Friday, October 4, 2013

July 26- Seattle Mariners

2001 was an incredibly difficult year to be living in the Pacific Northwest as an Oakland Athletics fan, but somehow I managed. I was just at the tail end of my senior year at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington and working at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) when it all began. First off, some of you may have heard of Columbia River recently, especially if you’re a big sports fan. Here’s a link to explain why. Yup, that was my high school, but that’s beside the point. No, my issues started in late November of 2000 when the Seattle Mariners purchased the contract of Ichiro Suzuki from the Orix Blue Wave of the Pacific League in Japan, sending Mariners fans into a feeding frenzy as they all needed to have a piece of the Ichiro sensation. As you could imagine, most of my days were filled with selling nothing but Mariners gear. On the outside this was good; more money for the store meant more money to pay my wage as more hours were available. However, on the inside I was a pot of hot water about to boil over. The Mariners had only been successful one year in my life, 1995, something that I covered in two posts on January 31st and May 27th. My Athletics had edged the Mariners by half a game in 2000 and all I wanted to do was rub it in the faces of the people who I felt were jumping onto the bandwagon of one of the biggest sporting fads of the last decade. After all, I grew up in Southern California when Hideo Nomo was brought over to the United States by the Los Angeles Dodgers and I also saw his career go from instant Hall of Famer to role player in a very short time. I thought the 2001 Mariners were going to be the 1995 Dodgers all over again. Boy, was I wrong.

Things immediately started off the exact opposite of how I thought they would. Within the first nine games of the season the Athletics and Mariners played each other six times with the Athletics biting it hard to the tune of 1-5. To make matters worse the Mariners finished the first month of the season with a 20-5 record while my Athletics finished 8-17. Needless to say, panic had set in. And of course to make matters worse, the store was doing so well in selling Mariners gear that we opened a separate kiosk at the opposite end of the mall which only carried Mariners gear. Guess who got stuck working at most of the time, yours truly. The Baseball Gods sung their praises and boasted the Mariners into the limelight, something that most had felt would take years to recover after the loss of Ken Griffey, Jr. Nope! It only took one full season with out him to reach a higher plateau than anyone could have imagined. From May 23rd through June 8th the Mariners went on a 15-game winning streak, a feat that would be bested by my Athletics the following season with a hard 20. But none of that mattered. Once the Mariners lost a game, two games in a row if a team was lucky, they would start another streak right back up.

The worst moments of the season (for the Mariners) came on August 5th and September 20th through September 23rd. August 5th, as some of you may remember, is a game that is routinely played on ESPN Classic, is probably the worst result in Mariners history and is by far one of the greatest games in Major League Baseball history. This is the night when the Mariners got out to a 12-0 lead against the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field and ended up losing in the 11th inning by the score of 15-14 thanks in part to a miraculous comeback in the seventh through ninth innings and a walk-off RBI single by Jolbert Cabrera. As for the games in September, those four games account for the longest losing streak the Mariners suffered the entire season, three of which came at the hands of the Athletics, which ended up being key victories as the Athletics managed to finish the season with 102 wins and 60 losses despite the absolutely horrific start. The Mariners, on the other hand, tied the Major League record with 116 wins which was originally set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Most of the Mariners season consisted of one to two run victories; however, you can’t help by look back on these five games and easily say that any one of them could have, should have been a victory for the Mariners, especially their game against the Indians. To make matters worse, the Mariners were only able to notch one victory against the defending World Series champion New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. And like the 1906 Cubs, the Mariners ended their season with a record, but not a championship trophy.

For 10 of the last 12 years I held the piece of history above the heads of every Mariners fan I know. After all, until the Anaheim Angels won the World Series in 2002 the Athletics owned the American League West, except for 1985 when the Kansas City Royals were still in division. But the more I look at things, the more I notice how many empty seats are in Safeco Field for every game, the more I see how the team has gone through seven managers after Lou Pinella and the more I see homegrown talent traded away for overhyped multi-millionaires, it all makes me realize how important a World Series title would have been for that team, the fans and the city. Who knows how different things would be? Lou Pinella might have just stepped down two to three years ago, Pat Gillick would still be putting World Series-caliber teams together and even Portland, Oregon might still have a AAA baseball team if not a Major League team in the works. People outside of the sport realm don’t really understand how a championship can change the economy of a city or its surrounding area, but I sure as shit do.

It’s sad. My selfishness and spoils got the better of me I guess. I’m not at all taking the blame for what happened, but it’s all so clear now how rivalries should never be taken to intense depths. Wins and losses come and go, but sometimes, the grand scheme of things, the thing that will hurt your pride the most is the most beneficial for you in the end. If the Mariners winning the World Series that year helped keep the interest and support in Portland, I would have been comfortable with that in a heartbeat. But, it didn’t. And like Mariners fans of today, all I can do is look back on the season that once was.

This cap is an interesting relic from the 2001 season. Most of you have probably seen it, but very few probably remember that it was only used for 14 games, only on Sunday home games throughout the 2001 season. The Mariners went 11-3 under this cap, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays on May 6th (11-3), the Indians on August 26th (4-3) and the Texas Rangers on October 7th, the last day of the regular season by the score of 4-3. Like I said earlier, a lot of one to two-run games. The silver material used for the bill is a metallic-looking thread which had only been used one other time on a baseball cap by the Houston Astros, a post I’ll get to in the not too distant future. The compass logo was first introduced in 1993 and has been a fixture on all the Mariners caps as it normally sits in the center of the “S” on the home and road caps. This particular cap for the first to use it as a primary cap logo and was subsequently used for all/most of the batting practice caps after the 2001 season.

#48- One of the most important figures for the 2001 team is somebody who has gotten very little credit over the last decade for his service, Paul Abbott. Abbott was a third round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in the 1985 Draft out of Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California. He didn’t play a major role for them, but he was still a 3-1 winning relief pitcher for the Twins on the 1991 team which earned him his only World Series ring of his 11-year career. At the end if the 1993 season he was released by the Twins and signed by the Indians where made five stars, none of which were great, and was released at the end of the season. From then until January of 1997 he bounced between the Royals, Cubs and San Diego Padres, but never made it beyond the minors until the Mariners decided to give him a shot. Abbott had a decent 1998 and 1999 season with the Mariners, but still found himself getting released and re-signed by the Mariners twice during that time period. Finally in 2000 then-manager Pinella put Abbott in a starting role where he started 27, pitched in 35 and went 9-7 on the season with a 4.22 ERA and 100 strikeouts, the highest of his career. With a savvy, reliable veteran arm in tact, Abbott remained one of Pinella’s five starters going into the 2001 season.

Abbott was given the fourth spot behind Freddy Garcia, Aaron Sele and equally if not more grizzled veteran Jamie Moyer. The Mariners and their fans figured Abbott was nothing more than a 33-year-old arm to throw the ball until they got something better, they were wrong. Despite carrying a 4.25 ERA throughout the season, Abbott managed to score the best win percentages in the franchise’s history, 81%. Abbott mustered everything he had that season and posted a record of 17-4, as well as a new career-high in strikeouts with 118. All of this came in 27 starts once again. He wasn’t at all in the running for any awards like his teammates were, nor did he make the All-Star team that year, nor any year of his career.

Abbott pitched one more season with the Mariners, the worst of his tenure, and he was released at the end of the season. Abbott was picked up by the Arizona Diamondbacks soon after and traded to the Royals in August of 2003 where he would make his only MLB appearances of that season. He was then signed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in late 2003, made a few appearances in 2004, was released shortly after and picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies before the season ended. After that his MLB career was over.

#50- Jamie Moyer is hands down one of the greatest human being to every put on a Mariners uniform, let alone any MLB uniform. Moyer has received numerous awards for philanthropy and community service, including the 2003 Roberto Clemente Award, the 2003 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, the 2003 Hutch Award, and the 2004 Branch Rickey Award, and there was even this one time he almost fell of the second tier of Century Link Field while he was waiving the 12th Man flag during a Seattle Seahawks playoff game against the Washington Redskins because he was so fired up. But, the one thing most people will remember him for is that he is one of only 29 players in baseball history to have appeared in Major League games in four decades.

Moyer’s career began when he was drafted in the sixth round of the 1984 amateur draft by the Cubs out of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To put things into a wild perspective, he was drafted the year before Rafael Palmiero (also drafted by the Cubs) and made his MLB debut on June 16, 1986, two months before Palmiero. From 1986-1996 Moyer had modest success, but jumped around to a lot of teams until ending up on the Mariners via trade by the Boston Red Sox for Darren Bragg. In Seattle he started 11 games and went 6–2. His record of 13–3 led the majors in winning percentage at .813.

In 1997, Moyer was fifth in the AL with 17 wins. His 17–5 record gave him the second-highest winning percentage (.773) in the league. Moyer made his first postseason start against his former club Baltimore, but was forced out with a strained elbow in the fifth inning. In 1998, Moyer went 15–9 with a 3.53 ERA. He was third in innings pitched with 234.1. He registered his 100th career win against the Indians on August 27, as well as his 1000th career strikeout with a sixth inning strikeout of David Bell. He was named Seattle's Pitcher of the Year by the Seattle chapter of the BBWAA. He walked two or fewer batters in 29 of his 32 starts. He ranked fourth in the American League averaging just 1.9 walks per nine innings. Moyer was also third among the league in innings pitched and seventh winning percentage. He matched his career-best seven-game winning streak from May 11 to July 7. He started the Inaugural Game at Safeco Field on July 15 against the San Diego Padres, throwing a called strike to San Diego's Quilvio Veras for the first pitch and getting a no-decision in Seattle's 3–2 loss after leaving with a 2–1 lead after eight innings. He defeated Baltimore for the ninth straight time on July 31; he did not lose to the Orioles in the 1990s. Moyer's only loss at Safeco came on August 5 against the Yankees. He recorded three complete games in the final month of the season, tossing back-to-back complete games on September 14 and 19. His 2.30 ERA after the All-Star break was the second-lowest among AL starters, behind only Pedro Martínez with his 2.01 ERA. He pitched 4 complete games for the second straight season, tying his career best. In 1999, Moyer went 14–8 with a 3.87 ERA and was voted to The Sporting News AL All-Star team. He again won the Seattle Pitcher of the Year award and finished sixth for the AL Cy Young award.

2000 saw Moyer rebound from an early shoulder injury to tally 13 wins, giving him at least 13 in each of his past five seasons. He made his first Opening Day start for Seattle, but lost to the Boston Red Sox 2–0 on April 4. His shoulder problems led his ERA to balloon to 5.49. A knee injury suffered on the last pitch of a simulated game caused him to miss Seattle's trip to the ALCS against the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees. Moyer lost five consecutive starts from August 4–24. He allowed a career-high and a club-record 11 earned runs in a 19–3 loss on August 9 against the Chicago White Sox. He allowed 11 runs, 6 earned, in a 14–4 loss on August 14 against the Detroit Tigers, joining the Astros' José Lima as the first two pitchers since 1950 to allow ten or more runs in consecutive starts. Moyer allowed a career-high seven walks in a no-decision on August 29 against the Yankees. The Mariners' 7–2 win on September 9 against the Minnesota Twins snapped a six-game losing streak. Moyer lasted just one and two-thirds innings in his final start, getting a no-decision September 28 against the Rangers. Moyer suffered a hairline fracture of left kneecap while pitching a simulated game on October 7.

In 2001 Moyer rebounded hard, winning 20 games, ranked tied for second in the AL, and his 3.43 ERA was sixth in the AL. He earned his 150th career win against the Rangers on September 24. He became only the second Mariner in history to win 20 games on October 5, former teammate Randy Johnson being the other. Moyer went 3–0 with a 1.89 ERA in the postseason. He won Games 2 and 5 for the Mariners against the Indians and also carried Game 3 against the New York Yankees before Seattle lost in Game 5. Moyer would finish in fourth place for the AL Cy Young that season.

Moyer continued to thrive with a successful campaign in 2003 wile becoming the first player 40 years or older to win at least 20 games. He went 21-7 that season and posted a career-low 3.27 ERA and 129 strikeouts. He was selected to the first and only All-Star Game of his career and finished fifth for the AL Cy Young that season. It would be the last time he would be on a Cy Young finishing ballot.

Moyer’s career with the Mariners came to a sad end on August 19, 2006 when he was traded to the Phillies for minor league pitchers Andrew Barb and Andrew Baldwin. The only important thing to take of note from this time period is that Moyer earned the elusive World Series ring in 2008 as the Phillies won for the first time since 1980. Most important about this is that Moyer was able to win it in his home city.

His career continued on until the end of the 2012 season. He is the oldest pitcher to record a win on April 17th against the Padres as a member of the Colorado Rockies. He would subsequently break that record on May 16th against the Diamondbacks which would ultimately be the final victory of his career.

Moyer brought me many years of absolute frustration as an Athletics fan, but in the end, I had the utmost respect for him. The one thing that I think really personified his career was a commercial the Mariners put together in 2006 about him which, in my opinion, is still one of the greatest team commercials ever released.

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