It's decided: the Mariners will be a winning team. Well, a winning team in the month of May. For now. In fourth place.
Even with all the caveats, this is no small feat for the Mariners, especially considering their track record. Over 38 seasons, the M's have played .500 ball or better during May just 14 times. They last broke .500 during May 2011, the only time they've capped the month with a winning record in the last five years. Overall, their best month was in 2001, when they established a record of 20-7 for the winningest month (and season, as it turned out) in franchise history. Equally unsurprising was their worst record, set in 2008 when they plummeted to the bottom of the standings after going 8-20.
Since Felix Day isn't for a couple of games and Chris Young is penciled in as tonight's starter, let's reflect on some of the brighter moments in M's history during the month of May.
May 26, 1997: Mariners win their fifth game with at least six home runs.
It's one shy of their all-time best, but six homers in a game is nothing to sneer at. Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner combined for four of the home runs. It was Edgar's 11th multi-homer game and Buhner's 18th. Powered with two additional shots from Russ Davis and Joey Cora, the Mariners coasted to an easy 13-run win over the Minnesota Twins, who came within a scant five runs of tying the game.
May 24, 1998: Randy Johnson pitches one of two complete games with 10+ strikeouts.
This week in M's history, there have been 14 games pitched with at least 10 strikeouts, for a grand total of 189 whiffs. Only two of these games have been started and finished by the same pitcher. The first was a complete game by southpaw Mark Langston in 1987, who sent 14 Blue Jays down swinging in a 5-3 win. The second was Randy Johnson, with 15 strikeouts against the visiting Devil Rays. Through six innings, Johnson didn't allow the Rays more than a single base, setting down 12 batters in a row.
May 20, 2000*: John Mabry pitched.
Has any team scored more than 11 runs in a single inning? No? If so, that unique distinction belongs to the 2000 Devil Rays -- and, unfortunately, to the 2000 Seattle Mariners. In the eighth inning, Jose Mesa stepped in to relieve Arthur Rhodes with a tie game and the bottom of the order due up. Batting in the seventh hole, catcher Mike Difelice hit a solo home run to take the lead. Mesa bounced back to induce a fly ball from Russ Johnson. Then (while I'm guessing manager Lou Piniella remained in a catatonic state), Mesa gave up two walks, four singles, two doubles, and six more runs before getting pulled.
At this point, the M's turned to outfielder/first baseman John Mabry, who was making his 13th appearance of the year. Mabry got the last two outs, but not before he gave up a walk, two singles, a double, and an additional four runs to top off the night. While the Rays exulted in a 14-4 victory, Mabry was saddled with a 27.00 career ERA. He made just one more appearance on the mound during the following year, making out with a 135.00 ERA after blowing another game for the Florida Marlins, 20-3. Perhaps scarred by the experience, the M's didn't let another position player pitch until 2008.
*This piece of history isn't within the parameters of May 23 - 31, but it was too cool not to include.
May 23, 2001: Mariners begin their longest winning streak in franchise history.
Naturally, 116 wins in a single season is going to beget some unusual streaks and records. The M's used up more runs in May 2001 than any other month of the year, with 124. They began a winning streak of 15 games on May 23 in a 5-4 win against the Twins, clinched on a solo shot from third baseman David Bell. Over the next few weeks, they would go on to record 15 wins and four straight sweeps before taking a loss.
May 31, 2009: Ichiro breaks his personal hitting record with 27 consecutive games.
I'm not sure Ichiro ever needed to compete in baseball -- he always seemed focused on refining his technique and results instead. In May 2009, he notched 47 hits in 24 consecutive games, coming one appearance and one hit shy of matching his previous streak, established in the spring of 2007. This time around, Ichiro did it with a mere six extra base hits and three home runs, striking out eight times over 118 at-bats and batting .398/.432/.542. He topped out at 27 games in early June, a record that has yet to be matched by any Mariner before or since. The closest anyone has come to breaking it this year is James Jones, who fell short with 14 games and 15 hits in May.
This week, unfortunately, the 2014 Mariners have brought little to the table. The team went 3-5 at home, despite the rallying force of 20,000 plaid fedoras during last night's debacle with Detroit. Their driving force, one Robinson Cano, is day-to-day with a minor finger contusion. Dustin Ackley has been forced into the DH spot. Endy Chavez is leading off actual major league lineups.
Despite this, we were treated to rare moments of good baseball. Michael Saunders remembered how to hit home runs. Felix Hernandez dominated the AL West, not once, but twice, fanning 18 batters and allowing nine hits over his last two starts.
If there's any silver lining to be gleaned here, it's simply this: regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, the Mariners will finish the second month of the season at .500. That, in and of itself, is reason to celebrate.