Today in Sports History: October 8th

Rubber rats thrown on the ice.

10/08/1908 - Cubs and Giants face off in tiebreak

Thanks to the gaffe made by Giants first baseman Fred Merkle, the Chicago Cubs were spared another loss the 1908 season. This came back to haunt the Giants, as both teams were tied at the end of the season, forcing a one-game playoff to determine who would represent the National League in the world Series.

To read more about this and the entire Fred Merkle story, click here for an in-depth Inhistoric article:

10/08/1995 - The Mariners beat the Yanks in dramatic fashion

The series should have already been over. Following a 15-inning victory in Game 2, the Yankees held a 2-0 first round series lead over the Seattle Mariners. The Bronx Bombers had a 1-0 lead through five innings in Game 3, a 5-0 lead early in Game 4, and a 4-2 lead late in Game 5. But each time, the Mariners (who ironically consisted mostly of former and future Yankees players) made the comeback.

In the fifth and final game, Yankees manager Buck Showalter let starting pitcher David Cone pitch into the eighth inning, with the team maintaining a 4-2 advantage. With one out, Ken Griffey Jr., who had been called out by Showalter a year earlier for wearing his cap backward, exacted a bit of revenge with a solo home run. A groundout, a walk, a single, and another walk then set the stage. With two outs, Cone was holding a one-run lead with the bases load. With catcher Doug Strange at the plate, and the Yankees bullpen having proved unreliable throughout the series, Showalter stuck with Cone. On a 3-2 forkball, Cone's payoff pitch was wide, walking in the tying run. Mariano Rivera came on and struck out Mike Blowers to end the inning.

In the 11th inning, a Randy Velarde single off of Seattle's Randy Johnson scored Pat Kelly to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. For the bottom half of the inning, Showalter could have turned to closer John Wetteland. But Wetteland had been awful against the Mariners all season long, and had a 14.54 ERA coming in. Showalter elected to stick with Jack McDowell, the starting pitcher of Game 2 who had come on in the bottom of the 10th.

But McDowell could do nothing with the heart of the Mariners order. He began the inning with a pair of singles to Joey Cora and Ken Griffey Jr., and then had to deal with Edgar Martinez, who had established himself as one of the greatest "Yankee killers" of all time. Besides murdering them in the regular season, Martinez batted .571 in the ALDS and had an astronomical on-base percentage of .667. McDowell could not stop the inevitable. In what is unanimously considered the greatest moment to occur in the Seattle Kingdome, Martinez hammered what he described as a "a horrible split-finger" into left field, scoring both runners and giving the Mariners a remarkable 6-5 win. As the Mariners celebrated, the Yankees wept.

It was easily one of the greatest baseball series ever, and it capped off a roller coaster year for the Yankees. The Mariners lost in six games to the Cleveland Indians, who in turn lost in six games to the Atlanta Braves in six games. For the Yankees, it was the end of Buck Showalter, who left the team shortly thereafter, and the end of Don Mattingly. Joe Torre took over the following season and, with the help of rising superstars such as Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, they won the World Series for the first time since 1978.

10/08/1995 - Scott Mellanby kills a rat

An hour before the season opener between the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers, a rat scampered across the floor of the Panthers' locker room. With one mighty blow, winger Scott Mellanby crushed the rodent against the wall with his stick. "Guys were jumping out of the way and screaming," he recalled, "It made a beeline right towards me."

Mellanby would score two goals, granting the Panthers a 4-3 win. The news of his rat-kill spread and two games later a fan threw a plastic rat onto the ice in the spirit of Detroit's octopus throwing tradition. Just that quickly, throwing a plastic rat on the playing surface became kosher at Panthers games.

The next game, 16 rats were thrown onto the ice, then 50. When the playoffs came around, the totals began to exceed 2,000. As the #4 seed they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, and $55,000 worth of authentic rats were heaved onto the ice. Amazingly, the year they advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals was the Chinese Year of the Rat - coincidence?

The Colorado Avalanche swept the Florida Panthers in four games, and almost as quickly as it had begun, the rat-throwing tradition quietly passed away. In the decade following their magical run, the Panthers won just one playoff game.

Further reading:

Sports Illustrated - Rat Pack

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