Thoughts on The Double

Forgive me for re-hashing the past. A lot of Mariners fans on the Internet I know feel tired of the reminders of the Mariners glory seasons of 1995 and 2001, perhaps in part because while both teams were incredible, they didn’t win the big prize at the end. That said, I keep thinking about The Double, and just how remarkable an event it was in the scope of baseball. Let’s set aside some of the items that people always note: I’m not going to spend much time here to talk about how it was the Hit That Saved Baseball In Seattle, and I’m not going to talk much about Chris Donnelly’s book about the whole thing, titled “Baseball’s Greatest Series.” I’m just going to talk about The Double itself.

Well, that’s not exactly correct. I want to talk about how unlikely The Double was in the first place. I mean really, why on earth would you pitch to Edgar Martinez with the game on the line?

Martinez was having an absolutely monster series, hitting 11-for-20 with two doubles, two homers, and nine RBI, and if you’re not a fan of the small sample, just take a look at his regular season: his .356 Batting Average, .479 On Base Percentage, and 52 Doubles all led the American League.

Maybe then-Yankees Manager Buck Showalter believed in his pitcher’s ability to go get Martinez out? Personally I’m not a big fan of individual player splits, but Martinez was 10-for-33 against Jack McDowell in his career before he came up in the bottom of the 11th with Joey Cora on third base and Ken Griffey Jr. on first. It’s certainly not like McDowell owned Gar, and it’s not like the Yankees hadn’t considered putting him on before – in the 6th inning of Game 3, McDowell gave Martinez four wide ones to load the bases with the Yankees down one, opting to face Tino Martinez instead.

That plan had backfired. Tino led a string of three Mariner singles capped with a Luis Sojo sacrifice fly for a four-run inning to give the M’s a 6-1 lead. In this game, however, Tino had been lifted for a rookie pinch runner by the name of Alex Rodriguez.

The question remains to Showalter: You did it before, why not do it again?

Seattle had already used their entire bench, so it was a sure thing Rodriguez (who had a .232 BA in 149 AB that season) would be the next batter. Behind Rodriguez was Jay Buhner and backup catcher Chris Widger. Clearly Buhner was the biggest threat of the three at the time; and he was having a great series as well (11-for-24 with 1 HR), but he’d just wrapped a season where he posted a slash line of .262/.343/.566, with the BA and OBP both being down from the previous two years. He also had the 9th most strikeouts in baseball with 120. At that point in the game you wouldn’t be worried about his power, you’d be hoping to strike him out or double him off if you got through young A-Rod.

It strikes me as a special thing that Edgar that not only was given the chance to hit by the Yankees, but that he happened to be the batter coming up with the winning run aboard in the first place. One of the unique things about baseball is that you don’t get to put the ball in your playmaker’s hands. There is no baseball equivalent to a Two-Minute Drill led by your star quarterback or letting your team’s leading scorer put up a buzzer-beater for the win. Even when you do get your guy up there in a key situation, he’s liable to be walked like Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series (where he was intentionally put on seven times, including twice in the first inning!). David Ortiz and Derek Jeter have created reputations out of making it happen at key moments, but for every one of them there’s a Cody Ross or a Doug Strange or a Sid Bream who comes out of nowhere to deliver. Suffice it to say, the Mariners could have won the series in other ways.

The M’s had two on and two out for Vince Coleman in the bottom of the 10th. The Win Probability at that moment was 62% for Seattle, just a few percentage points lower than the 68% it was when Martinez came to the dish in the 11th. If Coleman had collected a hit, Strange would have been the winning run and Rick Rizzs would have done the play-by-play of the action. Aren’t you glad we got The Double instead?

Alternatively, A-Rod could have done it. A walk to Edgar would have put the series-deciding run in scoring position and put the Mariners at something like an 80% Win Probability. If Rodriguez had broke through with a hit to win the series instead, would the Mariners front office have paid him the $252 million to stay in Seattle after the 2000 season so he didn’t go to Texas? Would he have gone to Texas anyway and changed our entire perception of Mariners history? Would he have become a better human being? Well, let’s not get carried away.

What we got instead was something special. A series delivered by a clutch hit from a career-long Mariner. It was the defining moment of a career and a franchise, from a guy you want to go out and name a street after.

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