First of all, let’s get the 105 year old elephant in the room out of the way: the Chicago Cubs originally owned the all-time wins record of 116, doing it in 10 fewer ballgames (their record: 116-36). Of course, in my attempt to diminish their achievement, I’ll say that they were in an 8-team National League, with 5 of those 8 teams having sub-.500 records (including the Boston Beaneaters who were a lowly 49-102).
Since we all know how this 2001 season ends, I’ll also point out to the Cubs defenders out there that they too failed in their ultimate goal; the 1906 Cubs lost in 6 games to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series (back before they had things like “playoffs”; this was just a straight up winner of the AL playing the winner of the NL).
Anyway, while I’m on the subject, I guess I’ll go ahead and get the tragic, steroids-fuelled ending out of the way.
The Seattle Mariners, with their 116 wins, were the Number 1 seed in all of the AL. The Oakland Athletics were the Wild Card winner that year, posting a 102-60 record (as usual for the A’s around this time, they came screaming down the stretch in September; fortunately, the Mariners had too big a lead to collapse like they would in the two seasons to follow). Due to some dumb rule baseball invented, the top seed isn’t allowed to play the Wild Card team if they’re both in the same division. For the record, the only reason this rule exists is because Major League Baseball doesn’t want to waste a first-round series on the Red Sox & Yankees when they could force them into the ALCS by not allowing them to play in the first round; you know it’s true. The potential for two more games is too desirable for their bottom line.
As such, the Mariners played the Central Division winner in the Cleveland Indians, while the Athletics had to go out and play the Yankees. At the time, I was happy. I figured, what with the A’s being such a well-maintained team, it might be best not to face them in the first round. Honestly, I thought we’d lose. As it turned out, we almost did.
Cleveland stole Game 1 in Safeco behind a Bartolo Colon gem, winning 5-0. Jamie Moyer came back in Game 2 to at least bring a 1-1 series back to Cleveland. Of course, with Aaron Sele taking the hill as our 3rd best starter (supposedly), we got absolutely killed in Game 3 by a score of 17-2. But, then the Chief came right back in a rematch of the first game, taking down Colon 6-2 to force a Game 5. Here, Moyer did what he does best: win. Series.
Meanwhile, I can’t believe I’m re-living this all over again … Oakland had a 2-0 series lead over the Yankees, having won BOTH in New York. They went on to lose a 1-0 Game 3, then absolutely fell apart in Game 4, and finally gagging it all away in Game 5. At this point, I was legitimately worried. This had the look of fate. 9/11, New York makes a miraculous comeback, the sporting gods hate Seattle … it was almost too perfect.
Look, the bottom line is this: we just didn’t have the pitching that year. Freddy Garcia was pretty good at the time – as close to a Number 1 starter as we had – but he wasn’t NEARLY on par with some of the other guys these playoff teams were running out there. The three-headed monster down in Oakland; an In-His-Prime Bartolo Colon over in Cleveland; and a supremely awe-inspiring foursome of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, and El Duque. I mean, let’s get serious, you would have to feel confident in ANY of those guys taking the hill in a do-or-die situation (sure, some more than others, but all more than what the Mariners had).
Following The Chief, we had Jamie Moyer: a solid pro who was durable and a winner, but not necessarily a shutdown starter. Then, there was Aaron Sele, a free agent pickup from Texas whose record & ERA were always better than his actual abilities. He had a nasty 12-6 curveball, but that was pretty much his only secondary pitch to a fastball that wasn’t all that fast. After that, you’ve got Paul Abbott (a reliever-turned-starter with a sterling 17-4 record thanks mostly to the fact that he had the most run-support in the league that year).
The 2001 Mariners were all about scoring runs, plain & simple. But, even then, I dunno, it seems like we never had that guy who could get the big hit when it mattered most. Not like the Yankees had. Sure, we hit homers in bunches, but they were from guys not traditionally known to be big home run guys. Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Mike Cameron … all of them have flaws in some way (strike outs, lack of speed, a tendancy to always swing for the fences Ka-Boone, etc.).
Anyway, let’s just get this over with because I’m making myself sick with these playoffs. The one thing I figured we had going in our favor (or, at least, not necessarily AGAINST us) was that the Yankees too had to go five games in their series. So, both teams would have their rotations all screwed up (meaning, as it turned out, we’d only have to see Roger Clemens once).
Of course, I ended up being sorely mistaken in thinking this could be a positive for us, because what it all meant was that Aaron Sele was kicking off the series for us. Already 0-1 in the playoffs (with that 15-run drubbing against the Indians), Sele didn’t have enough in the tank and we lost Game 1 at home. In a closer Game 2, the Mariners still managed to lose, giving up all 3 runs in the second inning. Over in Yankee Stadium, we put the beatdown on El Duque in Game 3, leading to a Game 4 set up with Clemens going against Paul Abbott.
If you want to point to a single game when Paul Abbott endeared himself to all Mariners fans for all of eternity, this was it. He matched the great, roided out Roger Clemens zero for zero through seven innings before giving way to the bullpen. We actually had a 1-0 lead in this one until Arthur Rhodes (the absolute best Mariners failure we’ve ever had to endure) gave up the tying home run to Bernie Williams. Kaz Sasaki ended up blowing it in the ninth, thus sending us spiraling with a 3-1 series deficit.
And, because Aaron Sele sucks dick, we got manhandled in Game 5. Season over.
Granted, we didn’t have the kind of top-flight pitching these other teams had; but it was our hitting – our hitting that gave us 927 regular season runs – that fell apart in these playoffs and especially against these Yankees. In our losses to the Bronx Bombers, we averaged 2 runs per game. That’s just not going to get it done.
But, you know what? In spite of all that negativity to finish the season, these Mariners were still fun as all hell.
The Mariners played 52 series of baseball in 2001. Here’s how it broke down:
- Series Wins: 42
- Series Sweeps: 15
- Series Ties: 4
- Series Losses: 6 (with 1 sweep)
Can you even comprehend only losing 6 series all season? That’s absolutely incredible! Our longest winning streak was 15, our longest losing streak was only 4. FOUR. And that didn’t happen until late in the season, when you could forgive a little lack of focus, what with our massive lead over everyone else in baseball.
Here’s how the months broke down:
- April: 20-5
- May: 20-7
- June: 18-9
- July: 18-9
- August: 20-9
- Sept/Oct: 20-7
Again, simply unbelievable! Four of the six months had 20 wins! As far as regular season dominance is concerned, this Seattle Mariners team is the exact blueprint you’d use. Take a look at the lineup:
- Ichiro (RF)
- Carlos Guillen (SS)
- Bret Boone (2B)
- Edgar Martinez (DH)
- Mike Cameron (CF)
- John Olerud (1B)
- Mark McLemore (LF)
- Dan Wilson (C)
- David Bell (3B)
I mean, there really wasn’t a black hole anywhere to be found (especially when they stopped playing Al Martin). McLemore could play just about every position, to give guys the proper rest they needed. Our bench was a solid collective of veterans (chief among them Stan Javier & Jay Buhner). This was the team you wanted, if you wanted sustained success!
It’s just too bad it had to end the way it did. We can all take solace in the fact that the Yankees would go on to lose the World Series, with the greatest closer of all time biffing it all away to the Diamondbacks … but that’s still a shallow victory. Because destiny was supposed to be on the side of the Mariners!
We were a team on the rise, from that shocking 1995 run, through losing Randy Johnson in trade, through losing Griffey in trade, through losing A-Rod in free agency (and only getting Freddy Garcia & Mike Cameron in return for the whole lot of our former All Stars). We’d paid our dues, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Yankees in the 2000 ALCS, we came back even stronger during the regular season, never having a lapse (except for that Cleveland game in August, blowing a 12-run lead to tie the Major League record), being the epitome of consistent excellence. We even dodged a bullet by missing the A’s and taking those Indians down in 5 games in the playoffs.
But, none of that was enough. Destiny is a funny thing. You always think it’s on your side until it’s ripped away from you. These 2001 Mariners deserved better than to lose in 5 games to the Yankees. These 2001 Mariners should’ve gone down as the single greatest team of all time.
Instead, we have to settle for (one of) the greatest regular season team(s) of all time. Around the rest of the country, that status is meaningless. But, in Seattle, it’s all we’ve got. Therefore, it’s important for us to cherish it. Cherish it until something better comes along.