This annotated week in baseball history: Dec. 30-Jan. 5, 1963

On Jan. 2, 1963 David Cone and Edgar Martinez were born. The pair were connected in Game Five of the 1995 ALDS, which was not only a great game, but helped shape baseball for the next decade.

Given the sheer number of historical figures in the world—even if one counts only “top shelf” history—there are bound to be some with the same birthday. Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, for example, were born on the same date in the same year. This happens in baseball, too, probably most famously with Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell.

It is more difficult to find two people born on the same date who are connected in some way. (The most famous example of this is actually a death, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both dying on the Fourth of July in 1826.) But David Cone and Edgar Martinez, both born on Jan. 2, 1963, are a prime example.

On the field of play, it was usually Martinez—a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter who probably spent too much time at DH and wasting away in the minors to deserve induction—who got the better of the matchup. In the regular season, Martinez hit .326/.415/.522 against Cone in 53 plate appearances.

But their real connection comes from Game Five of the 1995 ALDS, one of the greatest elimination games ever, albeit one that broke my then 11-year-old heart. After losing the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium, the Mariners won Game Three and rallied from a 5-0 hole to win Game Four, setting up the deciding final game.

Yankees manager Buck Showalter went with Cone, the team’s ace (9-2, 3.82) since being acquired from the Blue Jays. Lou Pinella countered with Andy Benes (the older, better Benes) but his real counter was the Seattle offense. The Mariners scored almost 800 runs in the strike-shortened season and averaged more than seven runs per game in the first four games of the series.

Cone was masterful for seven innings, holding the M’s to just two runs. With the Yankees holding a 4-2 lead, he retired Joey Cora leading off the eighth. He then surrendered a home run to Ken Griffey Jr. After a single sandwiched between a pair of walks, Cone faced pinch-hitter Doug Strange.

Running the count full, and running on fumes himself at nearly 150 pitches, he threw a splitter in the dirt. Strange didn’t chase it and the tying run walked home. Cone was replaced by Mariano Rivera, who temporarily saved the Yankees’ season by retiring Mike Blowers.

The game stayed tied moving into the 11th inning, when the Yankees strung together a run off Randy Johnson, who was working in relief on short rest. Facing Jack McDowell, also on short rest, the Mariners began the bottom half with a controversial bunt single by Cora.

After Griffey singled Cora to third, Martinez came up. Already having a scorching series, with two doubles, two homers and eight RBI, Martinez came through again, lacing a double into the left field corner. Cora scored easily and Griffey came around from first base, giving the Mariners the victory.

Although the Mariners would lose the ALCS to the Indians, the 1995 Series and the roles Cone and Martinez played in it were among the decade’s most important events in baseball.

The Yankees’ loss had a pronounced effect on the direction of the franchise. Shortly after the series, in no small part because his team had blown a 2-0 lead, Buck Showalter was let go and replaced with Joe Torre. Gene Michael resigned as general manager and took another position in the organization, and was replaced by Bob Watson.

Watson and Torre continued much of Michael’s vision for the franchise, but also had some different ideas. For the 1996 season, they replaced Tony Fernandez at shortstop with rookie Derek Jeter. Cone decided to return to New York after a brief flirtation with the Orioles but Don Mattingly called it a career, and was replaced by Seattle’s first baseman, Tino Martinez.

Perhaps most significantly for the long-term course of the organization, Mike Stanley, a 1995 All-Star, was allowed to go to Boston as a free agent. Stanley was both aging and widely viewed as a poor defensive catcher. He was replaced by free agent Joe Girardi.

Never the hitter Stanley was, Girardi would nonetheless stay with the team through 1999—winning three titles in the process—and is of course now returning to the team as its manager for the 2008 season.

For Seattle, the effect was even more pronounced. After a proposition to increase the sales tax to pay for a new ballpark was defeated in September, it appeared possible, even likely, that the Mariners would be leaving the city, perhaps for Tampa. Literally days after the Mariners’ victory over the Yankees, a special legislative session authorized the costs of the park, and what would become Safeco Field was born.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

Not surprisingly, the series and its hero are well honored in Seattle. Safeco Field is bordered on one side by Edgar Martinez Drive. At the left field gate is a piece of artwork called “The Defining Moment,” which depicts—in colored steel relief—Griffey scoring on Martinez’ double.

Along with the Indians, the Mariners and Yankees represented the American League’s dominant franchises in the period after the strike, with at least one of the three reaching the ALCS every year from 1995 through 2001, and with two of the group facing each other four times.

The Mariners were able to keep their place in this triumvirate—and indeed, remain in Seattle—because of the stadium-creating ALDS victory. The Yankee Dynasty that would see them win four World Series in five years was born out of the defeat that night in Seattle.

It is hard to believe one game can have so much history surrounding it, and even harder to believe the two main figures from each team would share a birthday. David Cone and Edgar Martinez remain linked on Jan. 2, 1963 and Oct. 8, 1995.

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