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In a stunning—and, ultimately, critical—development, the Mariners suddenly woke up and started winning game after game after game in September. From 13 games behind American League West division leader Anaheim at the end of August, they roared through September virtually undefeated while the obliging Angels went into a free-fall. The two teams finishing the season tied for first place in the American League West, and Seattle won the one-game playoff between the two, held the day after the last day of the season. It was one of the biggest and least likely comebacks in major-league baseball history. The Mariners would go on that year to beat the New York Yankees in a thrilling five-game division championship series before losing the American League pennant to the Cleveland Indians, who would go on to lose the World Series to the National League’s Atlanta Braves.

What was most galling about the sudden Mariners winning streak was that theirs was a battle not for a championship but for a fourth-place finish in the 14-team American League. Major League Baseball, desperate to revive interest in a sport suffering rapidly declining popularity, had divided its two-division National and American Leagues into three-division leagues in 1994. The idea was to involve more teams in a race for a post-season playoff spot, thus fostering the illusion in more cities for more weeks that their teams had a chance at a World Series championship. For Seattle, the month-long sprint to catch Anaheim was a quest to finish first in a division race involving only four mediocre teams who would have finished out of the running in a traditional American League. Had the stadium vote been held two years earlier, the Mariners would have been mathematically eliminated from division title contention by September 1, and their September winning streak would have been essentially meaningless.

But Major League Baseball and Mariner ownership were playing Seattle for rubes, and Seattle happily played along. As win after win mounted up for the Mariners, and as they crept ever-closer to the suddenly collapsing Angels and what local papers were now calling a “pennant” (a word formerly reserved for championship of the entire American or National League), local passion for the team was aroused for the first time in franchise history. Now, every home game was a sellout, and the Mariners began advertising their plan for playoff ticket sales (given the team’s sad-sack history, this was like hearing they were selling the Holy Grail). The politically dead tax package was suddenly inevitable. I was visiting with Sims again near the end of the Mariners’ amazing run, and he was glumly running through the scenarios that he knew would lead to the county council vote in favor of the new taxes. He was about to witness the 20-year mortgaging of King County in a fervid playoff atmosphere that made reasoned debate impossible. “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” he said at one point, more dispirited than I’d ever seen him, “if the Mariners weren’t winning like this.”

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Source:  OpenStax, Seattle and the demons of ambition. OpenStax CNX. Oct 26, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10504/1.4
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