Is it just me, or is this 2000 team one of the more forgettable Mariners teams? Considering this is only one of FOUR Mariners teams to make the playoffs, I would say that’s a ridiculous statement. But, you have to admit, it’s easily overshadowed by the other three. The 1995 team is, of course, the be-all end-all of baseball teams. The 1997 team still had all that star power (and all of that unresolved promise). And the 2001 team CLEARLY overshadows the 2000 squad because of its 116 regular season wins (and its 4 post-season wins).
The 2000 team actually had better success than the 2001 team; it lost to the Yankees in 6 games while the 2001 Mariners lost in 5. But, for whatever reason, the 2000 Mariners feels like a poorly-written, unfunny sequel to a movie that didn’t need to be made in the first place (and the 2000 team came FIRST!).
For those of you who have trouble remembering the 2000 Mariners, I’ll give you a couple of names that will hopefully jog your memory: Al Martin and Arthur Rhodes (it would be a LONG couple of post-seasons for Mr. Rhodes).
You can’t talk about the 2000 Mariners without first talking about the Oakland A’s. They were a team on the rise, thanks to Billy Beane and his bullshit. In 1998, they were a bottom-feeder in the AL West. In 1999, they leap-frogged the Angels and Mariners to nab a winning record and 2nd place in the AL West. Maybe we should’ve suspected something there; sure, those ’99 A’s missed out on the Wild Card by 7 games, but clearly they were doing something special down there. Those 2000 A’s finally figured it all out; not-so-coincidentally, this was Barry Zito’s first Major League season. And the reign of The Big Three was born.
The 2000 Mariners, much like the 2001 Mariners, were built for the regular season. We had A-Rod & Edgar in their primes, we had a very-productive John Olerud locking down first base, we had Jay Buhner in the downswing of his career, and we had a nice glut of complementary players to round out our roster. On the pitching side of things, I don’t think I can say anything about Aaron Sele, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott, or John Halama that you don’t already know. Those were nice players at the time, but there wasn’t an ace amongst ’em. Freddy Garcia – in his 2nd Major League season after the Randy Johnson trade – could’ve been that guy for us (and, indeed he was in the post-season), but he was still quite young and he ended up missing two months to injury in May & June which had to have set him back some. We also could’ve had Gil Meche – also in his 2nd Major League season, and starting for us out of Spring Training – be that guy for us, but he ended up losing his season to an arm injury at the end of June.
So, there we were. Four months of Freddy Garcia and full seasons out of four soft-tossing righties & lefties. That could easily be made up by a quality bullpen, right?
Well, as chance would have it, there was this 32 year old rookie out of Japan named Kazuhiro Sasaki who – if I’m not mistaken – was Japan’s saves leader at the time of his signing. Boy did HE show up in the nick of time! Because the rest of this ‘pen was an absolute BALLSACK! Of course, it didn’t require much to steal the closer job from Jose Mesa (chickenfucker), but since this was the Mariners, it’s not like we could just cut Joe Table free (not the Mariners: the cheapest winning franchise in Major League Baseball). So, of course Mesa got his 66 appearances. As did Jose Paniagua (who actually wasn’t totally worthless this season), and Arthur Rhodes (who pretty much did what he was supposed to do until the ALCS).
This bullpen was by no means stellar, but they did help us to 91 wins. 91 wins, by the by, was the same number of wins as the Oakland A’s, but apparently they had this crazy tiebreaker known as “Head-to-Head Matchup”. Since the A’s were 9-4 against the Mariners in the regular season, the A’s never had to play their make-up game, and thus were awarded the AL West title (while the Mariners were awarded the Wild Card).
It could’ve been different! The Mariners were leading in the AL West by a season-high 7 games after the game on August 11th. We were 69-47, then proceeded to lose our next 8 games, clinging to a 2-game advantage over the A’s. In fact, during that stretch, we went 3-15 before we sort of levelled off. However, never at any point did we lose our lead in the AL West, which is God damned mind-boggling.
We had a 3-game lead over the A’s going into a 4-game series starting on September 21st. We were 10 games away from clinching! So, of course the A’s won the first three games to pull to a tie, before the Mariners somehow took that fourth game 3-2. The A’s had 7 games remaining (against the Angels & Rangers) and went 6-1. The Mariners had 6 games remaining (against the same teams, in reverse order) and went 4-2.
And THAT, my friends, is how you go from a 3-game lead with 10 games to play, to losing your division by 0.5 games.
The Big, Bad Yankees, meanwhile, had the regular season’s 5th best record (losing 15 of their final 18 regular season games, if you can believe that). But, they won the AL East and you could easily make the case that, while the Mariners were built for the Regular Season, the Yankees were built for the post-season and were just trying anything in their power to make it in. The Chicago White Sox ended up having the BEST record in the American League. One would think, if you were going by record, that the best team would play the worst team in the first round of the playoffs, but MLB has always had this rule about teams in the same division not playing one another. Ergo, the White Sox were forced to play the Mariners and the A’s had to play the Yankees.
You gotta wonder how things would’ve been different. For instance, Orlando Hernandez was fucking Mariner kryptonite (as Freddy Garcia was Yankee kryptonite) in that ALCS. What would’ve happened if we won the AL West, faced the Yankees in the first round, and DIDN’T have to face El Duque twice in the same series? Hell, what would’ve happened had we won the AL West and actually had Home Field Advantage EVER? Maybe some of those David Justice extra-base hits would’ve been long flyball outs.
Of course, it could’ve ended with a similar amount of heartbreak. I don’t think the White Sox were very good in 2000; the A’s would’ve made mincemeat with ’em in a 5-game series. Remember that 9-4 record the A’s were lording over us; I could’ve easily seen them sweeping us away in that ALCS.
Anyway, as I alluded to, the Mariners beat the White Sox pretty handily in the ALDS, 3 games to 0.
The first game was damned exciting, though. Freddy Garcia could seemingly do no right, but he left in that 4th inning with the Mariners only down 4-3. The bullpen put things on lockdown while the Mariner bats finally came alive in the 7th inning. Bone started us off with a walk, followed by a David Bell double (Bone to third). Al Martin promptly came up to pinch hit and was worthless. Mark McLemore, however, walked to load the bases with only one out. Stan Javier – a solid contributer off the bench – ended up striking out looking. But, that just meant White Sox Killer Mike Cameron could come in to save the day!
Actually, he just got a single to tie it (David Bell was thrown out at home, but who could fault him for aggressiveness in such a situation), but that carried us into extra innings where in the 10th, back-to-back homers by Edgar and Olerud gave us a 3-run advantage that would seal the deal.
Game 2 was also in Comiskey as the Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners’d their way to another 3-run victory. This time, Paul Abbott got the best of Mike Sirotka, and the Mariners’ bullpen was again flawless over 3.1 innings. As the game was tied 2-2, Buhner hit a solo homer in the 4th, A-Rod scored Rickey Henderson on a groundout (thanks to Rickey’s walk, his sacrifice to 2nd, and his steal of 3rd … just what we brought him onto this team to do) in the 5th, and Cammy hit an RBI single in the 9th.
With Games 3 & potentially 4 in Safeco, and the Mariners having a 2-0 series lead, things never felt better for Mariners fans. The A’s and Yankees were locked into a grudge match that would surely go all 5 games … what more could you ask for? Ordinarily, this would be the point where the Mariners would lose their final three games to really twist the knife into the hearts of Mariners fans everywhere. But, as chance would have it, NOT THIS TIME!
Game 3 was an absolute BEAUT! That is, if you like low-scoring pitchers’ duels. Aaron Sele vs. James Baldwin. Sele went 7.1 innings of 1-run ball, Baldwin went 6 innings of 1-run ball. Neither were all that impressive, but they managed – for the most part – to keep the offenses off the bases. It was 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th when Olerud led us off with an infield single that was poorly thrown by the pitcher, which allowed Olerud to scamper over to 2nd base. Mr. Henderson promptly pinch-ran as Stan Javier bunted him over to third base with 1 out. David Bell was walked (I want to say intentionally, to set up the double play), which led to Carlos Guillen’s iconic bunt single to score a hard-charging Henderson from third. Game over! M’s win! M’s win!
Granted, it’s not The Double or anything, but don’t forget: this was only the second time in team history where the Mariners won a playoff series. Watching that M’s team jump around the field in triumph still gives me chills to this day.
That was October 6th. The A’s & Yankees did indeed go the full five games, so their series ended on October 8th. It was truly a back-and-forth affair: the A’s took Game 1, handling Roger Clemens; the Yankees took the next two, with El Duque continuing his fucking mastery of all things holding bats; the A’s came back to absolutely CRUSH Roger Clemens in Game 4; but it was not to be as the Yankees thumped the A’s in the final game to take the series.
Where did that leave things? The ALCS started on October 10th. On the one hand: fuck, the Yankees have been playing this whole time while the Mariners have been sitting around tugging at their own wieners for four days. On the other hand: the Mariners were “rested” while the Yankees were “tired”. I tend to not buy that crap, because look at it logistically: both teams have played nearly 170 games that matter (not taking into account a month’s worth of Spring Training games). “Rested” and “Tired” are the most relative terms you’re ever going to see in the realm of sports.
One thing, in theory, the Mariners had going for them is that they had their starters lined up exactly how they wanted them. Garcia, Halama (because Moyer was lost for the rest of the post-season to injury), Sele, and if necessary, Abbott. Meanwhile, the Yankees had to run Denny Neagle out there in Game 1.
Let me just say this about Game 1: Neagle wasn’t terrible! He did give up 2 runs and take the loss, but he still got his team into the 6th inning with a chance to win. Freddy was just that much better, going 6.2 innings of shutout ball. Our bullpen remained on lockdown, and that was the end of that: a 2-0 victory in Game 1.
At this point in our Mariners post-season, our bullpen had thrown 14.0 innings across 4 games. They gave up 0 runs in those four games, all victories. I would like to keep that in mind as we go forward: it LOOKED like not only was this team unstoppable, but that this bullpen was getting hot at the right time.
I would also like to point out that while we were working our magic, Ken Griffey Jr. was sitting at his home in Orlando watching us on television. His Reds ended the season 10 games behind division-winning St. Louis. Also, Randy Johnson was on his ass in his home, as his Arizona Diamondbacks ended their season 12 games behind the San Francisco Giants. We were doing ALL of this with smoke & mirrors & A-Rod & Edgar! This 2000 Mariners team was truly a blessing in disguise.
But, oh how much better they could’ve been.
Remember those two names I told you should jog your memory? Al Martin was a lot of things – a reserve outfielder, a left-handed bat, a worthless pile of crap – but he was NOTHING if he wasn’t our little Scapegoat.
It wasn’t his fault. First of all, it’s not like we gave up some studs to bring him in here (in other words, this wasn’t Woody Woodward in the 1997 season trying to bolster a nothing bullpen). We traded John Mabry (who I hated anyway) and Tom Davey (who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup if you offered me a million dollars) at the Trade Deadline to the Padres to get him. For the Padres, in 93 games, he hit .306 with decent power (13 doubles, 11 homers). Could a guy like that help us out from the left side of the plate in Safeco? Sure, why not? Did he? His numbers with the Mariners:
42 games, .231 average, 2 doubles, 4 homers, 31 strikeouts, .678 OPS.
Those are GREAT numbers, if you’re talking about the 2010 and 2011 Mariners (well, not great, but at least they blend in nicely), but not for the 2000 Mariners who REALLY needed a big bat to pull them through the dog days and into the playoffs.
So, yeah, Al Martin was a scapegoat because he was terrible in a Mariners uniform, but he was also a scapegoat for the organization’s front office shortcomings.
It’s difficult to say who’s more at fault: the owners for not opening up their wallets at the trade deadline to let Gillick trade for someone of quality; or Gillick himself for being so God damned unwilling to trade any of our top-tier prospect talent. I’ll tell you this much: we could’ve gotten a fucking king’s ransom had we traded guys like Gil Meche (before he went down with injury), Joel Pineiro, or Ryan Anderson.
Now, would the 2000 Steven A. Taylor have flipped his shit at the thought of trading our future like that? Abso-fucking-lutely! That’s simply because I saw how our trades back in 1997 were working out so well for other teams! If we didn’t screw the damn pooch back then, maybe we would’ve been more willing in 2000 to trade top prospects for top talent! The Steven A. Taylor with hindsight on his side can clearly see we were a few pieces away from winning it all in both 2000 and 2001. Maybe one of those guys nets us a bonafide Number 1 starter to go along with Garcia. Maybe another one of those guys gets us the kind of bat we needed down the stretch to put us over the top. MAYBE we also get some bullpen relief in the form of a left-hander who won’t implode at the first sight of pinstripes!
Of course, while we’re playing the What If game, what if this team hadn’t been so stingy and had decided to keep Randy Johnson as he was entering the Cy Young bonanza phase of his career with the Diamondbacks? What if by this small gesture, Ken Griffey Jr. wouldn’t have thought so poorly of the organization that he forced his trade to the Reds (because, I’m telling you, don’t believe that crap about him wanting to be closer to his family; he saw this team selling off its best assets – Randy, Tino, Jeff Nelson, etc. – and getting next-to-nothing back in return)? Wouldn’t Randy and Griffey (and Tino and Nelson) have been AMAZING on this 2000 team?
Everyone likes to look back on the 2000 & 2001 teams as the embodiment of “Fuck You” to greedy assholes like Griffey, Randy & A-Rod. But, if this Mariners team had been willing to take care of its stars, maybe these 2000 & 2001 teams would’ve been championship-winning.
But, whatever. You can’t change the past. And, as of October 11, 2000, the Mariners had a 1-0 ALCS lead over the Yankees. And, in Game 2, these same Mariners had a 1-0 lead over those Yankees going into the bottom of the 8th inning. This was 1995 all over again! The Yankees couldn’t break the spell we had over them! A 2-0 series lead going back to Safeco was 6 outs away!
Enter Arthur Rhodes. David Justice leads off with a double. Bernie Williams follows with a game-tying RBI single. It might as well have been two pitches; before we could blink, the game was tied. And it was all downhill from there. Tino Martinez singles, Jorge Posada singles in Williams for the 2-1 lead. Paul O’Neill hits a deep fly to score Tino. 1 out. 3-1 Yankees.
Enter Jose Mesa. Luis Sojo singles, Posada is thrown out trying to steal home. 2 outs, still 3-1 Yankees. Jose Vizcaino then doubled to score Sojo. Then, a passed ball moves Vizcaino over to 3rd before he’s scored by a Chuck Knoblauch single. Derek Jeter jacks a home run to make it 7-1 Yankees before David Justice – who led off the inning – mercifully flew out to center.
Just like that, the demons had been slain. The Yankees – behind 8 strong innings from El Duque (who would’ve been their third or fourth starter had their rotation been set properly) – took back control of the series. Yes, it was still tied 1-1, but you couldn’t help but think that this 8th inning implosion was the straw breaking the camel’s back on our season.
Game 3 was just a crusher. An 8-2 defeat behind Aaron Sele’s Turning Back Into A Pumpkin Act. He went 4 innings, gave up 4 runs (off of 9 hits, two of which were home runs), and our bullpen gave up the other 4 runs as it too found the clock had struck midnight.
Game 4 is where we needed to right the ship. Unfortunately, we ran into the buzzsaw that was Roger Clemens at the height of his alleged steroids prime. He tossed what has stood as one of the very finest post-season performances of any pitcher in Major League Baseball history. 9 innings, 1 hit (thank you Al Martin … ow, my pride), 2 walks, and 15 strikeouts.
I don’t even know what to say. As I sit here right now, I’m impossibly angry and depressed all at the same time, and this was over 11 years ago! Fucking Roger Piece Of Shit Clemens. I’ll never forget how I felt on that night because I still feel that way to this day. This was the same feeling I had back in 1996 when the Sonics lost Game 3 in the Finals to the Bulls to go down 0-3 in the series. You’re SO CLOSE to what you want more than anything else in the world, but there’s this thing called Mount Everest standing there in your way.
The Mariners were down 3-1 in the series, losers of three straight including two at home. The final home game took place the very next day and all I can say is thank Christ for Freddy Garcia (or, more accurately, thank Christ for Denny Neagle). We won that game 5-2 in a very Mariners-type of fashion. Our bullpen returned to fight the good fight, giving up 0 runs over the final 4 innings. And we got some timely hitting out of our best hitters (A-Rod, Edgar & Olerud). Nevertheless, you couldn’t help but feel that doom was right around the corner.
Game 6, two days later, in Yankee Stadium. Once again, we had to face El Duque. THIS time, however, our bats came to play. Unfortunately, this time, so did theirs.
We jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning by A-Rod & Edgar. The lead was extended to 4-0 thanks to a 2-run bomb off the bat of Carlos Guillen in the 4th. Hey HEY! This isn’t so bad! Maybe we WILL see a 7th game! Halama is coasting, our offense is on fire, El Duque is showing his age (what was it, like 50?).
Of course, promptly in the bottom of the 4th, Halama gave them three runs right back before he was relieved by Brett Tomko (he thinks he’s people). This score stood for a while. It was nail-biting time, to be sure, but there was still a chance. 9 outs away from a Game 7.
Bottom of the 7th inning. Jose Paniagua relieves a surprisingly-effective Tomko. He immediately gives up a single, then a sacrifice bunt, then another single. 1 out, runners on the corners, Mariners hanging onto a 4-3 lead. Lou Pinella comes out of the dugout & points towards the bullpen with his left arm.
Enter Arthur Rhodes. Boy, doesn’t THIS sound familiar?
Annnnnnnd: David Justice, 3-run homer. Fuck. A single, double, intentional walk, and 2-RBI single later, he’s replaced by Jose Mesa (is this a re-run? Where’s the TV Guide?!). Joe Table let another run slide across home plate and there you have it. A tailor-made 6-run inning late in the game for the fucking Yankees.
The Mariners managed to make it a little interesting in the top of the 8th with a solo homer by A-Rod, followed by a 2-RBI double by McLemore, but Mariano Rivera was in there, and it was shut-down time. In the top of the 9th, the Mariners had a single by A-Rod to put the tying run at the plate in Edgar Martinez, but this wasn’t 1995 and this wasn’t Jack McDowell on the mound. A 6-3 put-out ended the game in regulation.
A 6-3 put-out ended our season.
We’d come so far, we played so well, but a couple of monster innings punctuated by David Justice facing Arthur Rhodes sealed our fate. That’s all it takes. Sometimes, it’s just that one small factor that dictates your entire season.
The Mariners would come back bigger and beefier than ever the following season, but as both you and I know, the results were ultimately the same. Ending in humiliating defeat, as so many other Seattle playoff seasons have ended.