Mariners Memories: 1977-1979

Otto Greule Jr

Every week, we'll take a look at some of the moments that made the Mariners memorable over the last 37 seasons.

The Double. Back-to-back father and son home runs by Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr. Edgar's grand slam in the 1995 ALDS. The 116th win.

These are all iconic images in Mariners' canon, the kind that are easy to trot out whenever someone asks us why we're Mariners fans. We know the plays backwards and forwards; if pressed, most of us can recite Dave Niehaus's call from heart:

"The stretch and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martinez, swung on and lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey! Here is Junior to third base, they're going to wave him in! The throw to the plate will be... late! The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship! I don't believe it! It just continues! My oh my! Edgar Martinez with a double ripped down the left field line and they are going crazy at the Kingdome!"

There's no doubt that these events have had the most impact on the franchise, but is there any value to be found in the other 35 seasons?

Let's start from the beginning.

April 8, 1977

In an effort to settle a lawsuit between the city of Seattle and the American League, the Mariners were formed from bits and pieces of existing major league teams and shipped to the Pacific Northwest. Headed by manager Darrell Johnson, they dropped their first two games to the California Angels in the newly-constructed Kingdome, but rebounded on April 8, 1977.

It was no easy undertaking for the new club. The Angels boasted Bobby Bonds and Nolan Ryan and were just two years out from their first playoff appearance. Ryan pitched his 31st career shutout in the M's second game of the season, allowing three hits, six walks, and six strikeouts. Despite a sold-out home opener, only 11,845 fans watched from the Kingdome that evening.

After two shutouts and 21 consecutive scoreless innings, the Mariners found their footing. Against right-hander Gary Ross, first baseman Dan Meyer put Seattle on the board for the first time with an RBI double. By the 8th inning, the teams were knotted 5-5 and both starters were long gone.

In the top of the 9th, the Mariners 'pen unraveled. Right-hander Tommy Moore put Bobby Bonds on third base with a double and passed ball, and southpaw Bill Laxton walked him in to score the Angels' lead run.

When the Mariners came around to bat, RHP John Verhoeven allowed a lead-off single to second baseman Bill Stein, who was already 1-for-3 with an RBI single that night. It was a promising start, but not enough to inspire confidence -- the M's had sent out the bottom of their lineup to resurrect a lead.

With one out and pinch-runner Carlos Lopez stuck on first, catcher Bob Stinson lined a double into right field, his second of the game. Lopez sprinted to score the tying run. Now, the Mariners had a 71% chance of winning, so Verhoeven walked lefty Craig Reynolds to bring up leadoff switch-hitter Larry Milbourne. Milbourne, a utility infielder from the Houston Astros, would go on to bat .219/.239/.285 that season with 12 extra base hits. In the first great moment of Mariners history, however, he lashed a game-winning walk off double to the Angels' same hapless right fielder, scoring pinch-runner Jose Baez and making his mark in the M's record books.

July 15, 1978

Larry Milbourne made another favorable impression on Seattle the following July.

This time, the Mariners were looking for their fourth franchise win against the AL rival Cleveland Indians, who had won 11 of their previous 14 match-ups.

In the 2nd inning, Cleveland starter Mike Paxton faced the heart of the order. On back-to-back errors by Paxton and second baseman Duane Kuiper, the M's scored the tying run and set the table for Milbourne. It took just three pitches to induce a grand slam -- the first and only of Milbourne's career -- and with a five-run inning now under his belt, Paxton was done for the day.

Fortunately for the Mariners, Milbourne wasn't. Two innings later, he took southpaw Don Hood deep for a solo home run, making him the first of four Mariners to homer from both sides of the plate in a single game.

July 17, 1979

Two years after their inception as a major league team, the Mariners hosted the 50th annual All-Star Game. The American League team was riding out a long losing streak, and hadn't notched a win against the National League all-stars since 1971.

Unfortunately, this wasn't their year either -- after holding a one-run lead, the AL lost 7-6 on a bases-loaded walk and wouldn't see a win until 1983.

The Mariners received their third all-star bid this year, though their players had only been selected for the AL reserves. In 1979, first baseman Bruce Bochte earned the bid. Although the only league-leading category he held was grounding into double plays, he notched 100 RBI for the first time in his career and was the only Mariner to bat above .300.

Bochte may not have been as well-recognized or lauded as his preceding fellow all-stars -- infielders Craig Reynolds and Ruppert Jones -- but he managed to do something that neither of them had done. In the 6th inning, Bochte pinch-hit for Royals' second baseman Frank White. Facing future Mariner Gaylord Perry, Bochte hit an RBI single to score Red Sox pinch-runner Rick Burleson, becoming the first Mariner to get both a hit and a run as an all-star.

What moments from the Mariners' early years have shaped your fandom?

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