Which Mariners Player Would You Want From Prior Eras To Be On Today’s Team?

Jay Buhner was on the Brock & Salk show yesterday, and they asked him, “Who on this year’s team would you want for those Mariners teams you were on?” It’s a fun question to debate, but it’s just pure fan service. I mean, it’s not like it could ever happen, so in a sense it’s completely masturbatory.

Far be it for me to turn down such an opportunity!

Jay Buhner said he’d want to play with either J.P. Crawford or Cal Raleigh. That’s hard to argue with. I mean, I absolutely will, because how could you not take a pitcher? Those mid-90’s teams had the very best version of Alex Rodriguez at short stop, which means you’re bumping J.P. to second or third. Which is fine.

I will say that if I were to take one hitter from today’s Mariners and put them on the 90’s squads, no one would be cooler than Cal Raleigh. I like Dan The Man Wilson as much as anyone, but the dude was a black fucking hole in the playoffs. But, you put Cal on that lineup with A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner, Griffey, Blowers, Tino Martinez/Paul Sorrento? With Cal’s penchant for the dramatic late in games and late in seasons? That’s just beyond an insane lineup.

But, it’s silly. Either you take Andres Munoz and swap out Bobby Ayala’s worthless ass, or you take Luis Castillo and pair him with Randy Johnson, to further crush it with the rotation. Don’t sleep on adding another elite starter to the 1995 team. If we have Castillo in there, maybe we don’t have to go 5 games in the ALDS against the Yankees. Maybe we are better able to line up our rotation against the Indians in the ALCS. Can you imagine Castillo in there instead of Tim Belcher or Andy Benes?

That being said, the Mariners were shut out twice in the 1995 ALCS; indeed, in all four losses we scored 2 runs or fewer. So, maybe Cal would’ve been just the ticket.

As for those early 2000’s teams, I don’t think there’s any question: you put Luis Castillo in that rotation with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and Paul Abbott, and you throw Aaron Sele off a fucking cliff. Talk about a guy who was built for the regular season! That guy was a fucking trainwreck in the playoffs! Just fucking murdered us against the Yankees in back to back years; 16 innings across 3 starts, giving up 12 runs. And that’s JUST against the Yankees! For as worthless as Arthur Rhodes was in those series, I’ll take another ace, thank you very much.

But, let’s get back to the title of this post: who would I want from back then to be on today’s team?

Well, as much as I love a great pitching staff, and as tempting as it would be to add Randy Johnson to this group, that’s probably unnecessary, especially when you factor in how challenged this team is offensively.

It’s a clear 3-man race between A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar. I would say Ichiro and Buhner are definitely honorable mentions, but the 2024 Mariners need more pop than Ichiro is capable or willing to provide, and more of a batting average than Buhner could possibly bring to the table.

The knock against Griffey and A-Rod is that they play two of the positions we’re strongest at. That being said, just move J.P. to second or Julio to right and call it a day. Of course, the knock against Edgar is that he plays no position, but I mean come on. Garver fucks off and it’s a complete 180 at DH.

Part of me feels like I’m over-thinking this. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the best baseball players of all time. OF COURSE you take The Kid! I guess I’m a little wary because of his post-season numbers. They’re not great! Then again, none of the three are really all that spectacular. Edgar gets all the credit in the world for what he did against the Yankees in 1995, but his career numbers in three ALCS’s are pretty putrid (.156/.239/.234).

You know what? Fuck it. I want A-Rod here. Jorge Polanco is SO FUCKING BAD. Shit-can him, move J.P. to second. I feel like the upgrade of prime, Mariners-era A-Rod over Polanco is better than the upgrade we’d get with Griffey over take your pick in the outfield. Raley is obviously your third guy, probably platooning with Dylan Moore. So, Griffey over Haniger? Don’t get me wrong, that’s a pretty big leap too.

You know, it really says a lot about how shitty the 2024 Mariners lineup is that there are so many colossal black holes you’d love to swap out for Hall of Famers.

Just give me Ichiro, Griffey, Julio, Seager, A-Rod, J.P., Olerud, Raleigh, Edgar, with a bench full of Buhner, McLemore, Wilson, and Nelson Cruz, and throw them together with today’s pitching staff plus King Felix, Randy Johnson, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Jackson, and let’s go win a World Series!

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

I moved this to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings heading HERE.

Ken Griffey Jr., Hall of Famer

I’ve made no secret about it:  I’m one of those insufferable assholes who originally jumped on the Seattle Mariners’ bandwagon during the closing few weeks of the 1995 season.  I would have been 14 years old at the time, which quite honestly is pretty late in the game, as far as getting into a new sport is concerned.  You normally develop those lifelong attachments to your sports teams in your childhood, in the 8-10 years old range.

Ken Griffey’s grotesquely swollen jaw …

At some point in the mid-to-late 80s (I want to say the 1987 range), I started getting into the Seahawks.  By 1988, I was on a 3 packs a week habit (football cards, Topps).  By 1989 and 1990, it was probably closer to 6 packs (Pro Set).  I joined my dad’s work’s NFL Pick ‘Em pool against all the adults and even won some weeks (at $5 per entry per week, that was a solid chunk of change for a kid under 10 years of age).  I was a football lifer, no doubt about it.

In 1993, I started getting heavily into the NBA and the Sonics.  So, maybe they were my gateway drug into other sports.  Regardless, baseball has always been my third sports love, and that’s probably the way it’s always going to be (even though I mostly ignore the NBA now and will continue to do so until Seattle gets a team again).

I was always aware of the Mariners existing, as a kid.  They were consistently losing, so I didn’t really see the point in paying attention.  I didn’t have a parent or other type of older person I looked up to who were baseball fans.  I come from a family of football fans, period.  Any other sports would have to be pursued on my own.

But, in 1995, the Mariners were surging in the standings, and drawing attention all across the nation.  FINALLY, Seattle had winning baseball, and the sports bandwagoners ate it up.

I was also generally aware of Ken Griffey Jr., but I don’t know if I could say he was a hero of mine or anything.  My first sports idol was Steve Largent.  My second and third were, in some order, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.  By the time I started getting into the Mariners, Griffey was more national icon than simply a local superstar.  And, when I was that age, contrarian that I was in my know-it-all teens, I didn’t want to be some mope who went along with the crowd (even though that’s exactly who I was, jumping on the bandwagon when I did).  I was more of a Randy Johnson man, or a Jay Buhner man.

But, that’s not to say I disliked Griffey.  Indeed, I revered him as much as anyone in sports.  He was truly one of the best baseball players alive, and to have him on the Mariners was some sort of good fortune I just took for granted at the time.  With all the stars on the Sonics, and an all-time legend in Largent on the Seahawks, I just figured every team in every sport had at least one superstar and they always would.

Looking back on it now, I sort of wish I’d been a fan from the very beginning of his career.  It’s hard to appreciate the whole arc of his story, when I started somewhere in the middle.  By the time I was paying attention to Griffey, he was the best player on the planet.  So, all I’ve known of him has been the mythology, and the slow fall from grace.

I had about 4.25 good years as a fan of Ken Griffey Jr. before he forced his way out.  Obviously, there was the 1995 miracle finish that came JUST short of a World Series appearance.  At that point, we figured the sky was the limit for the Seattle Mariners, and there would be many MANY consecutive years of playoff appearances.  In 1996, we were cut down by Randy Johnson’s injury, and a pisspoor bullpen.  In 1997, we made it back to the playoffs, but we sold our soul to do it (the Lowe/Varitek trade & the Cruz trade).  And even then, we lost in the first round.  1998 & 1999 were essentially lost seasons, and the beginning of the end of those Mariners teams (it really started with the Tino Martinez trade, but continued with the Randy Johnson trade, and climaxed with the Griffey trade).

So much of being a Mariners fan is being jerked around by ownership and then hoping for the best.  It’s been that way since the very beginning.  In my formative years as a Mariners fan, it was endless penny-pinching by ownership.  We made all those trades in the mid-to-late 90s, one by one stripping this team of all its quality players and superstars, and yet there really wasn’t a noticeable penalty.  By 2000 and 2001, the Mariners were magically one of the best teams in baseball, and you can look at the guys we got in return from some of those trades (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Mike Cameron) as real building blocks in our rise to prominence.  Those teams didn’t have the flash that the mid-90s teams had, but they were solid, and they got the job done in the regular season.

Yet, you can point to losing Randy Johnson (who would go on to win multiple Cy Young Awards), Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson (who would go on to win multiple World Series titles with the Yankees), Ken Griffey Jr. (who went on to have moderate, injury-plagued success with the Reds), and later Alex Rodriguez (who took the biggest contract offer he could get, which obviously would never come from this Mariners organization), as the reason why this team never achieved any playoff success whatsoever.

If we focused on building around our stars, instead of shipping them off for adequate role players, maybe we wouldn’t have had some of the regular season successes we had in the early 2000’s, but a team with Randy, Tino, Nelson, Griffey, and A-Rod is sure as shit built for post-season glory.  It’s easy to look back on it now and say, “It’s so simple!”  But, at the time, with the Mariners rocking and rolling for the most part, it was understandable to think the good times would only continue.

When news hit of Griffey demanding a trade, I honestly don’t remember how I felt.  Disappointment, mostly.  I don’t think I really understood what was happening or why it was happening.  We were fed the line of Griffey wanting to be closer to home, closer to family, but I don’t think I entirely bought it then, and I still don’t think I entirely buy it now.  This Mariners organization has always been kind of a mess.  The product on the field always should have had better results.  But, the people in charge of personnel kept screwing things up at every possible turn, and the owners didn’t have the fortitude or the mental capacity to reward their very best players with contracts commensurate to their value on the open market.  On the one hand, you can laud the organization for getting SOMETHING in return for some of these players they shipped off; but on the other hand, God dammit!

My disappointment with the Griffey situation soured a bit when it became public knowledge that he ONLY wanted to be traded to the Reds, which severely limited our ability to negotiate the best possible deal.  Then again, knowing this organization’s track record in major trades, it’s highly probable that whoever they would have traded Griffey to would have seen a return on par with the bust of the century.  I think I let that rage subside when the Mariners managed to improve (helped in large part by Mike Cameron being a fan favorite), while the Reds never really did much.  In the end, I would come to feel sorry for Griffey, as it seemed he could never stay on the field for any prolonged stretch.  He had one quality year on par with his Mariners numbers, in his very first season with the Reds.  After 2000, you’ll see large gaps in his playing time due to injury.  By the time he managed to stay healthy for a full year again, it was 2007, his last All Star season.  In 2008, he was traded to the White Sox for their playoff run (losing in the ALDS), only his third appearance in the post-season (the other two, obviously, being with the Mariners).

In 2009, Jackie Z brought Griffey back on as our primary DH.  It was a way to see if he could prolong his career, while at the same time a nice gesture for the fans.  No one really expected much out of him or the team, but the Mariners managed a winning record against all odds, and Griffey himself had a decent campaign (19 homers in 117 games).  It would be the perfect end to a Hall of Fame career … until everyone got cute and tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice.  2010 was a definite black mark for everyone involved.  On the last day of May, Griffey had one hitless pinch hit at-bat in the 9th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Twins in Safeco Field.  This came after sitting on the bench for a full week, which was probably a sign of things to come.  Instead of milking out the last sour drops of his career, Griffey chose to retire on the spot, driving home to Florida and letting the team know via a phone call on the road.

Being a fan of Griffey was never dull, I’ll say that.  As a Mariner, he was the face of Major League Baseball for a decade; that was pretty cool.  He put up some crazy, insane, cartoon numbers as a hitter; he made some crazy, insane, cartoon plays in the outfield.  He was, without question, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen, and probably will ever see.  He has my utmost respect as an athlete, and I’ll always look back fondly on his Mariners career.

One of the great things you can point to with Griffey is that he did it the right way.  Meaning, he didn’t cheat.  He didn’t prolong his career and boost his numbers by ingesting illegal or immoral pharmaceuticals.  Of course, we don’t know that for sure, but I’m not going to sit here and try to make the argument that he might have.  What we know is that his name has never come up in any implications on the topic.  He’s never had the aura of suspicion like Bonds, Clemons, and Sosa.  He’s also never outright admitted it, like McGwire, A-Rod, Palmeiro and the like.  We do know that he saw most of the latter half of his career on the DL, as opposed to someone like Bonds, who not only saw most of the latter half of his career in perfect health, but putting up bonkers numbers he never even approached in the first half of his career.  If Bonds had chosen to stay clean, he most likey wouldn’t have broken the home run record, and he most likely wouldn’t have stayed as healthy as he did.  But, he would have been a Hall of Famer, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer at that.  Instead, he cheated, and he’s likely never getting in.

With Griffey, you can simply give him the ol’ eye test.  Knowing what we know – that he was never implicated, that he never admitted to doing anything illicit, that he found himself on the DL more often than not in the second decade of his career – you can watch him age through the years and put a pretty firm assumption down that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Griffey aged like a baseball player of his calibre SHOULD age.  He didn’t suddenly put on 40 pounds of muscle and start hitting 50-70 homers a year in his late 30s.  He put on however many pounds of fat, and was left to his natural born gifts to push him through to his 23 years in the Major Leagues.  That’s what it means by doing it the “right way”.  That’s why he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and why he received the highest percentage of votes for a first year nominee in the history of the Hall of Fame (all but 3 voters selecting Griffey).  In an era where the cheaters outnumbered the clean, Griffey stayed clean and STILL crushed everything in his path.

I don’t have a particular Griffey-centric moment that stands out above all others, except obviously I do, and it’s of him scoring the go-ahead run from first base against the New York Yankees in the fifth game of the ALDS in 1995.  It’s that, and obviously, it’s that iconic picture of him underneath Bob Wolcott and all the other Mariners mobbing him at home plate.  I don’t totally think it’s fair, though, because they call that moment “The Double” because that’s really Edgar’s moment more than it is Griffey’s or anyone else’s.  If I had to pick a moment that was just Griffey’s, I don’t think I could.  Because my memory has gone to shit, and because – again – I wasn’t a fan until that stretch run in 1995.  I didn’t see him play with his dad and hit back-to-back homers with Ken Griffey Sr.  I didn’t see him blossom into the superstar he would become.  Hell, I didn’t even see him break his hand while making that catch against the wall that kept him out of the majority of the 1995 season!

You know what weirdly stands out?  It’s not even a particular moment, per se.  But, in 1996, the Mariners were playing out a string of meaningless games, with no chance of making the playoffs.  There was a series in Cleveland, and one of the games was rained out (another had to be pushed back to a Day/Night Doubleheader).  In one of the rainout games, Griffey hit a homer, but since it was rained out and never finished (and since it didn’t go past the 5th inning), the game never counted.  The game was never made up, because it wouldn’t have made a difference for either team’s placement in the standings (the Mariners were out of it, and the Indians were so far ahead in their division that it didn’t matter).  So, essentially, the Mariners only played 161 games in 1996.  And, as a result of that game being rained out, taking away one of his home runs, Ken Griffey Jr. finished the season one homer shy of his first 50-homer season.  I remember thinking how much that SUCKED, as reaching that 50-homer plateau was truly meaningful to me back then.  Obviously, Griffey would go on to have back-to-back 56-homer seasons the next two years, but how cool would it have been to see him with three straight 50-homer seasons?

Ehh, maybe less cool, knowing what we know about that era and all the insane homer totals that were inflated by a bunch of cheating tools.  Nevertheless, Ken Griffey Jr. is our shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark period for Major League Baseball.

The Mariners Can’t Stop Trading, Also Won’t Stop

Yeah, so this time it’s Roenis Elias & Carson Smith to the Red Sox for Wade Miley & Jonathan Aro.

From what I understand, the main pieces in this deal are Smith for Miley; the Red Sox needed a dominant, late-inning reliever, and the Mariners needed a mediocre, left-handed innings eater.  That may be oversimplifying things a bit, but not all that much.  I feel like Aro was thrown in to help mitigate the sting of giving away our best reliever; he looks like a guy on the cusp of competing for a Major League roster spot.  And, I feel like Elias was thrown in … because the Red Sox were asking for the moon and the stars and the Mariners decided to oblige?

A lot of Mariners fans hate this deal, so Welcome To Seattle, Jerry Dipoto!  Mariners fans are probably going to hate A LOT of your deals, because as Seattle sports fans, we’ve had a lot of experience getting shafted by inept general managers.  This just sounds like a lot to give up, to get so little in return.

Carson Smith, many believe (I among them) will be a dominant pitching force for years to come.  He’s already great now, just think of how awesome he’ll be with five more years of experience!  This has shades of trading away Jeff Nelson back in December of 1995; he went to the Yankees and won a bunch of championships with Tino Martinez and the gang.  So, that right there is bad enough.  When you throw in Elias – another young guy who should only improve with experience, and who’s already had the better part of two seasons in the Major Leagues as it is – it’s hard to feel, as a Mariners fan, like we haven’t just been bent over and taken to town with a 12-inch strap-on dildo.

For what?  Wade Miley and a prospect?  Wade Miley, the second coming of J.A. Happ’s miserable half-season with the Mariners before he miraged his way through the National League into an insane contract with the Blue Jays this offseason?  What did we do to deserve THIS?

Well, for starters, blame the rest of the fucking league for paying through their asses for some of these pitchers.  I mean, seriously, over $30 million per year for Zack Greinke and David Price?  Get the fuck right out of here!  I know these guys are great pitchers, but no one is WORTH that much!  Enjoy your albatross contracts when they inevitably get injured and start to decline.

Anyway, as a result of that, and with a specific nod to the Dodgers for prying Iwakuma away to the tune of 3 years & $45 million, the Mariners had to do something in this pitching-crazy market.  That something, apparently, was to trade for a lefty starter with mediocre numbers, whose greatest attribute has been his health.  Because if there’s ever a curse that comes with having mediocre players on your baseball team, it’s the curse of everlasting health.

For what it’s worth, I am glad the Mariners didn’t go to a third year with Iwakuma.  I like Kuma as much as the next guy, but he can’t stay healthy to save his life.  It sucks having to count on him, only to see him miss two months every year.  Which brings up the interesting question:  would you rather have four months of a quality, ace-lite starting pitcher, or a full season with a 4th/5th starter who will be great one week, and then can’t get out of the second inning the next?  I’m torn on the subject.

The one variable we have yet to discover is how Miley will be affected by pitching in Safeco.  I know, we went through this same thing with Happ just last year, but if Miley can turn into a Jason Vargas-like pitcher for us, while continuing to eat up innings, this deal might be palatable.

When you look at the big picture, you can see why the Mariners went this way.  We preserve our 11th overall draft pick by not signing a free agent pitcher with a qualifying offer.  We also save some money by not paying those extravagant free agency prices, as Miley is set to earn just under $15 million combined over the next two years (with a $12 million option on the third year, if we’d like to keep him).  In this context, it’s pretty apparent that the team is in no position to increase salary this year.  I’m not necessarily saying this is good or bad, but it appears to be a fact.  Right now, counting just the players under a Major League contract (not counting arbitration guys, or younger guys under team control), we’ve got $102,250,000 tied up in 11 players.  When you pad that out with the rest of the guys on the 40-man, you’re looking at a team that’s RIGHT around its payroll limit.  There might be a moderate increase for a lower-tier first baseman (potential platoon option with Jesus Montero, should he show continued signs of life in Spring Training), but other than that, some flyers on veteran pitchers, and maybe another bullpen arm or two, what you see is what you’re going to get.

As for the rotation itself, as noted above, Miley is a considerable step down in talent from Iwakuma.  That’s going to put some pressure on some other guys to step up.  With Iwakuma in the fold, the Mariners had a natural #2 type pitcher to slot in behind Felix.  Now?  Someone is going to have to step into that role.  Is that pitcher Taijuan Walker?  I sure as shit hope he’s ready to make the leap, because if he’s not ready, we’re looking at a lot of 4/5-type starters in this rotation behind The King.  Karns is young & unproven.  Paxton is also young & unproven, plus he’s an injury waiting to happen and our most likely trade chip.  Montgomery is unproven and another likely trade chip.  Nuno is probably better suited as a bullpen guy/long reliever/spot starter; but, I’m starting to get the feeling that he’ll have a very real opportunity to lock down the 5th starter’s job, especially if Paxton is dealt for a first baseman and/or turns up injured again.

I’m pretty sure I read a quote somewhere from our GM about the Miley trade, saying that he wanted to bring in a proven guy who will take the ball every fifth day, to help compensate for the fact that we’re relying on so many younger guys to fill out our rotation.  I think that was something of a shot at Elias (indirectly, of course), as he, along with our other fringe starters, have been anything but consistent.  But, I’ll tell you what, if those younger guys don’t develop in a hurry, we could be looking at another long season.

As for Elias, it really stinks that he was a throw-in to this deal.  He was an excellent security blanket to be able to stash in AAA in the likely event of injury.  I mean, how often are you able to bring up a guy with significant Major League experience to either spot start for you or flat out slot into your rotation for a few months?  Elias wasn’t the greatest, but I thought he battled out there like a pro.  Give him another year or two, and I think he’ll be a rock-solid starter for years to come.  Maybe not an All Star, but could he really be THAT much worse than Wade Miley?

**UPDATE**

Now hearing about a trade bringing in Adam Lind from the Brewers.  Plays first base, gets on base a lot.  GIVE US A BREAK!!!!

Mariners Tidbit 42: One of the Three Worst Trades in the Jackie Z Era Comes To Town

For your reference, here’s a link to all the worst Seattle sports trades, signings, and draft picks.  For your more specific reference, here’s a list of just the ones about the Mariners.

I split them up by GM, so go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of that second link.  There, you’ll find the Jackie Z Poo-Poo Platter of GM moves.  The most recent three trades listed have thus far defined his tenure as GM (in addition to the Dustin Ackley draft pick, and as we move along, most likely the Danny Hultzen pick as well).

The Cliff Lee Trade, the Doug Fister Trade, and now the Michael Pineda Trade.  Notable for the bullshit we received in return, but defined by the studs we gave away.  The only trades that have been more soul-crushing from an organizational standpoint have been the Erik Bedard Trade (losing out on a killer combo of Adam Jones & Chris Tillman), the Tino Martinez/Jeff Nelson Trade, and the Randy Johnson Trade (because you’ll never convince me it was a smart idea to give up on a future Hall of Famer who’d go on to win many multiple Cy Young Awards).  That’s a sextet of suck if I’ve ever seen it!

Cliff Lee begat Justin Smoak, which turned into nothing.  Doug Fister has only left us Charlie Furbush, lefty specialist out of the bullpen.  And Michael Pineda was turned into Fat Jesus Montero who is now Skinny Jesus Montero who is still learning how to play first base down in Tacoma and is therefore worthless until the Mariners either get something for him, or figure out a way to call him back up and properly use him.  At best, he’s probably only a bench/reserve pinch hitter type.

Meanwhile, Michael Pineda returns tonight to face Felix Hernandez.  Pineda, you may recall, had a shit-ton of injuries just as soon as he was traded away.  We all thought we REALLY worked one over on the smug ol’ Yankees.  Stole their power-hitting catcher prospect, gave them damaged goods; fine by me.  Pineda ended up missing two full seasons – 2012 & 2013 – before returning in 2014 only to get suspended and then injured again, ultimately losing about half of that season as well.  Finally healthy, and pine tar-free, Pineda has racked up some incredibly impressive numbers through the first two months of this year.  A 6-2 record, a sub-4 ERA, a 16 strikeout game (67 total strikeouts against only 5 walks); he’s every bit the stud the Yankees thought they were getting in 2012, it just took him a long while to get there.

There have been a lot of winding roads to this Pineda/Montero Trade, but I think we can officially call it in favor of the Yankees.  And, as such, tonight we get to watch a huge reminder of why the Mariners are a terribly-run and forever-snakebitten organization.

Happy Monday again.

Looking Ahead To YOUR 2014 Seattle Seahawks

This was me last year.  I predicted the Seahawks would go 13-3, take the #1 seed in the NFC, and beat the Broncos in the Super Bowl.  Last year’s NFL season was so easy to predict, I actually managed to correctly guess 2 of the Seahawks’ 3 losses (Indy & at SF, with my lone boner being the Atlanta game).  Of course, when you’re predicting the fortunes of a team this good, it’s hard to be wrong.  Just pick the Seahawks to win every game and you’re bound to be mostly right!

These Seahawks aren’t too different from the 2013 Seahawks.  Off the top of my head (so, forgive me if I forget a few), here are the players no longer on the roster, who had at least a minor impact on last year’s championship squad:

  • Golden Tate (#1 receiver)
  • Michael Robinson (fullback)
  • Paul McQuistan (guard/tackle)
  • Breno Giacomini (starting right tackle)
  • Kellen Davis (3rd tight end)
  • Sidney Rice (receiver)
  • Michael Bowie (guard/tackle depth)
  • Chris Clemons (starting LEO defensive end)
  • Red Bryant (starting 5-tech defensive end)
  • Brandon Browner (starting cornerback)
  • Walter Thurmond (nickel cornerback)
  • Clinton McDonald (backup defensive tackle)
  • Chris Maragos (backup safety)
  • Heath Farwell (IR) (backup linebacker)

On paper, that looks like a lot.  But, it’s pretty easy to spot which players were REALLY important to our success in 2013, and which players were sort of along for the ride.

Golden Tate is obviously the biggest blow.  He was our top receiver and punt returner.  He’s playing for Detroit now and should put up monster numbers while playing alongside Calvin Johnson.  His loss is mitigated somewhat by having a fully healthy Percy Harvin.  If Harvin can play all or the majority of games in 2014, it’s pretty easy to make the argument that our passing game (and offense as a whole) should actually IMPROVE.  Yes, Tate is a good player, but Harvin is on a completely different level of greatness.

Our offensive line depth took some big hits, and that’s going to be a concern.  No doubt about it.  I’d go out on a limb and say losing Paul McQuistan is addition by subtraction, though.  He’s getting up there in age and probably shouldn’t be an everyday starter going forward.  His best position is guard, but he was also our backup left tackle last year when Okung went down.  As a tackle, McQuistan is THE WORST.  So, not having him around to tempt the coaches into starting him when Okung ultimately gets hurt again is probably for the best.

Michael Bowie was always a depth guy last year, who got some serious playing time with all the injuries we suffered.  He was going to contend for the starting right tackle spot this year – and many had penciled him in as the favorite coming into Training Camp.  But, what no one expected was Bowie coming into camp overweight and/or out of shape, as well as injured.  He was ultimately released and the starting right tackle job has been given to rookie 2nd rounder Justin Britt.  In the long run, going with Britt now hopefully will prove to be the smart choice.  But, in the short term, we’re probably going to feel the sting of losing Giacomini.  I really liked him and thought he was solid when healthy.  But, again, you can’t afford to pay everyone, and you’ve got to get younger whenever possible to keep the roster fresh and vibrant (and to be able to afford expensive extensions to your stars).  I think by season’s end, Britt will have made us all forget about Giacomini’s reign of terror.  But, in the early going, it could be rough.

No one is worried about losing Sidney Rice, because he never really impacted this roster to the extent his contract would have dictated.  Jermaine Kearse is more than capable of picking up the slack.  Michael Robinson was on his last legs, plus fullback isn’t an important position.  Ditto the third tight end spot.  So, that rounds out the losses to our offense.

Defensively, our line took a big hit.  Clemons and Bryant were both starters and were both critical to stopping opposing offenses from running the ball.  McDonald was a pleasant surprise, capable of generating good pressure on the quarterback with our second unit.  Being able to interchange our linemen so frequently ultimately helped keep everyone fresh and healthy when it came time to make our playoff run.

In their place, Michael Bennett was extended; he’ll play a bigger role.  Cliff Avril will move into the starting LEO spot.  Kevin Williams was signed as a free agent.  In his prime, Williams was one of the best defensive tackles in the league.  He’s older now, but with reduced snaps – and playing alongside the elite talent we’ve got – he should prove to at least be as effective as McDonald.

Where we’re really going to be tested is in our depth.  Last year, our second-unit defensive line featured Bennett and Avril (it was truly an embarrassment of riches).  This year, they’re starting, and we’ve got to find replacements.  Cassius Marsh is a promising rookie out of the 4th round who can play on the end and on the inside.  But, he’s been dinged up quite a bit in the pre-season, so durability is in question.  Greg Scruggs is back and healthy this year, but he didn’t show a whole helluva lot in the pre-season.  It looks like he can play both outside & inside as well, but I don’t know if he’s any good at either.  O’Brien Schofield was one of the biggest surprises in camp, as he fought off Benson Mayowa for one of the final roster spots.  Schofield was on the team last year, but didn’t get a whole lot of playing time (and didn’t really deserve a whole lot of playing time, considering the talent around him).  He was signed away by the Giants in the offseason, but they ended up backing out of the deal, worried about possible injuries.  So, the Seahawks swooped in and re-signed him to a small number; he could be the steal of the off-season!  I have to imagine he’s the backup LEO behind Avril at this point, with the potential to join our NASCAR defense and play on the same line as Avril, Bennett, and either Marsh or Williams, with Irvin coming from the linebacker spot.

No, we’re not as deep as we were last year, but it could be close enough if Schofield shows up to play.

We have similar depth issues with our secondary as well.  We ultimately lost Browner and Thurmond for long stretches late in the season last year, but we found that Byron Maxwell was more than up to the task of being the starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.  Maxwell is back – on the last year of his deal – so we should be okay there.  But, again, the depth has taken a hit.

With Thurmond gone, Jeremy Lane steps up.  I like Lane and think he has the potential to be as good or better than Thurmond; but, right now Lane is injured, so that’s troubling.  Tharold Simon was a rookie last year and never played thanks to injuries.  He looks to be back and healthy now (though, like Lane, he’s suffering through some nagging something or other at the moment), and he also looks capable of being another in a long line of productive outside cornerbacks.  Where we’re light is in the nickel corner spot, which is why we recently traded for Marcus Burley for a 6th round pick in next year’s draft.  I know pretty much nothing about him, but apparently he had a pretty good camp this year.  And, apparently he’s pretty fast and super athletic.

I’m less inclined to worry about the secondary than the D-Line, because our starters are intact.  And our backup safeties are top-notch, with DeShawn Shead and Jeron Johnson.  Shead, especially, can play both the safety and corner spots, so in a pinch we can totally put Shead in the nickel and be fine.

With our linebackers healthy and peaking at the right time, we should be just fine on defense.  Yes, we lost Farwell – who was our special teams captain – but we picked up Brock Coyle, an undrafted rookie, who could be Farwell 2.0.

***

So, those were the primary changes between 2013 and 2014.  Next, we’ll look at what’s the same.

When I was younger, I would’ve taken the position that:  if you’ve got a championship team, just keep that team together for as long as possible.  Indeed, the 95/96 Supersonics were a championship-calibre team (they just ran into the buzz-saw that was the greatest team of all time, with those Jordan/Pippen/Rodman 72-win Chicago Bulls).  If the 96/97 Sonics wouldn’t have tinkered so much (like signing Jim McIlvaine to a monster contract), they could’ve made serious runs at a title for the next 2-3 years.  Same goes for the 1995 Mariners.  Just keep that team together and make some moderate improvements to the pitching staff.  DON’T trade Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the fucking Yankees and hand them a million championships!

But, there’s one main difference between the NBA/MLB and the NFL:  keeping the team intact for too long will ultimately kill your franchise in football.  The shelf life for good-to-great baskeball and baseball players is WAY longer than it is in football.  In the NFL, if you’re approaching 30, you’re approaching retirement.  The ideal scenario in the NFL is to get young, coach those young players into being stars, and then constantly churn about 20% of your roster every year, where you’re shipping off the older players and infusing with young talent through the draft (or among the undrafted).

Could the Seahawks have retained Golden Tate, Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Breno Giacomini?  Yeah, I think I can envision a scenario where we make it all work for at least one more year.  But, then we wouldn’t have gotten the team-friendly extensions for Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, and Doug Baldwin.  We wouldn’t be in a position to make Russell Wilson one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league next year.  Getting those guys done early (not counting Bennett, who was an unrestricted free agent at the time) is supremely important (as you can see by the subsequent cornerback deals for Patrick Peterson and the like, which were higher than what we ended up giving Sherman).

Yes, there were some losses to the roster.  There will always be losses to the roster.  Teams have to make important decisions each and every year.  Next year, we’re looking at the possibility of not having Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, James Carpenter, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, and Cliff Avril around.  I would anticipate at least a few of those players WILL be here, but that’s life in the NFL.  You never know.

Most importantly to the Seahawks chances in 2014 will be who is still around.  This is still a MONSTER of a lineup:

  • Russell Wilson (QB)
  • Marshawn Lynch (RB)
  • Percy Harvin (WR)
  • Doug Baldwin (WR)
  • Jermaine Kearse (WR)
  • Zach Miller (TE)
  • Luke Willson (TE)
  • Robert Turbin (RB)
  • Christine Michael (RB)

And those are just the skill position players!  Our offensive line is 4/5 intact (and looking MUCH improved at the guard positions, with Carpenter in the “best shape of his life” and with Sweezy having bulked up while still retaining his athleticism).  And, we’ve got a couple rookie receivers who may not make much of an impact this season, but who should prove to be important for many years to come.

Then, on defense, you’re looking at:

  • Michael Bennett (DE/DT)
  • Cliff Avril (DE)
  • Brandon Mebane (NT)
  • Tony McDaniel (DT/DE)
  • Bobby Wagner (MLB)
  • K.J. Wright (OLB)
  • Bruce Irvin (OLB
  • Malcolm Smith (OLB)
  • Richard Sherman (CB)
  • Earl Thomas (FS)
  • Kam Chancellor (SS)
  • Byron Maxwell (CB)

I’d still put that defense up against any other defense in the NFL.  Depth will be an issue, but depth is an issue pretty much everywhere, every year.  This is still a Top 5 defense unless we just get absolutely crushed with injuries.

***

Now, it’s time for my favorite part of any preview post:  predicting the schedule results.

Week 1, vs. Green Bay, 5:30pm (Thursday Game)

I go back and forth on this one.  Like, 85% of me believes this will be a comfortable Seahawks victory.  14% of me believes this will be a nailbiter of a Seahawks victory.  And, that last 1% seems to think that Green Bay can come in here, withstand all the craziness, and pull off a huge upset.

Are you kidding?  A week’s worth of build-up.  The city shutting down large areas of SoDo and Pioneer Square.  A pre-game concert.  THE UNVEILING OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP BANNER!  All of that alone would be enough to have the loudest 12th Man presence in the history of the world, but I expect there to be a hidden edge to this game.  The NFL cursed us with this game being the only home game played at night.  They’d have you believe that’s just the way it shook out, but I’m CONVINCED it’s because we keep crushing our opponents whenever we have a night game at home, and they’re tired of televising blowouts.  With this being our only chance to shine on a national stage (unless we somehow have one of our late-season games flexed), I think the 12th Man is going to take it to another level.  Look for this to be somewhere in the range of 38-17, Seahawks.

Week 2, at San Diego, 1:05pm

The schedule this year will be famous for the difficult first three games and the difficult final five games.  This has “Trap Game” written all over it.  Hangover from our season-opening win, combined with a rematch of the Super Bowl NEXT week back at home.  Considering the Chargers should be plenty good this year, I’m not calling this one a walk-over by any stretch.  In fact, I could see this being pretty high-scoring.  In the end, I think the Seahawks are able to do just enough to pull out a 33-30 victory.

Week 3, vs. Denver, 1:25pm

No chance.  No way, no how we lose this game.  I do think we’re looking at a closer contest, but that’s only because I think the Broncos’ defense has improved enough to warrant it.  Losing Wes Welker to suspension certainly hurts the Broncos.  Indeed, I think they’ll try to lean on their running game like they did in the pre-season.  How our defense responds will be key.  The Seahawks still win, but we’re looking at a 24-20 type game.

Week 4 – BYE

Bullshit.  Complete and utter bullshit.  I would’ve rather had the alternate NFL schedule that put the Seahawks on the road for three straight weeks over having a BYE in September.  For the record, NO team should have a BYE week in September.  They should all be clustered in late October and early November, to make it fair for everyone.  Either that, or break down and give every team two BYE weeks per year, because this shit is ridiculous.

Week 5, at Washington, 5:30pm (Monday Night)

If the NFL didn’t want to televise blowout Seahawks victories, they probably shouldn’t have put this game on the schedule.  Indeed, there appears to be a lot of dogs when it comes to the Monday Night slate this year; don’t know how that worked itself out, but I’d be pissed if I ran ESPN.  The Redskins don’t have a defense that can anywhere REMOTELY hang with our speed.  44-10, Seahawks victory.

Week 6, vs. Dallas, 1:25pm

This game is my wet dream.  A pass-first offense without a bona fide slot receiver and a shaky quarterback who takes too many chances?  If Richard Sherman doesn’t get his hands on at least 8 balls (interceptions, tips, etc.), I’ll be shocked.  35-17 Seahawks (and that’s only because it’s going to be 28-3 at halftime and we end up running out the clock in the second half; we could probably drop 50 on them if we tried for the full game).

Week 7, at St. Louis, 10am

The League did do us one favor with the schedule:  we’ve only got three 10am starts this year.  This is the first one.  No Sam Bradford, no win for the Rams.  Last year, we were lucky to come away from this game with a victory, needing a last-second goalline stop to preserve it.  This year, I’m expecting more of an easier go.  We’re not going to be perfect; they do still have a solid defensive line.  But, 27-13 is in order.

Week 8, at Carolina, 10am

Back to back road games starting at 10am Pacific time.  I’m already on record as saying that I think Carolina is going to struggle mightily this year.  But, this is still a road game on the East Coast, so a victory won’t come easy.  I’m looking at something like 19-9, with a LOT of field goals.  Seahawks improve to 7-0.

Week 9, vs. Oakland, 1:25pm

I like catching Oakland here.  Derek Carr will have had some bumps in the road by now, so his confidence will likely be shaken.  Their veterans on defense will be wearing down and/or injured by this point.  I’m expecting an easy victory, if maybe a sloppy one.  Still, we should take it going way, 27-6.

Week 10, vs. NY Giants, 1:25pm

Give me Eli, give me a nothing defense, and give me no weapons on offense.  Is it possible to shut out a team in back-to-back years?  I think so!  44-0, Seahawks.

Week 11, at Kansas City, 10am

Final morning game.  Kansas City is sure to come back to Earth this year, as their defense is worse and they still did nothing to improve the offense around Jamaal Charles.  Nevertheless, I got a feeling this one will be closer.  I’m looking at a 34-28 victory for the Seahawks.

Week 12, vs. Arizona, 1:05pm

There will be no repeat of last year’s fluke Cardinals victory in Seattle.  The defense is remarkably worse and Carson Palmer is remarkably a year older.  I’m sensing a 33-7 Seahawks victory.

Week 13, at San Francisco, 5:30pm (Thanksgiving)

The Seahawks will be the talk of the nation coming into this game, as their 11-0 record is the best in football.  However, their relatively tame schedule to this point (highlighted by poor seasons out of the teams they’ve played in recent weeks) will give pundits cause for concern:  is this team really as good as their record?

It will be at this point that I will give just about anything to steal a win in Santa Clara.  EVERY YEAR I keep thinking:  this will be the time.  And every year, the 49ers end up finding a way to pull it out.  I can’t remember the last time we won down there, but I’m sure it was the best day of my life.

Unfortunately, this year will be no different (prove me wrong, Seahawks!), as the underwhelming 49ers find a way to pull it out.  I’m thinking 28-24, Seahawks lose to go to 11-1.

Week 14, at Philadelphia, 1:25pm

Many pundits are eyeballing this as a defeat for the Seahawks.  The Eagles were pretty good last year; their offense is and was on point.  Could be looking at another Trap Game, as this one is sandwiched between the two games against the 49ers on our regular season schedule.

I don’t see it, though.  I think the Seahawks’ offense is the story of this game.  I’m looking at something around 44-34, Seahawks win.

Week 15, vs. San Francisco, 1:25pm

And here is the game where we kill the 49ers, like we do every time they come to town.  Nothing fancy, just making Kaepernick our bitch.  31-13, Seahawks.

Week 16, at Arizona, 5:30pm (Sunday Night)

By this point, I’m expecting to see the Cardinals in full give-up mode.  Carson Palmer will be either benched or injured, and their backup will be some lame-ass.  Their defense will still be terrible and the Seahawks will roll, 38-10.

Week 17, vs. St. Louis, 1:25pm

At this point, we’ll be 14-1 and we will have wrapped up home field advantage.  So, it’ll come down to a couple things:  how long will our starters play in this game, and how well will our backups hold the fort?

For the record, I DO think our starters will get at least some play.  My guess is, anywhere from 1 to 2 quarters.  Yes, Seahawks fans will lose their God damn minds (as, again, the Rams have the best defensive line in football, and the last thing we need is for Russell Wilson to take unnecessary hits).  I don’t think we’ll be necessarily all that sharp though.

In the end, the backups come in and they’ll get pushed around a little bit.  The Rams will make a late-game comeback, and the Seahawks will lose.  Something like 24-17.

The Seahawks will be 14-2, and in spite of the final-week defeat, will be on fire as a football team heading into the playoffs.  I think ultimately the schedule will prove to be easier than last year’s, as a lot of the teams we THINK will be good are ultimately not.  I think the 49ers start to decline, even though they’ve got enough talent to still be pretty okay.  In the end, I think the Seahawks are just too good.  They’re too talented, they’re strong at every position group, and they’ll have enough depth to push through and overcome any injuries in their way (except for the quarterback position, of course).

Yes, repeating as world champions is one of the most difficult things to do.  Hell, just winning ONE championship is one of the most difficult things to do!  But, we’re in a once-in-a-lifetime window here where the Seahawks are the best team in football.  Now, it’s time to go out and show the world just how great we truly are.

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.

My Favorite Seattle Sports Year

Editor’s Note:  To read this blog post, click HERE.  It is one of Seattle Sports Hell’s “Featured Articles”.

2000 Seattle Mariners: The Team That Time Forgot

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.

1997 Seattle Mariners: A Wasteland Of Unfulfilled Promise

The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes – Benjamin Disraeli

I don’t know who Benjamin Disraeli is, but I happened upon that quote just now and thought it perfectly encapsulates every halfway decent, contending Mariners team there’s ever been (and I thought it was a just pretentious-enough way to start a post like this).

The Seattle Mariners had some wildly talented teams between 1995 and 2003, but they were never SUCCESSFUL because they never took advantage of the opportunities they created.  The 1997 team is a great example.

You might be able to argue (and I might be willing to believe) that the 1995 Mariners – while sickeningly talented – were too raw and inexperienced to succeed in their first brush with greatness.  But, with this 1997 team, there was just no excuse!

The 1997 Mariners were like the 1995 Mariners on steroids (pun somewhat intended).  This team led the league with 925 runs scored, they broke the Major League record with 264 home runs, AND they seemingly shored up their starting pitching woes by bringing in a couple of veteran starters who were more-than-capable while our veterans in 1995 ultimately weren’t.

Before I get into the pitching, would you LOOK at this offense?

Ken Griffey Jr. – 56 homers, 34 doubles, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 1.028 OPS
Edgar Martinez – 28 homers, 35 doubles, 108 RBI, 104 runs scored, 1.009 OPS
Jay Buhner – 40 homers, 18 doubles, 109 RBI, 104 runs scored, .889 OPS
Alex Rodriguez – 23 homers, 40 doubles, 84 RBI, 100 runs scored, .846 OPS

I mean, it’s just up and down the damn lineup!  Anyone remember Paul Sorrento?  Even HE had 31 homers and 19 doubles!  Not counting left field (which was a wasteland of stop-gaps), 7 of our 8 regular hitters had an OPS over .800 (the lone guy under .800 was Dan Wilson, who in 1997 had himself 15 homes and 31 doubles)!  To put that in perspective, the 2011 Mariners only had one guy (Justin Smoak) who played in over 100 games have an OPS over .700!  Ruminate on THAT and tell me it doesn’t make you sick!  Five guys in 1997 scored over 100 runs each!  Three guys in 2011 scored over 50 runs each!

I could go on and on.  The point is, that 1997 lineup was fucking loaded like you wouldn’t believe.  No major injuries, no major slumps.  Just power, power, power til the cows came home.

On the pitching side, we had a legitimate Big Three going.  Randy Johnson bounced back from his lost 1996 season with a 20-4 record in 30 starts; good for 2nd in the Cy Young to Roger Clemons in spite of these numbers:  2.28 ERA, 213 innings pitched, 291 strikeouts, (12.3 K/9IP).  The team was 22-8 in his starts.  In those 6 no-decisions, 5 of them were Quality Starts that either got blown by the bullpen, or were shot by late-blossoming offense.  Either way, that’s pretty amazing (to look at Roger Clemons’ roided-out numbers from that year is an easy way to burst a blood vessel in my brain, so I’m not even going to go there).

Backing up The Big Unit, we had Jamie Moyer in his first full season as a Mariner (we traded for him at the deadline in 1996 for Darren Bragg – who? – exactly).  Moyer only went out and posted a 17-5 record with a 3.86 ERA.  No big deal.  And, as a legitimate third starter, we had Jeff Fassero, who we acquired from Montreal before the season for a big ol’ bag of nothing (admittedly, one of our more successful trades, until he fell apart in the 1999 season and we had to unload him).  Fassero ended up 16-9 with a 3.61 ERA.

Between our Big Three, they were 53-18.  The rest of the Mariners’ pitchers that year gave us a 37-54.  And boy did they earn every one of those 54 losses!

The 1997 season will always be remembered for one thing:  The Trade Deadline.  Specifically:  Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric, and Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Not only were these trades two of the least popular (losing Cruz Jr. at the time, and losing Lowe & Varitek retroactively when we realized how great they’d become) and least successful, but you could argue that they didn’t make one lick of difference down the stretch.  All three were pretty pisspoor; and say what you will about Slocumb’s 10 saves in those final two months, I’ll remind you that he managed four losses in his short stint with us.

But, that goes to show you the absolute wreckage we were throwing out there late in games.  Norm Charlton was 3-8 with a 7+ ERA and was pretty much done for his career (and HE appeared in 71 games that season!).  Bobby Ayala was surprisingly effective with a sub-4 ERA, but he was a timebomb waiting to happen (and not in a good way).  We were throwing guys out there like Edwin Hurtado, Scott Sanders, Bob Wells, and Greg McCarthy … each limp dick worse than the last.  I’m telling you, I would’ve sold my SOUL for a repeat of our 1995 bullpen performance.  Saying nothing of what we would eventually accumulate at the turn of the century.

But, like I said, it didn’t really matter, because by the end of the season we were the best team in the AL West.  With THAT offense?  Oh yeah, you could’ve thrown six Steven A. Taylors out there and that team would’ve won 90 games.  I would lament the fact that we didn’t have shit at the back-end of our rotation, trying out guys like Bob Wolcott (until he was finally shut down come August for being totally worthless), Omar Olivares (in another deal that totally and completely backfired for this team), and Scott Sanders (who we got from San Diego for Sterling Hitchcock – who we got with Russ Davis for Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson … think that 1997 team could’ve used Jeff Nelson?).  But, the truth of the matter is, the back end of our rotation isn’t why the 1997 Mariners ended up failing.  It never got to that point.

Even though the Mariners had the 2nd best record among the division winners, we got stuck playing the Number 1 seed Baltimore Orioles.  The Yankees, as it turned out, were 2 games worse than the Orioles, but they were the Wild Card and SHOULD have been the 4th seed.  The Cleveland Indians were the other division winner, but they had the worst record of them all, and by all rights should’ve been playing the Orioles, but that’s neither here nor there.  Leave it to Major League baseball to have a stupid rule that predetermines the playoff seeding (1997 would be the final year they did this, because DUH).

The Mariners won the division by beating the California Anaheim Angels on September 23rd, at a game – as chance would have it – that I attended.  I still have the scorecard and everything.  When Heathcliff Slocumb notched that final out, the Kingdome erupted like I’ve never heard it before.  The Mariners, after a year in the wilderness, were going BACK to the playoffs.  The Orioles, on the other hand, didn’t win their division until the 161st game of the season.  I don’t know if it made a lick of difference, but at least THIS time the Mariners would be able to set up their rotation so Randy Johnson would go twice in a five-game series (as opposed to 1995 where he started Game 3 and had to come in during Game 5 in an emergency relief situation).

The first game would be critical.  It was at home (the first two being at home before a theoretical three on the road), and our best guy was taking the mound.  So, of course the Mariners went up against the buzzsaw that was Mike Mussina.  He went seven strong innings, striking out 9 and giving up only 2 harmless runs.  The Big Unit, meanwhile, was very un-Unit like.  He got smacked around to the tune of 5 innings, 5 runs, 4 walks, and only 3 strikeouts.  The Orioles scored 8 runs in the 5th and 6th innings, with Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric taking the brunt of the punishment in the latter of the two innings.

The Mariners offense didn’t show up whatsoever.  7 total hits – 3 of them solo home runs – spread out over 5 innings.  Griffey was 0 for 4, Edgar was 1 for 4 … it was just a bad all-around effort as the Mariners lost 9-3.

With that turd behind us, Game 2 was now a Must Win.  Jamie Moyer had been solid all season, Scott Erickson was nothing to write home about.  So what happened?  Of COURSE the Mariners lost, again 9-3!  Moyer couldn’t even get through five innings, giving up 3 runs, and Bobby Ayala showed everyone why he was the most hated man in Seattle sports by getting drilled for the other 6 runs (in 1.1 innings).

And, once again, the Mariners’ offense was shut down.  9 hits, 7 left on base, 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position … just a BRUTAL stretch of games for the team with THE best offense in all of baseball.  AT HOME!

Which makes it a God damned miracle that the Mariners won game 3 at all.  At the time, I figured we were destined for a sweep.  I thought, of the three, Jeff Fassero was the LEAST likely to pull a game out.  But, he turned in quite the gutty performance:  136 pitches over 8 innings (because, seriously, would YOU trust that bullpen over a guy throwing that many pitches?), 1 earned run, 4 walks, but only 3 hits.  He kept them off-balance all game.  In fact, Lou left Fassero in there to start the 9th, but he walked a guy, which led to Heathcliff Slocumb coming in to make things interesting.

Fortunately for the M’s, they scored 2 in the top half of the 9th (thanks to back-to-back solo homers by Buhner and the red-hot Paul Sorrento) to pad their lead to 4-0.  So, when the Orioles bashed Slocumb around for two runs (one of them belonging to Fassero), it wasn’t a big deal.

FINALLY, the bats came out.  Granted, the Mariners only scored the 4 runs in their 4-2 victory, but they knocked Jimmy Key around for 8 hits in 4.2 innings.  We could’ve had a lot more (again, we were poor with runners in scoring position, only 1 for 7), but I wasn’t about to complain.  A win is a win, and THAT win meant that we’d see Randy Johnson again.

Mariners fans had opportunity to hope.  Yeah, we were down 2-1 in the series, with two more to be played in Baltimore.  But, we had The Big Unit on the hill again; you had to figure he’d bounce back from that poor effort in Game 1.  AND, you had to figure this offense was primed for a huge game.  We’d only scored 10 runs in the first three games; who’s to say we couldn’t score 10 in that fourth game alone?

Who’s to say?  I believe Mike Mussina was to say.  Once again, he shut us the fuck down, going 7 innings and giving up only 1 run.  Randy went the complete game in defeat, but it was to no avail as the Mariners lost 3-1.

This game was a clunker any way you slice it.  The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Mariners got one back on a solo Edgar Martinez home run, the Orioles added another run in the 6th, and that was that.  The Mariners didn’t even get a hit after that 2nd inning!  That’s how bad this potent offense was in this deciding game!  The Orioles combined to give up 2 hits and 4 walks!

You get a big ol’ gold star if you knew that Rob Ducey was the other Mariner with a hit in that ballgame.

The Mariners as a team batted .218 with 11 runs scored and only 11 extra base hits.  This is a team that batted .280 in the regular season with 597 extra base hits (an average of over three and a half per game).

You kinda knew that the pitching would be suspect.  I don’t think anyone saw Randy Johnson’s Game 1 coming, but you figured with that bullpen, runs would NEED to be scored.  And when they didn’t come, this team had no answers.

I hate thinking about the What If’s, but I’ll be damned if they’re not there.  What If we played the Yankees instead of the Orioles?  Some teams are just a BAD matchup for you, and the Orioles were that for us.  The Yankees’ pitching wasn’t NEARLY as good as Baltimore’s that year.  Plus, with that 1995 meltdown still dogging them, you had to wonder if maybe the Mariners were a bad matchup for THEM.  Granted, had we beaten the Yankees, we would’ve ran headfirst into another great Indians team, but at least we could’ve scored some fucking runs on them!

The ultimate What If simply lies in the fact that the Mariners had such tremendous talent on that team.  How do you have that many superstars (A-Rod, Griffey, Randy, Edgar) and lose in the first round in four games?  How is that POSSIBLE?  Three guaranteed Hall of Famers and another borderline!  These mid-90s teams were like the 1920s Yankees for Seattle fans!  Every major player on that team will always be remembered fondly.  Every major player either has been or will be publicly celebrated as a hero.  And we sunk faster than a block of cement being hurled into a lake.

That 1997 team was it.  The ’98 Mariners – while still highly talented on offense – ended up third in the AL West.  That was the same year they traded a disgruntled Randy Johnson because we wouldn’t give him the contract extension he so richly deserved.  The ’99 Mariners were again insanely good on offense, but Jeff Fassero fell apart, John Halama was worthless, and some of the other young starters never matured into anything you could use on a Major League diamond.  After that, they traded Griffey, Buhner was just about done, and they had officially built the team around a guy in A-Rod who would leave for Texas in another year.

1997 was the end of an era for this Mariners team.  Granted, they would make it back to the playoffs in 2000, but they were hardly the same team.  1997 will always be remembered as a damn waste, and nothing more.  A damn waste of raw, unrivalled ability, the likes of which we will never see on this team ever again.