Dec. 31, 2017
Greatest Teams Never to Win a World Series in the Past 30 Years-01 Mariners
It isn't often a team isn't on here that wasn't really expected to be here.
Until 1995 the Seattle Mariners had been one of baseball's futile/snakebit franchises. Even with Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson, they never seemed to contend out in the AL West. And then 1995 happened. With the addition of Alex Rodriguez and the veterans of Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and others, the Mariners led an improbable comeback on the California Angels and won the AL West in a 1-game playoff. The comeback continued when the Mariners came down from 2-0 against the Yankees to win the ALDS in dramatic fashion. The Mariners would ultimately bow out to the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in 6 that year. But hope was high in Seattle and the Mariners were saved from relocation as they got the baseball stadium they desperately needed from the somewhat hazardous Kingdome. With Johnson, Griffey, and A-Rod, Seattle was going to be a heavy favorite for the World Series for the foreseeable future.
Well.............................it didn't turn out that way.
Seattle failed to repeat as division champs in 1996. They lost to the Orioles in 4 in 1997 and the bottom fell out a bit in 1998 to the point of having to trade Randy Johnson to Houston (jeez, it seems like I am naming all my great teams never to win already). In 1999 the Kingdome closed and Safeco Field opened. A great park, but it was somewhat of the polar opposite of the Kingdome in terms of what it was for hitters. It was more of a pitcher's haven, which didn't make Mariners star Ken Griffey too thrilled with the place. Adding on he was getting tired of losing in Seattle, he wanted out. The Mariners gave in to his demand and traded their superstar outfielder to Cincinnati for a package headed by Mike Cameron and Brett Tomko. It left Alex Rodriguez as the last of the big three stars.
Seattle won the AL Wild Card in 2000, fending off their ALCS rival Cleveland for the spot and then sweeping the current AL division champion White Sox before the world championship-bound Yankees brought the Mariners down in 6 games. After the season, the Mariners would lose their last of the big 3 pieces in A-Rod to Texas in a massively large 10-year, $252 million contract.
Yep. Done. Finished.
Just one thing, however. The Mariners signed 2B Bret Boone to a contract. It was obviously under the radar as Boone had struggled in the last few seasons in Atlanta and San Diego. But they added a piece coming over from Japan named Ichiro Suzuki. The hype was high for the import. He could hit, run, field, and do all the things necessary to win. Would he replace A-Rod and Griffey all at once? No, but he added a brand new dimension to Seattle and one going forward that would actually help gel the Mariners together. And the Mariners had a lineup that was filled with quality veterans such as hitting gurus Martinez and John Olerud while having Mike Cameron being a more than adequate replacement for Griffey.
Adding on, the Mariners had started to get development from the players acquired in the Randy Johnson trade 3 years prior in Carlos Guillen and Freddy Garcia. With A-Rod gone, Guillen became the everyday shortstop, and Garcia developed into a strong starter for the Mariners the year after he was acquired. Adding on, the Mariners had two veteran presences of Aaron Sele and Jamie Moyer to really give depth to a good rotation while the Mariners had a steady closer and also another Japanese import Kazuhiro Sasaki to close out games and veteran presences of Norm Charlton, Arthur Rhodes, and Jeff Nelson. Seattle, despite the losses, still looked to contend in the 2001 season with the likes of the A's with Hudson/Mulder/Zito and the crew of Giambi/Tejada/Chavez.
But nobody expected what the Mariners actually did.
Seattle went ablaze, going 20-5 in April, bludgeoning everyone and everything they saw. They went 5-1 against their chief divisional rival Oakland. They went 4-2 against A-Rod's new team Texas. They swept the Yankees and took 2 of 3 against their ALDS opponent White Sox in the first month. It just got crazier after that. The Mariners went 20-7 in May giving them a 40-12 record and a 14 game lead on the Athletics. The Mariners won 8-straight in the middle of May and then won 15 straight later on to have a 47-13 record by mid-June. The divisional title was a formality. The Mariners were now looking to outpace the 1998 New York Yankees for most regular season wins in MLB history. By the All-Star Break, Seattle was 63-24 and 19 ahead of Oakland. Nothing could stop the Mariners as everything clicked. Seattle continued their trend of dominance the rest of the way going 53-22 (but a small slip near the end of the season which included a 3-game sweep given to them by the A's), but the Mariners rolled to the best record in baseball history.
WHAT MADE THEM SO GOOD? Seattle had a very round lineup. It was led by Ichiro. He was a hit machine. He tallied 242 hits, hit .350, and stole 56 bases. He won the Gold Glove and took home the AL MVP for the season, as well as the Rookie of the Year (say what you want about the age bit and how he played in Japanese League Baseball....). Edgar Martinez did his damage despite Ichiro getting all the headlines, hitting .306 with 23 HR and a OPS of .966 (people forgot how good he was). Mike Cameron tallied 25 HR's and 110 RBI while stealing 34 bases, thus giving a very balanced player in the outfield. But it was the meteoric rise of Boone, who hit .331, had 37 HR, and 141 RBI as many penned him as Seattle's MVP. The rotation was decent.
The pitching was decent if nothing else. Freddy Garcia was becoming a star as he went 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA (actually the lowest in the AL that year) and was the bulldog, leading the AL in IP. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting. Sele went 15-5 with a 3.60 ERA while Jamie Moyer pitched great, winning 20 and having a 3.42 ERA. The bullpen was also lights out Kaz Sasaki was lights out, saving 45 games and having a 0.88 WHIP while the veterans of Rhodes, Charlton, and Nelson were nearly unhittable (3.02 ERA and under among the 3, 1.13 WHIP and under; Rhodes had an ERA under 2 and a WHIP under 1). It was nearly game-over when those guys call came in.
When the ALDS started, the Mariners drew the team that took them out of their dream season in 1995: the Cleveland Indians. This time, the roles were reversed. This wasn't the same dominant Indians team with Belle, Manny, Baerga, and Thome. Yes, Thome was there, but Belle was replaced by Juan Gonzalez, Travis Fryman, and Ellis Burks. Yes, while Gonzalez had a good rebound year in Cleveland from his time in Detroit, he wasn't as productive as Belle. Burks, like Gonzalez, hit well, but not Manny. And Fryman had fizzled out. It seemed like it was an open & shut case. The Mariners were the better team by far.
Except one thing: Cleveland in 2 of their first 3 games of the ALDS spanked the Mariners. Bartolo Colon went 8 IP and struck out 10 while the Tribe tagged Garcia for 4 runs in a 5-0 shut-out. After Seattle won to even things up in Game 2, Cleveland DESTROYED the Mariners in Game 3 back in Cleveland 17-2 as CC Sabathia pitched 6 solid innings. The Tribe thumped Seattle pitcher Paul Abbott for 9 runs and Jose Paniagua for 5 runs.
In Game 4, the Mariners took 7 innings to figure out Colon, who entered the 7th holding a 1-run lead. And the Seattle bats took over, scoring 3 in the 7th, one more in the 8th and 2 runs in the 9th from an Edgar Martinez blast. In the finale, Mark McLemore hit a 2-run single that would ultimately decide the game for the Mariners as Moyer outdueled Chuck Finley.
The Mariners would play the Yankees in the 2000 ALCS rematch, taking down the Mariners in the first 2 games in Seattle in pitcher's duels (4-2, 3-2) before having the Mariners crack open the Yankees in Game 3 14-3. In Game 4, another duel took place between the Yankees Roger Clemens and the Mariners Paul Abbott. However, both gave way after the 5th as it was a battle of bullpens. Boone homered in the 8th to break the scoreless tie but the Yankees answered back with a Bernie Williams blast off of Arthur Rhodes in the 8th. Then Alfonso Soriano clubbed the walk-off 2-run HR off of Sasaki to end Game 4. And in Game 5, the Yankees ran a possibly mentally beaten Seattle out of the Bronx once and for all by a score of 12-3, thus ending a disappointing end to an amazing season.
WHAT WENT WRONG? I mentioned in my 95 Indians post that Seattle wore the Tribe out despite going to only 6 games which may have factored into their loss to the Braves. And I mentioned the roles were bit reversed with Seattle being the high and mighty favorite to Cleveland's underdog role in 2001. And honestly, I think the same thing happened to the 01 Mariners as the 95 Indians.......they got worn out in a Series before. The Indians wore out the Mariners to the point they looked drained against the Yankees in the ALCS. At least the Mariners bats were. Seattle hit a combined .211 in the ALCS, down from the .288 they hit as a team in the regular season. In the Cleveland series, the Mariners hit a mediocre .247 in that one. And the Mariners big bats did not come through. In the Cleveland series Boone hit .095, Cameron hit .222, and Olerud hit .176. The lone two Mariners that showed up were Edgar Martinez and Ichiro. 3rd basemen David Bell also showed up in the series. But in the ALCS, Ichiro and Edgar tailed off badly while Cameron and Olerud continued to struggle. Boone had a far better series in the ALCS, but when only one shows up it's hard to win a series and to the Yankees.
One thing I am also reminded was of a regular season tilt between the Mariners and Indians in August on Sunday Night Baseball. Seattle had won 8 of 9 and won the first two games in Cleveland. The Mariners scored 4 in the 2nd and 8 in the 3rd to take a 12-0 lead after and 14-2 after 5. However, the Tribe scored 3 in the 7th, 4 in the 8th. and 5 in the 9th to tie it at 14. The Tribe won in 11. While it didn't faze Seattle too much (they beat Cleveland the next day and won 7 of 9 after), it gave the sense that the Tribe would not be scared of the Mariners if they saw each other in October. And it showed in October.
AFTERMATH: Seattle has the longest playoff drought of any baseball team right now (16 seasons). Yes, it hasn't been an epic drought similar to what the Pirates or Orioles have had. They have fielded decent teams and teams who had winning seasons, but it was an opportunity missed. The A's embarked on a 20-game win streak the next year and the Angels came out of nowhere to win 99 (Aaron Sele left the Mariners for the Angels) while Seattle finished with a solid 93 wins, but not a Wild Card berth. The same record happened in 03 but with Boston taking the Wild Card away from the Mariners. After 03, the Mariners fell out of contention losing 99 in 04 and then 93 in 05. A part of it was they got old. Bret Boone, who was being "looked at" for possible PED use, started to have his numbers tail off dramatically in 2004 and 2005. Edgar Martinez had a few years left after 01, but he slipped in 04. Cameron left after the 03 season. Ichiro stayed in Seattle the longest as he would put up records for hits including the all-time season record in 2004 and remained a hit machine for the Mariners until he got traded to the Yankees in 2012.
But people look back on the Mariners that year and go "well, they were a good veteran bunch and they'll be back again." Unfortunately we haven't seen the return of the Mariners in the post-season. And there were probably two lessons here: 1. Never take a season for granted (Atlanta) and 2. The minute a veteran bunch starts cracking, you better start moving. Seattle may have been the Orioles of the late 90's, Phillies of the mid 2010's, and the Detroit Tigers now.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat