beat the Mariners in 6 innings to win the ALCS. When the series ended, Cora famously wept in the dugout, comforted by rookie shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
The man cared big time and came through big time. The clutch play of Joey Cora makes him the Unsung Post Season Hero of October 8
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