The Mariners Salvaged A 4-4 Road Trip

And in doing so, they got through a left-handed starter!

After their season’s offensive nadir – back-to-back shutout losses in Boston – the Mariners started hitting again.  They had 16 hits in the finale against the Red Sox, and 10 more hits against the Rockies the next day, but they only had a combined 11 runs to show for it.  It was only a matter of time before their hitting with RISP turned around, and indeed that day was yesterday.  19 hits and 10 runs against the Rockies, while going 6 for 15 with RISP, in a 10-4 victory.

Segura had 4 hits; Cano had 2 hits, 2 runs, and an RBI; Gamel had 3 hits in relief of Nelson Cruz – who left early in the game with a strained calf – Heredia had 3 hits; Zunino had 2 hits.  But, the star of the show was Kyle Seager:  3 for 5 with a double, a homer, 3 runs scored and 4 RBI.  I wouldn’t say Seager is explosively hot right now, but he’s got 5 doubles over the last week, and it wouldn’t shock me to see him really start to pour it on heading into June.

Ariel Miranda was rolling through 4 innings, gave up a couple runs in the 5th, and was pulled after that for a pinch hitter (because stupid National League rules).  The bullpen really did a fine job, though.  Casey Lawrence ate up 2.2 innings, giving up just the 1 run.  Scrabble was able to get us out of a mini-jam in the 8th, when this thing still could’ve gone sideways, and Altavilla got through the ninth after the Mariners padded their lead beyond the need for their closer.

I don’t have a lot to add, other than James Paxton returns tonight.  Like Blowers mentioned on the broadcast last night, I too would expect Paxton to be on a bit of a limited pitch count.  Ryne Harper was sent back to Tacoma without making an appearance, which is really a good news/bad news situation (bad news for him, anyway, as I’m sure he would’ve loved to have made his Major League debut).  If the Mariners can win tonight, they will salvage a 14-14 month of May, which again is another baby step in the right direction.  Considering the Mariners went 4-12 in the middle part of the month, that’s a nice turnaround.

The post below this talks about why the Mariners probably won’t be huge sellers at the deadline, so feel free to dig into that one if you need more to read.

Mariners Bullpen Blows It, Offense Walks It Off In The Ninth

Yeah, I don’t care, I’m bringing back the phrase Walk Off, even if the winning team doesn’t walk in the winning run!  COME AT ME BRO!

Sam Gaviglio got the start yesterday, and like Christian Bergman the day before, he was greatly effective.  Five shutout innings, on 3 hits and 1 walk, with 2 strikeouts.  Considering it sounds like he wasn’t TOTALLY stretched out – I kept hearing about how the Mariners were only expecting to get four innings out of him – that was quite the amazing performance.  Once again, someone else who has leapfrogged Chase De Jong on my Chase De Jong scale.

The Mariners’ offense did some work early, with Dyson pulling a solo homer in the third, and with Segura jacking a 3-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.  They turned things over to the bullpen with a 4-0 lead, and I dunno, maybe I’m shortsighted.  I figured a day after Bergman spun his magic, and Pazos cleaned up after him, we’d have a more available bullpen with which to work.  But, apparently the plan was to get whatever they could out of Gaviglio, and then immediately turn the ball over to Casey Lawrence for something resembling long relief.

I would argue, once you get five innings out of the 10th starter you’ve used this season, and once your offense gives you a 4-0 lead, you don’t mess around.  By all means!  Use Casey Lawrence!  You brought him into the organization, you called him up, it’s the least you can do.  When you’ve got four full innings of relief to spread around, the bottom man in the bullpen is good enough to throw in there in the sixth inning.  And, to his credit, Casey Lawrence did a fine job.  Other than an infield single, he got the White Sox out in order.  Bingo bango bongo.

So, WHY would you bring him back out for the seventh???

Double to left, homer to left, 4-2 Mariners.  I don’t get it.  Everybody should’ve been fresh-enough!  You go one inning per reliever, use up four relievers, and you worry about Friday on FRIDAY!

Thankfully, Lawrence was able to settle down and finish out the seventh, but it could’ve gotten REALLY hairy there if he didn’t.  At that point, still with the 2-run lead going into the eighth, I was at least moderately confident we could get this thing to the ninth with a lead.

WRONG.

I don’t really blame Servais for using Altavilla in this spot, though I understand if you do.  He was coming off of a real bonzer outing two days earlier, but before that he’s been inconsistent as the day is long.  In gratitude for Servais’ confidence in him, Altavilla got the first two outs of the inning, then gave up back-to-back solo homers to tie the game.  Just brutal.

But, you know, what can you do?  Edwin Diaz was just demoted and is working on his mechanics; I think they’re looking for a softer landing for him than eighth inning set up man.  Steve Cishek just came off the DL and he too just blew a game recently.  Tony Zych is apparently also being handled with kid gloves.  Even though he was used three straight days from May 13th through the 15th, I guess he needs three full days off to recover?  I dunno.

What I do know is that it was pretty clear they were saving Nick Vincent for the ninth.  With Overton being saved for Sunday in all likelihood, that only left Scrabble as a possible eighth inning guy, but there were a bunch of right-handed bats coming up that inning, so Altavilla was the guy.  Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just telling you my theory on this whole thing.

Still doesn’t totally forgive putting Lawrence out there for a second inning, because that guy was already terrible when we got him, and it’s not like joining the Mariners is going to magically fix all his issues.

Anyway, Vincent got through the ninth inning without incident, and there we were, the bottom of the ninth.  I was tired, hoping to get to sleep in the near future; I’m sure the Mariners were tired; it was a long, cold night.  The bottom of the order got things going.

Taylor Motter’s leadoff single was erased by a subpar sac bunt by Dyson, but in a way if you had to choose who you want standing on first, you certainly would rather have Dyson there via the fielder’s choice.  Obviously, in an ideal world, the bunt would’ve worked and they both would’ve been safe, but that’s neither here nor there.  Unfortunately, with a lefty on the mound, Dyson couldn’t steal second.  He did run on a 3-2 count to Ruiz, who grounded out, thus allowing Dyson to advance to second.  With two outs, they walked Jean Segura, because that guy is a machine; plus I’m sure they liked the lefty/lefty matchup with Gamel coming to the plate.

Except, Guillermo Heredia was still on the bench (getting a rest day, with Boog Powell getting the start), so he came out to pinch hit.  Blowers noted that the White Sox had a righty warming up in the bullpen, so I figured it was academic:  they’d bring him in to face Heredia, and we’d go from there.

Instead, they left the lefty in there, Heredia knocked a single to right-center, and Dyson came flying around to score the WALK OFF run.  Just like Servais drew it up, right?

All in all, a nice little win for a desperate team.

In Injuries Rule Our Lives news, Paxton, Felix, Kuma, and Smyly all threw baseballs this week.  Paxton actually threw a legit bullpen, and is looking to do a rehab start in the near future.  Mitch Haniger is setting out for a rehab assignment of his own this weekend, with the hope that maybe he’ll be able to return during the next road trip.  As always, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Mariners Screwed The Pooch Last Night

Blowers and Goldsmith were having a discussion during the broadcast last night about how great it is to have a lockdown closer like Edwin Diaz.  He helps the rest of the bullpen slot into place, he gives everyone the confidence that by shortening the game – just getting through the 8th inning with the lead – everything will be all right.

But, what happens if you can’t even do that?  Well, you get what we had here last night.

You could only expect them to win one of these two games started by Miranda yesterday and Cody Martin tonight; the Mariners blew a HUGE opportunity to take this series by the balls.  I will say it again:  the Mariners have NO business losing to this team, in any capacity.  The Angels have one and a half hitters who can beat you, and sure as shit, they got the better of us again.  It’s like this pitching staff and this coaching staff simply wipes their asses with the scouting reports they get!

Have you heard of the phrase, “I’m not going to let so-and-so beat us,”?  Well, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols – he of the 92 RBI and the unimpressive batting average – should NOT be beating us like they are!  You’ve got to be more careful with them!  You absolutely can NOT be floating meatballs for them to crush!  And you can’t be fucking walking guys ahead of them!

The bullpen shit the bed, you know?  What can I say?  They had an awesome run, but they really fucked up bad last night.  Nick Vincent was God damn worthless, and Arquimedes Caminero suffered his first blown save in a Mariners uniform.  This isn’t on the hitters (6 runs should be MORE than enough to win every game), this isn’t on the starter (who pitched very well until, again, he faltered in the 6th inning and couldn’t get an out).  This is on those two bullpen guys who fucked it up for everyone.

Now, we have to win the next two games in the series to be where we want to be.  You can’t be losing a series to a team that’s 20 games under .500!  Not if the post-season is on your mind!  So, get your shit together and get this fucking thing done!

Dave Sims Is Kinda The Worst

I should point out that I don’t know the man personally, so let’s just get that out of the way.  He could be a cool dude, or he could be a total prick, I would have no idea.  I’m sure, as a human being, he’s fine.  Seems to get along with people, seems to have some stories of conversations he’s had with various people in the sports world.  You probably don’t get to do what he does for a living by being a complete asshole.

So, this is strictly a critique of Dave Sims, Broadcaster.  And, more specifically:  Dave Sims, Broadcaster of Mariners Games on Root Sports.

On the radio, I actually don’t mind his work.  I’ve heard him call Sunday Night Football on the radio and he’s actually pretty good.  I’ve heard him give interviews on the radio and found him engaging and forthright.  Whereas on Root Sports, he’s an employee of the Seattle Mariners, and as such has to give a Glass Half Full spin on any analysis he’s giving; but on the radio (usually in the off-season), he’s more free to speak his mind and tell it (roughly) like it is.  Surprisingly, it’s refreshing to hear Dave Sims give an interview away from the Seattle Mariners Cocoon of Sunshine.

But, on those Root Sports broadcast … ye gods!

I tend to have a real problem when it comes to sports talking heads.  Game broadcasters, talk radio hosts, television analysts:  once I get it in my head that someone sucks, or is annoying, or just a dumb piece of shit who constantly spouts misinformation like it’s fact, unwittingly belaboring a point based on nonsense … I can’t bring myself to listen to them without wanting to physically hurt someone or something around me.

It’s not a large list of broadcasters, but it’s definitely growing:

  • Skip Bayless
  • Stephen A. Smith
  • Tim McCarver
  • Mel Kiper
  • Dick Fain
  • Trent Dilfer (about half the time)
  • Dave Sims

You’ll never find me watching First Take.  Until he retired from the Fox broadcast, you’d never find me watching them cover a baseball game with McCarver in the booth.  I can sit through the NFL draft, but any other time of year where ESPN features Mel Kiper or Trent Dilfer, I’m turning the channel.  I’ve already gone over the whole problem with local sports radio ad nauseum.  But, there’s a problem when it comes to the Mariners’ Root Sports broadcasts:  you can’t just mute them and play the radio coverage because they don’t sync up.

So, I’m forced to sit through three hours of Dave Sims whenever I manage to sit down and watch a full Mariners broadcast.  It’s brutal.  He laughs uncontrollably over the dumbest shit.  He talks over Mike Blowers (who is a consummate pro and a pleasure to have on the broadcast team).  He has no ability whatsoever to let a scene breathe, instead opting to fill as much time as possible with inane chatter, as if society itself would crumble if we’re deprived of hearing Dave Sims’ voice for longer than three seconds.  If the offense is struggling (which is always), it sounds as if Dave Sims couldn’t be more uninterested in what’s going on.  He’s constantly losing his mind over fly ball outs, as if he’s either been fooled into thinking they’re home runs, or he’s trying to fool the viewer into thinking they’re home runs to generate false excitement (either way makes him equally terrible).  And this year more than any other, he’s been forgetting names, calling people by the wrong names, and giving us calls like this, which are total embarrassments to the organization.  I listened to that call live and heard what he was blathering about prior to the home run … and it STILL doesn’t make any sense when you know all the context!

What really brings it home isn’t his need for perfect pronunciation of obscure Latino names, or the fact that he was tasked with effectively replacing a legend in Dave Niehaus, or his dumb hats that they’re trying to make a thing with annual Safeco give-aways.  It was a 4-game series down in Texas, I believe.  Back in April.  For whatever reason, Dave Sims was gone for those games, so they had Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith filling in for him.  And they were EASILY the four best Mariners broadcasts I’ve heard in the last 8 years, since Dave Sims came to town in 2007.

I’m a huge fan of Rizzs; in my eyes, he can do no wrong.  If there was a Nice Guy Award, he’d be the reigning winner for the last 30-some-odd years probably.  I never really understood why he was phased out of the television side of things in the first place, but I have to admit that it’s a treat to have him on the radio.  I have a hard time engaging with radio broadcasts of any sporting event, so 100/100 times I will watch the thing on TV if I have the option.  But, with Mariners games, whenever I get the chance, I’ll find myself just listening to the game on the radio.  Cut out the headache.

Aaron Goldsmith is a recent hire of the Mariners, who took over as the full-time partner of Rick Rizzs on the radio in 2013.  He’s pretty good on the radio, and has a nice rapport with Rizzs, but he was TRULY a revelation when he was doing those two games with Mike Blowers down in Texas.

I’m sure Sims and Blowers have a fine working relationship.  I’m sure, when they’re on the road, they probably have meals together, maybe go out for the occasional beer.  I’m sure they’re able to swap stories and attend barbecues at one another’s homes every now and again.  I can’t remember what they were like when they first started broadcasting together, but I do know that Blowers was relatively new to the profession, and I’m sure he’s done a lot of growing since then.  I’d even wager he’s learned a lot by working with Dave Sims all these years.  Blowers definitely strikes me as more comfortable on the air than he was at first, able to laugh and joke around more as well.  As a pairing, they’re fine.  I can’t point to any real glaring holes in their professional repartee.

But, I’ll tell you what, Blowers and Goldsmith?  For whatever reason, they worked together like peanut butter and jelly.  Peas and carrots.  Hamburgers and French Fries (LAY OFF ME, I’M STARVING!!!).  The point is, they seemed to fit so naturally together, I actually found myself enjoying what turned out to be mostly losing baseball games.  Goldsmith had some good behind-the-scenes stories to tell.  He asked interesting questions of Mike Blowers, who in turn gave interesting answers and insights we don’t normally get when he’s doing a game with Sims.  Maybe it was just the fact that Blowers was working with someone new (Blowers was also particularly elegant in his commentary when he did a dual-simulcast with the Colorado Rockies announcers back in Spring Training that was broadcast on Root Sports), but to me, it felt like the wave of the future.  Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers should be the full time television announcers of Seattle Mariners games, and they should be given that charge sooner rather than later.

The biggest gripe I have with Dave Sims is the biggest gripe I have with flamboyant NBA referees and hard-ass MLB umpires:  he makes every game all about himself.  It’s The Dave Sims Show! … featuring the Seattle Mariners (and Mike Blowers sometimes).  Good announcers – like good refs and umps – allow you to lose yourself in the action, forgetting they’re even a part of the game.  Bad announcers keep pounding you over the head with their presence, because in their vanity they can’t help but scream out:  I EXIST!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

When Goldsmith and Blowers were at the helm, I was able to lose myself in the games they announced.  With Dave Sims, I can only sit there and long for commercial breaks.  The annoying EQC ads for upcoming has-beens in concert and the non-stop AT&T sleeping baby bullshit.  THAT is better than Dave Sims, which really says it all.

The Last Great Mariners Rebuild

The Seattle Mariners played their first season in 1977.  From 1977 through 1994, the Mariners were varying degrees of terrible.  Sometimes Two times, “terrible” came with a winning record (1991 & 1993), but no post-season appearance.  Then, in 1995, the Mariners broke on through with an AL West title and a legend was made.  People still talk about those 1995 Mariners in a reverential tone and for good reason.  Baseball fans in the northwest starving for the sweet taste of success finally had something to hang their hats on.

From 1995 through 2003, the Mariners were varying degrees of successful.  Those nine seasons saw the Mariners make the playoffs four times, winning three division titles.  Seven of those nine seasons saw the Mariners with winning records.  Two insanely good A’s teams prevented two 93-win Mariners teams from going to the playoffs four straight years from 2000-2003.  These were the good times.  Everything abruptly fell apart in 2004 and the team was blown up.

From 2004 through present day, the Mariners have returned to their varying degrees of terrible.  In the nine full seasons from 2004-2012, the Mariners have had a winning record twice.  They’ve finished last in the AL West seven times.  It’s been one rebuild after another, with no end in sight.  Just a continuation of the cycle of losing, ad infinitum.

Of course, if the Mariners could do it once, SURELY the Mariners can do it again.  It took until their 19th year of existence before the Mariners made the playoffs; if it feels hopeless now, just imagine what it must have felt like for Mariners fans in the early 1990s.  They say something about learning from history or being doomed to repeat it, but what if in this case we take a look at something that went RIGHT for the Mariners in their history and seeing if we can repeat THAT?

As fans, we have to believe that a turnaround is right around the corner.  I know I’m on here quite a bit, bitching about how nothing is ever going to get any better (because why would we think that?  What is trending well enough for us to deserve the luxury of hope?), but if I truly felt that way, why would I continue to follow this team?  I’m not a baseball fan, per se; I’m a Mariners fan.  I don’t sit around watching random baseball games in my spare time; I watch Mariners games.  If the Mariners moved to Oklahoma City, I would stop watching baseball, the same as I have stopped watching professional basketball.  If the Mariners had never existed, I never would have started watching baseball in the first place (you get the idea).  So, since it’s been established that I’m a Mariners fan, it should also be established that yes, I do hope they’re able to turn things around sooner rather than later.  I’m not 100% cynical.  I’m just beaten down and broken, but all that can change if a few things fucking broke right for the Mariners for once!

The one thing Jackie Z has done right in his tenure as general manager is:  he’s re-stocked the farm system with an abundance of talented prospects.  Of course, none of that talent (save Kyle Seager and a couple bullpen arms) has panned out at the Major League level, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

There is no “right way” to rebuild.  It’s a combination of youth and veterans.  It’s a combination of draft picks, trades, and free agent signings.  It’s a combination of luck, strategy, and luck again.  In an ideal world, your Major League roster would be riddled with your own draft picks still playing on rookie deals.  Every trade you made would work out splendidly for you and would tank for your trade partner.  Every free agent signing would be a “buy-low” situation where they immediately turned their careers around.

Or, if you like concrete examples:  every draft pick would be Ken Griffey Jr., every trade would net you Jay Buhner in return, and every free agent would be Bret Boone circa 2000/2001.

So, in an attempt to try and forget the miseries of our present-day situation, I’d like to go back to a simpler time where a team comprised of a mix of youth and veterans shocked the world by winning their very first division title in the most dramatic of fashions.  How was THAT team built?  What can we learn from how that team did what it did?  And how did that team evolve into the greatest regular season team in baseball history?

***

1995 Seattle Mariners

Rebuilds don’t happen overnight.  A lot of these guys were brought into the fold well before everything magically came together in 1995.  I’m not going to get into every single player, but I’ll go over the highlights.

Dan Wilson (catcher) was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 in the first round.  That was the same year Lou Pinella signed on to manage those very same Reds.  That was also the same year the Reds won the World Series and wrote Lou’s ticket as an elite baseball manager for the next couple decades.  Sweet Lou hitched his wagon to the Seattle Mariners in 1993 with the task of turning around the worst franchise in baseball.  Dan Wilson got his first taste of the majors in a September cup of coffee in 1992.  Wilson got some more playing time in 1993, but was then traded along with Bobby Ayala to be reunited with Pinella before the 1994 season.  Wilson played considerably in ’94, earned the starting job in ’95, and never looked back.

Tino Martinez (first base) was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1988 in the first round.  He received his cup of coffee in 1990 and didn’t play a whole lot in the Majors through 1991.  Martinez was mediocre (but played a lot more) from 1992-1994, then finally had his breakout season in 1995 (.293/.369/.551).

Joey Cora (second base) was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1985 in the first round.  Cora didn’t start earning regular playing time until after he’d been traded to the White Sox in 1991.  His numbers weren’t particularly impressive, but he was improving as he played regularly through the 1994 season.  Then, in April of 1995, Cora signed as a free agent with the Mariners.  In spite of what we choose to remember about Little Joey Cora, I think many of us forget just how productive he was as a Mariner.  From 1995 through August of 1998, Cora had a slash line of .293/.355/.406.  He was traded at the August trade deadline in 1998, then abruptly retired to go into coaching after the end of the season.

Mike Blowers (third base) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1984 but did not sign.  He would go on to be drafted three more times before he finally signed with the Montreal Expos in 1986.  He would be traded to the Yankees in August of 1989, then traded to the Mariners in May of 1991.  Blowers originally broke into the Majors with the Yankees in 1989, but he wouldn’t become a starter in the Majors until 1993 with the Mariners.  He would go on to be traded by the Mariners after that historic 1995 season, but would later come back on one-year free agent deals in 1997 and again in 1999 before retiring after that 1999 season.

Ken Griffey Jr. (center field) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 draft.  He would become a starter in the 1989 season and would not look back.  In February of 2000, the Mariners would trade him to the Reds.  They brought him back as a free agent in February of 2009 before he retired in June of 2010.

Jay Buhner (right field) was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of 1984.  In December of that very same year, Buhner was traded to the Yankees.  Buhner got his cup of coffee with the Yankees in September of 1987, played a bit more in 1988, then was traded at that year’s deadline to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps.  Buhner became an everyday player in 1991 and was a core piece of the Mariners’ offense for the next decade.

Edgar Martinez (designated hitter) signed as an amateur free agent with the Seattle Mariners in December of 1982.  He didn’t break into the Majors until 1987 and didn’t become an everyday player until 1990.  He would go on to become the greatest designated hitter in baseball history.

Randy Johnson (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1985 in the second round.  The Big Unit got his cup of coffee in September of 1988, making four starts.  He was traded in May of 1989 to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston.  He became an immediate starter for the Mariners and progressively got better until he broke out in 1993, coming in second in the AL Cy Young race.  Johnson would go on to win that award in 1995, leading the Mariners to their best playoff finish in franchise history.  He would go on to be dealt to the Astros at the 1998 trade deadline and never return.

I’ll spare you Tim Belcher‘s long history for the most part:  he was drafted in 1984 and kicked around with four different teams before he signed with the Reds in May of 1995, where he was promptly traded to the Mariners two weeks later without ever throwing a pitch for the Reds that season.  Belcher made 28 starts for the Mariners that season, going 10-12.  He would not be retained by the Mariners beyond 1995.

Chris Bosio (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 in the second round.  He had a good career with the Brewers over 7 seasons, then signed with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in December of 1992.  In 1993, Bosio pitched the second-ever Mariners no-hitter.  In 1995, Bosio started 31 games and went 10-8.  He hung around to start the 1996 season, struggled mightily, and retired at season’s end.

The Mariners traded for Andy Benes from the San Diego Padres at the July deadline in 1995.  He would go on to make 12 starts down the stretch, going 7-2.  He would sign a free agent deal with St. Louis before the 1996 season and would never be heard from again.

The bullpen was a piece of work, anchored by Bobby Ayala (came over in the Dan Wilson trade in 1993), who appeared in 63 games.  Norm Charlton was originally traded by the Reds to the Mariners prior to the 1993 season, but he would be injured, lose all of the 1994 season to injury, and eventually sign with the Phillies in 1995.  He was released by the Phillies in July of 1995 and signed on with the Mariners four days later.  Jeff Nelson was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1984, but then was drafted by the Mariners from the Dodgers in something called a “minor league draft” in 1986.  He became a regular reliever in 1992 and was consistently productive thereafter.

That, more or less, is the 1995 Mariners.  Obviously, there were lots of bench players and fill-ins (Rich Amaral & Alex Diaz filling in admirably for an injured Junior), and a lot of players who were tried out as starters in the rotation, but the players I listed comprised the core.  Seven guys brought over in trade, three free agents, and four guys who were drafted by the Mariners (well, three guys and Edgar, who was an amateur free agent and played his entire career under the same organization).

1996 Seattle Mariners

With the base already in place, I shouldn’t have to keep re-hashing the core group that remains.  The first big misstep in what would become a long line of soul-crushing missteps by the organization came on December 7, 1995, when the Mariners traded Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees.  In return, they received a starting third baseman in Russ Davis, and a starting pitcher in Sterling Hitchcock.

Davis was the most error-prone third baseman I’ve ever seen.  He was supposed to make up for that with his bat, but in the four years he wore a Mariners uniform, he never surpassed 21 homers in a season, with a Mariners career slash line of .256/.309/.446.  Tino Martinez would go on to have an outstanding career with the Yankees, hitting 175 homers and 180 doubles over the next six seasons.  Jeff Nelson would go on to be a fabulous bullpen presence for the Yankees over the next five seasons, before returning as a free agent to the Mariners prior to the 2001 season.  Sterling Hitchcock, meanwhile, lasted one season with the Mariners (1996) where he sucked.  Then, he was traded to the Padres for Scott Sanders, who also sucked.  Sanders lasted one season with the Mariners (1997) before being traded for two guys who did nothing.  Suffice it to say, the Mariners lost the SHIT out of this trade.

All was not totally lost for this 1996 team, though.  The Mariners signed Paul Sorrento (first base) as a free agent before the season started.  Sorrento was an okay veteran who had played in 7 regular seasons with two different teams before coming to the Kingdome where he would mash the hell out of the ball for the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  We let him go after 1997 and he signed with Tampa Bay where he would finish out his career.

Alex Rodriguez (short stop) was drafted with the #1 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1993.  He got his cup of coffee in 1994, and mostly rode the pine in 1995 before earning the everyday short stop job in 1996.  He would put up MVP-type numbers in this season, yet be denied his rightful honor thanks to the idiots who voted for the MVP award that season (they picked Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers who had a markedly inferior season).  A-Rod would be a Mariners favorite from 1996 through the 2000 season before taking the money and running to the Rangers in 2001.

Rich Amaral (left field) was signed as a free agent before the 1991 season before ever playing a game in the Majors.  Amaral earned a lot of playing time in 1995 after Griffey went down with injury that cost him a majority of the season.  As a reward for doing such a good job, Amaral earned the left field job in 1996.  He would go on to stick around (mostly as a bench player) through the 1998 season before signing as a free agent with the Orioles and ending his career in Baltimore.

So, the ’96 lineup had new additions Sorrento & Davis with holdovers in Amaral, A-Rod, Wilson, Cora, Griffey, Buhner, and Edgar.  Pretty fucking good … until you get to the pitching staff …

Hitchcock became the de facto pitching ace for this team after Randy Johnson went down in May with his back injury.  He would return in August as a reliever and never started a game for the Mariners the rest of the season.

Bob Wolcott was a Mariners draft pick from 1992 in the second round.  He made his first starts in the Majors in 1995 in August and earned himself a playoff roster spot that netted him the start in Game 1 of the ALCS (as the rotation had been spent just trying to get past the Yankees in five games of the ALDS).  From that ALCS victory, Wolcott earned himself a rotation spot in 1996.  He mostly underwhelmed.  He played one more season in Seattle (1997) and was lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft of 1997.

Jamie Moyer was drafted back in 1984 by the Chicago Cubs.  He had played in 10 Major League seasons with five different teams (Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Orioles, Red Sox) before he was traded by the Red Sox to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  Moyer would go on to play 11 years with the Mariners and end up one of the best pitchers in team history.

Terry Mulholland, on the other hand, would NOT go down as one of the best pitchers in team history.  The 1996 Mariners were enjoying unprecedented offensive success, but injuries had throttled their pitching staff.  Mulholland, like Moyer, was a veteran of a million other teams before he was traded to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  He came in and did okay, but it would prove to be a fruitless endeavor as the Mariners – while above .500 – failed to make the playoffs.  Mulholland would never pitch for the Mariners beyond this season.

The primary bullpen addition (with Charlton and Ayala leading the way for the most part) was Michael Jackson.  He was another longtime vet who the Mariners brought in on a 1-year deal prior to the 1996 season.  He had pitched with the Mariners early in the 90s and was a quality arm in the bullpen who locked down the 8th inning and didn’t get nearly enough save opportunities.

1997 Seattle Mariners

The batting lineup was almost exactly the same in 1997.  Rich Amaral even enjoyed his usual 89 games of stellar fill-in duty.  The only major change in this year was the tantalizing tease that was Jose Cruz Jr.  He was drafted by the Mariners with the #3 overall pick in the 1995 draft and was brought up by the Mariners in 1997 to start in left field effective May 31st.  In his 49 games, Cruz had 12 homers and 12 doubles.  Along with Griffey and A-Rod, he was looking like another can’t-miss first round prospect who would go on to have a Hall of Fame type career.

Of course, this Mariners team couldn’t afford to live with their Pie in the Sky dreams of future glory; they had to strike NOW, while the iron was hot!  This was a good baseball team, with another massively impressive offense, and little in the way of pitching (especially bullpen pitching).

So, at the trade deadline, the Mariners made the two trades that will forever be a black mark on this organization.  On the same day, the Mariners sent Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek (two minor leaguers with incredible promise) to the Boston Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Slocumb was immediately inserted into the closer’s role because Norm Charlton had officially hit the wall in his career.  The other trade was one Jose Cruz Jr., who was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.  Both of those two were inserted into the regular bullpen rotation.  Timlin was okay, Spoljaric was a lefty and not that good.  This mishmash of a bullpen, with a surprising resurgence by Bobby Ayala, managed to get the job done enough to get the Mariners into the playoffs, but it was a hefty price to pay that ultimately never did pay off in a World Series Championship as intended.

Lost in the shuffle of the 1997 season was actually one of the better trades in Mariners history.  In October of 1996, the Mariners traded a bunch of scrubs to the Expos for Jeff Fassero.  He fit in quite nicely with our rotation stalwarts of Randy Johnson (back and better than ever from his injury-plagued 1996 season) and Jamie Moyer.  Fassero rounded out our Big Three for the 1997 & 1998 seasons before falling off the cliff in 1999 and being traded away to the Rangers.

The Mariners plugged in some draft picks (Lowe, pre-trade, and Ken Cloude) as well as some veterans (Dennis Martinez, signed as a free agent; and Omar Olivares, who was brought over when the team dealt Scott Sanders to the Tigers) into the back-end of their rotation, but no one really stuck.  For this season or long-term.

1998 Seattle Mariners

The primary addition to the starting lineup was David Segui (first base) who was signed as a free agent.  The team had let Paul Sorrento walk and needed some kind of production.  Segui was a solid, if unspectacular contributor who had a nice year and a half with the Mariners before being traded at the 1999 deadline.

The 1998 Mariners continued their revolving door at left field, with no one of import taking the bull by the horns.

The ’98 Mariners had what amounted to a stable starting rotation, shock of shocks.  After the Big Three, Ken Cloude was granted one of the final two spots.  He was drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round in 1993 and made his first Major League start in 1997.  He would start 30 games in 1998, but his ERA would be over 6 and he would go only 8-10.  Cloude was primarily a bullpen pitcher, with a few spot starts here and there in 1999, then his career would be over.

Grabbing the final rotation spot was veteran Bill Swift.  Swifty was drafted by the Mariners in the first round in 1984, but was traded away in 1991 and bounced around for a while before signing as a free agent in February of 1998.  He would go 11-9 with a 5.85 ERA in 1998 and then he would retire.

The 1998 Mariners were the first team of this era to end the season with a losing record.  I’ll be damned if I know how that’s possible with an offense this stacked, but let’s go ahead and start with Randy Johnson.  This was a contract year for him and he was pretty much blowing it.  He was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA in his 23 starts before the trade deadline.  The Mariners as an organization had balked at the notion of re-signing him to a long-term extension, citing the 1996 season and his back injury as a reason to be cautious.  Tensions grew from there and by the trade deadline, the team knew it wasn’t going to be able to retain him beyond the season.  They felt they had to trade him to get some kind of value back in return.  So, he was dealt to the Astros (where he proceeded to dominate the shit out of the National League with a 10-1 record and a sub-2 ERA) for prospects.

One could also blame the 1998 misfortunes on the bullpen.  They managed only 31 saves as a unit, with Bobby Ayala returning to his absolute nadir (a 1-10 record with a 7.29 ERA and more blown saves – 9 – than regular saves – 8).  Ayala would be traded prior to the 1999 season and we would never have to see his punk-ass again.  Mike Timlin did an admirable job stepping up and doing what he could, but everyone else from Spoljaric to Slocumb to Bob Wells on down all stunk the joint up.  Our five primary bullpen guys went a combined 12-26; take from that what you will.  At least no more major trades were made that could blow up in our faces later.

1999 Seattle Mariners

A bit of a lineup shake-up here, with Joey Cora moving on and being replaced by David Bell (second base) who we received for Cora in a 1998 trade deadline deal with the Indians.  Bell would never wow you with his bat, but he was a solid infield glove man who would go on in subsequent seasons to lock down third base (and give us all a break from Russ Davis’ stone hands).

Of course, in 1999, Davis was still around.  As was Wilson, Segui, A-Rod, Griffey, Buhner, and Martinez.  The left field circus continued with Brian Hunter, who we received in trade from the Tigers for a couple of nobodies.  Hunter stunk at the plate, but stole 44 bases, so whatever.

The real shakedown happened, of course, with the pitching staff.  Freddy Garcia and John Halama, who we received in the Randy Johnson Trade, made their debuts with the organization in 1999.  Garcia, in fact, made his Major League debut with the Mariners.  Garcia was still a little raw as a rookie, but he was rock solid and would quickly go on to be this team’s ace.  Halama was another soft-tossing lefty in the Jamie Moyer mold.  He was okay in 1999 and would go on to be no better than okay going forward.

As I mentioned before, Jeff Fassero fell apart this season and was dealt away.  Gil Meche rounded out the rotation.  He was drafted in the first round in 1996 and immediately made an impression upon his first start that July.  Yes, it was a loss, and yes, his numbers weren’t very good.  But, he showed a live fastball, a wicked curve, and a whole lotta promise.  People were much higher on Meche than they were on Garcia, but either way, this looked like the beginning of a long run of quality starting baseball from our rotation.

The bullpen was re-tooled prior to the 1999 season, with Jose Mesa being signed on as the closer.  He would play two seasons in Seattle and would not be missed when he left.  Jose Paniagua was signed off of waivers in 1998, where he played in 18 games for the Mariners.  He got the bulk of the 8th inning work in 1999 and was a solid, live-arm guy who would never mature into a closer.

These Mariners also suffered through a sub-.500 season, with growing pains in the rotation (Meche, Halama, and Garcia all in their first full seasons) and Fassero completely losing it.  There just wasn’t enough pitching to hold together this team with all its hitting prowess.

2000 Seattle Mariners

While the first great Mariners rebuild came to fruition in the 1995 season, the last great Mariners rebuild reached its apex in 2000 and 2001.

The core players from that 1995 team that remained on the 2000 Mariners were:  Dan Wilson (catcher), Jay Buhner (right field), and Edgar Martinez (designated hitter).  Yes, A-Rod was on that ’95 team, but he was not a regular.  There’s been quite a bit of turnover leading us up to what would be the zenith for this franchise in 2000 and 2001.

John Olerud was a longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to replace David Segui (who replaced Paul Sorrento, who replaced Tino Martinez).  Olerud finished his career as a starter in a Mariners uniform, seeing his release in the middle of the 2004 crater of a season.  Olerud would finish his career as a part-time player with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Mark McLemore was another longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to be a utility player.  He found a home as a second baseman and caught fire as a super utility player in 2001, bouncing around from left field to third base to wherever else they needed him to play to give others days off.  McLemore stuck around through the 2003 season before leaving in free agency to play one final year in Oakland before retiring.

Mike Cameron (center field) was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 1991 draft.  He played in all or parts of four seasons with the White Sox before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1998 for Paul Konerko.  He started for one season with the Reds before Ken Griffey Jr. demanded to be traded to Cincinnati and only Cincinnati after the 1999 season.  In return, the Mariners received Cameron (because they no longer needed a center fielder, thanks to Griffey being there), Brett Tomko, and two other guys.  Or, I guess you could say the Mariners received Cameron and three other guys, but that’s neither here nor there.

Mariners fans were a little salty about the whole Griffey thing, especially coming on the heels of the whole Randy Johnson thing (which, if you believe certain reports, is what caused Griffey to sour on the organization in the first place, since the Mariners were not taking care of the veterans who brought them all this success).  Mike Cameron helped fans get over Griffey by being a wizard in the field and not a total disaster at the plate.  He was actually quite productive in his four years with the Mariners.  Cameron left for greener pastures after the 2003 season, signing as a free agent with the Mets, but he will always be accepted as a Mariner for Life thanks to his efforts in Seattle.

The starting rotation featued a combination of six guys.  Aaron Sele signed as a free agent before the season and won 17 games.  Paul Abbott originally signed as a free agent with the Mariners before the 1997 season.  He was primarily a reliever with some spot-start duties.  In 2000, he was forced into action and produced admirably.  John Halama and Freddy Garcia (again, from the Randy Johnson trade) got their share of starts.  Jamie Moyer, the longest-tenured holdover from that trade in 1996, had an injury-plagued 2000 season.  And Gil Meche started off the season in the rotation before leaving with a dead arm in early July.  He would not pitch again in the Majors until the 2003 season.

Kaz Sasaki signed as a free agent from Japan prior to the season, immediately started closing, and won the Rookie of the Year award.  He was the first of back-to-back Japanese Rookies of the Year the Mariners would sign.  Sasaki played in four seasons, went to 2 All Star Games, saved 129 games (the franchise leader), and totally fell apart in 2003.  He would retire after that season and never played in the Majors again.

Jose Mesa and Jose Paniagua stuck on as middle relievers, but the biggest addition (arguably) was Arthur Rhodes, who signed as a free agent before the season.  In his initial tenure with the Mariners, across four seasons, he appeared in 276 games (never fewer than 66 appearances in a season) and had a 3.07 ERA.  He was the left-handed reliever we’d been looking for since 1995 and aside from a couple of nasty innings in the 2000 and 2001 American League Championship Series’ against the Yankees, he was arguably the best reliever this team has ever seen.

With that kind of turnover, the Mariners found the mysterious answer to the equation of how to make the playoffs.  The core had dwindled from what it was in 1995, but with pieces like Olerud, Cameron, Garcia, Rhodes, Moyer, and Sasaki, they had managed to climb that mountain once again.

2001 Seattle Mariners

In 2001, it would only get better.  116 wins, unheard of in the modern era.  There wasn’t a tremendous amount of turnover, but there were two very big names involved that would change the organization forever.

First, there was A-Rod accepting a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.  He would go on to use steroids and become the most hated former Mariner the world has ever known.  In his place, the team started Carlos Guillen at short stop, who was another gem in what was a surprisingly decent trade for Randy Johnson.  How amazing is it that every piece we got back for Randy in 1998 ended up starting for the Mariners by 2001?  I would argue it’s pretty unheard of.

The other big move was signing Ichiro from Japan and making him our everyday right fielder.  By this point in his career, Jay Buhner was simply a part-time player and he graciously gave way to the incoming Ichiro, who set the world on fire in his rookie season, winning the ROY as well as the MVP award.

A little more under the radar was the Bret Boone signing.  We got him for pennies on the dollar and made him our second baseman.  In return, we got a near-MVP season out of him, and a stud second baseman through 2003 before starting his inevitable decline in 2004 and being traded away in the middle of the 2005 season.

Dan Wilson and Edgar Martinez were the only two holdovers from that 1995 team now, with David Bell continuing to man third base, and Mark McLemore platooning with Bell at third and with Al Martin in left field.  Al Martin was supposed to be our big deadline deal in July of 2000 to help bolster our outfield hitting.  He did no such thing and was a total bust.

Freddy Garcia finally made that next step as the ace of the staff in 2001.  Aaron Sele was still oddly productive (in the win/loss department, if not in the actual pitching department) as was Paul Abbott.  Jamie Moyer won 20 games to lead the team.  Our rotation was rounded out with Halama and Joel Pineiro, who was a 12th round draft pick by the Mariners in 1997.  Pineiro would earn full time starting duty in 2002, but would never pan out as we’d hoped.

The bullpen was almost exactly the same as in 2000, except we replaced the dud that was Jose Mesa with the newly signed Jeff Nelson, who was still awesome.  Norm Charlton even made a comeback and was somehow good again; I’m telling you, these 2001 Mariners could do no wrong!  Until the playoffs, that is.

2002 Seattle Mariners

The 2002 Mariners traded David Bell prior to the season because they had previously traded for the hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo from the Colorado Rockies for Jose Paniagua and others.  The hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo never showed up, though.  Instead, his nothing-hitting twin brother showed up and sucked my will to live.  Cirillo played two mediocre seasons before being dumped on the Padres prior to the 2004 season for batting donuts.

Other than the Cirillo hubbub, the starting lineup was pretty much intact, with McLemore earning the starting left field job.

The rotation took some hits, with Halama and Abbott stinking up the joint, when they managed to stay healthy.  Moyer, Garcia, and Pineiro locked down the top three spots, with James Baldwin – a veteran free agent signing – totally crapping the bed.  The rest of the starts were spread out over a bunch of different pitchers, no one of note worth mentioning.

Sasaki, Rhodes, and Nelson locked down the best three-man late innings bullpen unit in baseball, with Shigetoshi Hasegawa signing in free agency to make a good bullpen even better (picking up the slack from losing Paniagua).

As I said before, this team would win 93 games, but it actually managed to finish THIRD in the AL West, with Oakland winning 103 games and Anaheim winning 99 and taking the Wild Card.  That’s just a crusher any way you slice it; 93 games in most years would be enough to get you there!  Not in 2002.

2003 Seattle Mariners

After the 2002 season, Lou Pinella left for another opportunity, this time in Tampa, where he made his offseason home.  The Mariners signed on Bob Melvin and tried to keep the train a-rollin’ with most of the same crew attached.

Same infield:  Wilson, Olerud, Boone, Guillen, Cirillo.  Cammy and Ichiro were still here, along with Edgar Martinez.  New addition:  Randy Winn (left field) who was traded to us by Tampa.  Winn played two and a half years with the Mariners, and they were quality seasons for him, but ultimately he’s a forgotten man for a couple reasons.  He came on too late, without a playoff appearance to his name.  Also, let’s face it, we were spoiled as Mariners fans.  We’d been blessed with this cavalcade of elite power hitters and Winn was anything but.  He was a nice piece, but ultimately not enough to push us over the edge into the post-season.

2003 came with it the oddity of having the same five pitchers start all the games that season.  Again, we had Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, and Joel Pineiro.  Gil Meche returned from the wilderness of Injuryland to grab one of the final spots, with Ryan Franklin bringing up the rear.  Franklin was drafted by the Mariners in 1992, but didn’t sign until May of 1993.  He had his cup of coffee in 1999, then didn’t return to the Majors until 2001 out of the bullpen.  He had a few starts in 2002 and must have shown enough in Spring Training to win a job in 2003, because there he was.  Franklin was never what I would call “good” …

For as steady as our starting rotation was, the bullpen was a bit of a mess.  Sasaki became way too hittable and lost his closer’s job.  Rhodes was losing a bit on his fastball and his ERA suffered for it.  Nelson was still rock solid, and Hasegawa was dy-no-mite as the eventual closer replacement.  Julio Mateo was a bullpen regular with the Mariners after signing as an amateur free agent back in 1996 as a 19 year old, as was Rafael Soriano (also signed in 1996 as an amateur, though as a 16 year old).

In 2003, the A’s again won the AL West, though they only bested the Mariners by 3 games, winning 96.  The Mariners were 2 measly games back of Boston for the Wild Card, so once again they were all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The 2004 Mariners, I think seeing the writing on the wall, tried to reload by signing Raul Ibanez, Scott Spiezio, and Rich Aurilia, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, and John Olerud all fell apart.  Dan Wilson was getting up there.  And the young pitching core of Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin just weren’t panning out the way we’d all hoped.  The 2004 Mariners bottomed out with 63 wins and it was time to start all over again.

The only piece that would stick long term would be Ichiro, as even Jamie Moyer was traded in the middle of 2006 so he could go to a winner before he retired.  It’s been non-stop rebuilding ever since, and nothing thus far has worked for more than a season before falling apart again.  The 2013 Mariners are well on their way to a fourth place finish with the current regime led by Jackie Z on very thin ice.

What will the next great Mariners rebuild look like?  I haven’t a clue, but I doubt it looks very much like the team we’re watching right now.  Here’s to hoping the mojo returns soon, for the sake of my sanity and yours.

1995 Seattle Mariners: When They Stopped Refusing To Lose

In the first of our 36-plus part series – Seattle Playoff Futility – we’re looking at the 1995 Mariners.  Probably the most successful Seattle team to lose in the playoffs.

You can’t talk about where it all went wrong for those 1995 Mariners until you first talk about where it went so very right.  We all know (or have a vague idea) how it goes:  the Mariners were 13 games behind the California Angels in the AL West after their game on August 2nd (which itself was a game down in California that they lost, 5-4).  The Mariners then proceeded to go 35-20 while the Angels went 22-33 (including two losing streaks of 9 games each) to end up with an identical record, leading to a 1-game playoff.

What people may not remember is that the Mariners actually overtook the Angels on Friday, September 22nd, up 1 game with 8 more games to go.  We had as high as a 3-game lead on the Angels after we beat them on September 26th, but the Angels finished the regular season on a 5-game winning streak (while we went 2-3, including losing our final two games down in Texas to back into that 1-game playoff).

We all know what happened in that in that 145th game of that strike-shortened season; Randy Johnson came back on short rest (on a Monday afternoon in the Kingdome when the city absolutely stopped) and blew those fucking Angels out of the water with a complete game win, 9-1.  Here’s a box score if you want to relive some old memories.

With that, the Seattle Mariners won their first-ever division title and earned their first-ever birth into the Major League Baseball playoffs.

1995 was the first year of the Wild Card.  It was also the first year where they split into three divisions per league.  This wouldn’t have mattered much in the grand scheme of things – the Mariners still would’ve won the Western Division had there been only two divisions – but that great and magical feeling surrounding the Mariners of ’95 might not have been there without us playing the New York Yankees in the first round.

What’s odd about these 1995 playoffs, aside from the fact that it’s the first with a Wild Card, is that the seedings were pre-determined.  The Cleveland Indians were the big swinging dicks of all of baseball with a 100-44 record.  Yet, for some asinine reason, they were considered the 3-seed in the playoffs.  The Boston Red Sox – winners of the AL East – were the 1-seed; the Mariners the 2-seed.  Since the Red Sox & Yankees were in the same division, they where still prohibited from playing one another.  That’s how the Red Sox ended up playing (AND having home field advantage over) the Indians, while the Mariners did so against the Yankees.

Of course, probably the dumbest move of them all:  the team with home field advantage was forced to play its first two games on the road before coming home for the final three in a best of five series (which, I have to believe is a major reason why the Red Sox were sweeped by the Indians 3-0, since they only played the third and final game of the series at home).

The Mariners, let us not forget, almost suffered that very same fate.  We got good and smacked around in that first game, losing 9-6, with David Cone going 8 innings, giving up 4, while Chris Bosio couldn’t even get through 6 innings (and our bullpen completely fell apart).

That second game was an absolute masterpiece.  A back-and-forth affair early, the Mariners were up 1, then tied, then up one going into the bottom of the 6th, then down one, then up one again going into the bottom of the 7th, then tied after that 7th.  Norm Charlton – having blown the save in the bottom of the 7th with a solo home run – went four strong innings in relief and stood to get the win after the Mariners took the lead in the top of the 12th.  Jeff Nelson blew that in the bottom half, and the game ballooned all the way to 15 innings.  Anyone who remembers this series remembers Tim Belcher throwing a hissy-fit on the way to the clubhouse after he gave up the game-losing 2-run home run, leaving the Mariners down 0-2 in the series.

Things were bleak.  But, there would be another game to play two days later in the Kingdome.

We finally got to Randy Johnson’s turn in the rotation (remember, we had to waste him in that 1-game playoff at season’s end) and he showed everyone why he was the best pitcher in baseball in 1995 (according to this link, you’ll see that the Mariners were 27-3 in his starts in 1995, and 52-63 in all other starts in the regular season).  We downed the Yankees pretty handily in that third game, 7-4, to set up the single greatest finish in any ALDS ever.

In Game 4, the Yankees exploded to a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the third.  Chris Bosio was showing us just how finished in his career he really was, as he could only manage to last 2 innings.  Granted, he was going on short rest, but Jesus man!  Luckily, we were facing the Yankees’ fourth starter, so that lead was pretty short-lived.  The Mariners got 4 back in the bottom of the 3rd, tied it up in the bottom of the fifth, and took the lead in the bottom of the 6th (6-5).  The Yankees ended up tying the game at 6 in the top of the 8th, but the Mariners slammed their way to the win in the bottom half (thank you Edgar Martinez, thank you John Wetteland) and ended up taking the game 11-8.

Leaving just The Double Game.  The single greatest Seattle Mariners game ever played.  The game that saved baseball in the city of Seattle.  The game no one whose a Mariners fan will ever forget.

Mariners up 1-0, down 2-1, tied 2-2, down 4-2, tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th, down 5-4 in the top of the 11th, won the game 6-5 in the bottom of the 11th.  It’s all there.  Trials, tribulations, heroics, celebrations, the Yankees losing.  It’s pretty much everything anyone ever looks for in a great playoff game.  AND three innings of relief from the Big Unit to seal the deal.

Meanwhile, this was Sunday, October 8th.  The Indians were finished on Friday, October 6th.  Their starters were resting comfortably, set up like clockwork for the ALCS.  What we had going for us – again, because of the asinine playoff rules back then – was home field advantage, even though we had a worse regular season record.  So, Games 1 and 2 were in the Kingdome.  And SOMEHOW, the Mariners – behind rookie pitcher Bob Wolcott – won game 1 over the Indians’ ace, 3-2.  Wolcott spun 7 innings of 5-walk, 8-hit, 2-run gold, and the rest of the team did the rest.  Mike Blowers hit a 2-run jack, Luis Sojo knocked in the game-winning RBI double, and that was that.  Could it BE?  These Miracle M’s were three more wins from the World Series?  And Randy Johnson hasn’t even pitched yet?

In Game 2, the Mariners had their usual suspect starting performance out of Tim Belcher, and the offense was non-existent (Orel Hershiser shut us down to the tune of 1 earned run over 8 innings with 7 strikeouts), leaving 7 runners on base, going 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position.  We lost 5-2, with three consecutive games in Cleveland to go.

Fortunately, we had our ace going in Game 3.  Randy Johnson went 8 strong, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) in a magnificent performance.  Unfortunately, Charles Nagy did the same damn thing and it took us until the 11th inning to close this one out.  Nevertheless, Jay Buhner hit a 3-run home run in the top of the 11th, and Norm Charlton allowed it to hold up on his third inning of relief for the 5-2 win.  The Mariners were up 2-1 in this series, guaranteed to see the Kingdome once again.

In Game 4, we got 6 hits and were shutout 7-0.  This was the game we really needed to step on their throats, and insted we let them tie the series.

With that momentum, the Indians took Game 5, 3-2.  Once again, Orel Hershiser did his thing, but it’s not like we didn’t have our opportunities.  We had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the 6th, but of course Lou Pinella left Chris Bosio in there too long and we promptly gave up that lead in the bottom half of the inning, on a 2-run home run by a young Jim Thome of all people.  Even then, we had our chances.  In the top of the 7th, with 1 out we had Dan Wilson on third base.  But, both Griffey and Buhner struck out to end the threat.  Luis Sojo promptly lined into a double play to end our threat in the 8th inning.  And in the 9th, we were shut down in order.

A series that had at 2-1 been so promising, was now 3-2 headed back to Seattle for Game 6.  After starting on October 13th, Randy Johnson came back on short rest to start the game on October 17th.  He did his damnedest, getting into the 8th inning, but he wasn’t his usual dominant self, giving up 4 runs, 3 earned.  Meanwhile, an aging Dennis Martinez totally fucked us and we lost with but a whimper 4-0.  In this game, we were an underwhelming 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.  To make matters worse, the middle of our order (Griffey, Edgar, Tino, and Buhner) were a combined 1 for 13 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch.

In fact, in that entire ALCS, the heart of our order was nothing to write home about.  Griffey was 7 for 21 – with 2 doubles and a homer – but thanks to those around him, he could only muster 2 RBI.  Edgar, after being our Jesus Christ in the ALDS, was effectively beaten, bloodied, and crucified in the ALCS, going 2 for 23 with 0 extra base hits.  And Tino was 3 for 22 with 0 extra base hits.  Jay Buhner, while gamely going 7 for 23 with five extra base hits, could unfortunately not do it alone.

As for the pitching side of things – a bugaboo that would haunt the Mariners for the rest of the 1990s – it was no contest.  The Indians held the Mariners to 12 total runs in 6 games (after scoring 35 runs in 5 games against the Yankees), including two shutouts in the final three games.

For as amazing as that Mariners team was – with future Seattle Mariners Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jay Buhner – the Cleveland Indians of 1995 were just plain better, and deserved to be in that World Series.

Still, you can’t help but feel like there is a TON of unfinished business for this 1995 team.  Hell, that was a team they make movies about!  A group of plucky, spunky underdogs who defy all odds by making up 13 games in the final two months, who face and overtake the Big Bad Yankees of the East … who are SUPPOSED to cap off that season by continuing their miracle run right through the World Series.

Instead, the movie portion ends on the night of Sunday, October 8, 1995.  And the ALCS is but a footnote.

Yes, the 1995 Mariners were a happy memory for many Seattle fans.  Yet it somehow overshadows the heartbreak of not actually going all the way.  However, it remains a testament to the Settle For Less attitude of most Seattle fans.  Whereas some of us consider a season like 1995 a failure because, seriously, what did the Mariners win that year?  But, most Seattle fans consider it a success, because they don’t really care if their team ever wins a championship, so long as they tried hard and had a good time.

Major League Baseball doesn’t give trophies for 2nd, 3rd, or 4th place, people!  This isn’t the Special Olympics!  This is just another case of a Seattle team choking in the playoffs when it mattered most.

But, SURELY there will be plenty more playoff chances where that came from … right?

All-Time Mariners Greats, Part I – The Hitters

Did you know there was a Mariners Hall of Fame?  I mean, I know I did, but I just wonder how well-known it is among Mariners fans.  It’s not exactly the Seahawks Ring of Honor or anything.  At least with the Ring of Honor you know you’re getting your number retired; the only number retired on the Mariners is 42 (for a guy who never played an inning in an M’s uniform).  Although, I guarantee that’s a symbolic gesture as the M’s are waiting for Ken Griffey Jr. to become eligible so he can be the first true Mariner to have his number retired (which, if you believe this Wikipedia entry, means we have to wait for Griffey to make the Major League Hall of Fame, which should be sometime in 2015).

Anyway, the Mariners Hall of Fame exists, and it has four members currently:  Alvin Davis, Dave Niehaus, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez.  That is, until this week, when Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson both cracked the prestigious honor.  It makes sense that they would go in together.  Not just because one was a pitcher who so often threw at the other, a catcher, but because apart they are both kind of iffy.  Yeah, everyone knows Dan Wilson belongs in the Mariners Hall of Fame; he was without question the greatest catcher we’ve ever had.  But, it’s not like he was some masher at the plate who tore up the record books.  He had a very pedestrian bat to go along with some crazy-good blocking skills and a decent arm to throw out baserunners.  If it weren’t for stupid Pudge, Dan Wilson would’ve been the guy racking up the Gold Gloves.  Nevertheless, Dan Wilson is a less-than-sexy pick.  People love Dan Wilson, but people don’t love Dan Wilson they way they love Bone or Gar or Junior.  They just lump him in with them, mostly because he was here for so long and he played with those guys.

Randy’s a little different, though.  While he was absolutely dominant from the point where he finally figured it all out (around the 1993 season) through the point where we foolishly traded him because we thought his back would eventually give out (at the 1998 trade deadline), Randy wasn’t exactly a lifelong Mariner.  Plus, he went on to have his most successful seasons after his tenure with Seattle.  To induct Randy by himself would seem like nothing more than a pisspoor gesture to get on his good side before he’s eventually inducted into the REAL Hall of Fame (with the hope being that he’d choose to wear a Mariner hat as he went in).

Together, though, you take two guys who are certainly DESERVING and make it more about the combo than it is about the individuals.  I think that’s smart.  With them, and with Griffey in a few years, we’ll finally have something here.  A nice cadre of players to look back on fondly (instead of just the generic ’95 team or ’01 team, etc.).

Anyway, I got to thinking about this today and it made me wonder:  what would the All-Time Mariner Team look like?  A lot of it is a slam dunk, to be quite honest, but there is still room for debate.

To kick things off, here is your starting nine:

DH – Edgar Martinez
1B – Alvin Davis
2B – Bret Boone
3B – Adrian Beltre
SS – Alex Rodriguez
LF – Ichiro
CF – Ken Griffey Jr.
RF – Jay Buhner
C – Dan Wilson

To be honest with you, the starting nine was easier than I thought it was going to be.  The most obvious choices were Edgar, Davis, Wilson, Griffey, Ichiro, and Buhner.  The only question would be:  who takes over in left, as both Bone & Ichiro are right fielders?  Obviously, I’m not going to be a stickler here and force some undeserving left fielder from the M’s past into my All Time lineup; that would be ridiculous.  There’s one great center fielder and two great right fielders, so that’s my outfield.  Since Ichiro has already endured a position change before in his Major League career (playing centerfield for Mike Hargrove), I tabbed him to take over in left.  Besides, with Bone’s legs, it’s best to just keep him and his rocket arm in right.  For the record, it would be interesting to see who had the better arm – Bone or Ichiro – in their respective primes.

The biggest point of contention would probably be second base.  I’m sure the old-time Mariners fans would say, “Where’s Harold Reynolds?”  I’ll tell you where he is!  Not on my team, that’s where!  Harold Reynolds SUCKED!  Just because you were with the Mariners for practically your entire career doesn’t automatically warrant you making the All Time Best Team.  In Bret Boone’s four highly-productive seasons between 2001 and 2004, he was one of the best – if not THE best – second baseman in the game.  His 2001 season ALONE would get him on my team.  I’m not looking for a long period of mediocrity, I’m looking for the best players who performed like superstars in a Mariners uniform.  Hence, Ka-Boone!

Third base was a struggle only because there haven’t been that many great Mariners third basemen over the years.  Adrian Beltre kinda seems like a cop-out because he was with us so recently … until you look at the dump heap that has manned the hot corner over the years.  Edgar played there, but you’d hardly consider him a fielder.  Jim Presley and Bill Stein were both pretty worthless.  Mike Blowers is only remembered fondly because he was on that ’95 team (he actually wasn’t all that great a player when you look at his career).  Russ Davis put up some solid numbers at the plate, but he was also Mr. Stone Hands in the field (highlighed by his 32 errors in 1998) even though he participated in one of the most memorable Mariners commercials ever, not starring Edgar Martinez.  So, really, that only leaves Adrian Beltre, who history will show was not NEARLY as bad as a lot of fans think he was.  Plus, his defense was second-to-none, so there you go.

A lot of people loathe A-Rod, but there’s just no denying that he was our greatest short stop ever, even if he only played here for five full seasons (and a small portion of two others).  He’s 4th on the M’s all time Home Runs list, 6th for RBI, 9th in doubles, 5th in stolen bases, and number one in OPS among Mariners who have had more than 100 games played.  I could go on and on.  His 1996 season was one of the greatest individual seasons I’ve ever seen (and the fact that he didn’t win the MVP is reason enough to firebomb any baseball writer’s house who didn’t vote for him that year).

Now that the starting nine is settled, here is what my batting lineup would look like:

  1. Ichiro (L)
  2. Boone (R)
  3. Griffey (L)
  4. Edgar (R)
  5. A-Rod (R)
  6. Buhner (R)
  7. Beltre (R)
  8. Davis (L)
  9. Wilson (R)

I like Ichiro in the leadoff spot, obviously, as he’s really the only leadoff hitter in the bunch.  I like Boone hitting second because he was always good at fouling off pitches and getting on base.  Griffey and Edgar get to keep their traditional spots.  That pushes A-Rod to 5th and Bone to 6th.  I’ve got Davis 8th just to break up the monotony of righties in there.

For my team, I’ve got a 5-man bench.  Backup catcher was next-to-impossible to figure out.  In the end, I settled on Kenji Johjima’s bat over some other longstanding, offensively-challenged individuals.  For my reserve outfielder, I went with Mike Cameron, because I figure he had close to Griffey’s range, he could play all three positions, and he could knock a dinger or two when need be.  My backup infielder is Omar Vizquel, because you’ve gotta have a great glove to backup short stop just in case; and no one’s better than Little O.  For my utility player, I went with Mark McLemore, because he could just about play every position on the field, and he was surprisingly effective at the plate.  For my final bench spot, I decided that I needed a left-handed power bat.  You know, in case I wanted to pinch hit for Beltre or Wilson or something late in the game.  This proved to be rather disappointing, because I pretty much just went with the next-highest home run total who wasn’t already on the team.  That turned out to be Raul Ibanez, who I suppose could – besides being a reserve left fielder when Ichiro needs a break NEVER – play a little first base and be an emergency catcher.  Anyway, did you know that Raul is 7th on the Mariners’ all time home runs list?  How sad is that?  Did you know that 7th amounts to 127 home runs?  How sad is THAT?

So, there it is.  There’s my bench:

C – Kenji Johjima
OF – Mike Cameron
INF – Omar Vizquel
Util – Mark McLemore
OF/PH – Raul Ibanez

Tomorrow, I’ll get into the pitchers.  Spoiler alert:  the bullpen is ridiculously difficult to figure out.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 83

I love Ron Fairly, okay? There, I said it. I miss that gruff, repetitive bastard. I miss that gruff, repetitive bastard. Well, for anyone around a radio this weekend, he’s been doing games with Rick Rizzs what with Dave Niehaus being on vacation this week. For the most part, I don’t have a problem with the rotation of guys the Mariners use to announce their games on television and radio. I even understand why they have Niehaus only going 3 innings on TV before doing the rest on radio. What I kinda don’t understand is why Dave Sims was brought in to do the other 6 television innings, when they already had (and still do have) a perfectly capable and likeable guy in Rick Rizzs – who’s been demoted for a few seasons now to being exclusively radio. It’s not that I dislike Dave Sims – or really have much of an opinion at all about Dave Sims – it’s just that Rizzs is the man! And, in lieu of Ron Fairly leaving the team at the end of 2006, we brought in Mike Blowers – another guy I don’t really have much of an opinion about. The best compliment I can give Blowers is that he’s not Tim McCarver – the most annoying man in the history of Men Talking On Television. So, I guess I better refrain from ever complaining about Blowers or Sims or anyone else. No, I’m not worried about Tim McCarver slumming it up following the Mariners around all season. But, you never know who’ll be the NEXT Tim McCarver … ye gods, that’s a frightening thought (I imagine it would sound a lot like Dave Valle)