Last weekend, I was about to call it quits with the Mariners. During my weekend in Seattle, the team lost their fifth straight game, squandering five innings of shutout ball and losing by one run, without so much as a baserunner in the last third of the game. It was, as Scott wrote yesterday, wearying. It still is.
Given last night's win, however, it would appear that the Mariners are making strides to improve. There have been some bleak moments, among them shoddy run support, botched instant replays, and Fernando Rodney. There have also been more than a few highlights, including Felix Hernandez's fourth 10+ strikeout performance, Brad Miller's newfound consistency at the plate, and Erasmo Ramirez's miraculous scoreless outings.
As frustrating as the team may be in 2014, let's not forget that the Mariners have seen some much darker days in their past.
June 16, 2008: Bill Bavasi gets fired.
In retrospect, this wasn't the worst day in Mariners history. It was, however, not exactly a highlight in the middle of their second 101-loss season. The M's were nesting at the bottom of the major leagues with a 24-45 record and had lost 11 of 14 games in June when Howard Lincoln finally decided to fire general manager Bill Bavasi.
Bavasi, for his part, was riding out the end of a five-year stint in Seattle and had led the team through only one winning season since getting the job. Both Bavasi and soon-to-be interim manager, Lee Pelekoudas, pinned much of the blame on the players' lack of motivation and effort, calling them "dysfunctional" and capable (though perhaps unwilling) of performing at a much higher level.
Several weeks before he was let go, Bavasi made a few last-ditch efforts to shake some sense into the team, much like Eric Wedge's purple-faced rants. His antics culminated in a postgame emergency team meeting where he locked the doors to the clubhouse, a move widely regarded as one of his more desperate and futile attempts to turn things around.
June 19, 2011: Jason Vargas pitches the first three-hitter of his career.
By June 19, 2011, Vargas was hunting for his second shutout, a follow-up to the four-hitter he tossed against the Tampa Bay Rays only two weeks prior. This time, he was up against another playoff contender, the first-place Philadelphia Phillies, who were in the middle of constructing a 102-win season. Vargas fanned six of 32 batters, four shy of his season high. While the Phillies mustered up three hits and drew two walks, the 28-year-old southpaw retired 15 consecutive batters from the fourth inning through the ninth.
From the beginning of the game, it looked as if the baseball gods were working against him. On what should have been an inning-ending swinging strikeout, Miguel Olivo allowed a passed ball to advance Chase Utley to first base. Vargas lost his grip on the game, giving up a single and a wild pitch to load the bases for right fielder Ben Francisco. Francisco hit the ball deep to left field, forcing left fielder Greg Halman to snag it on a running catch and slide. By the second inning, Vargas had regained control, and would not allow more than one baserunner per inning through the rest of the shutout.
While the Mariners found seven runs to back Vargas' shutout earlier that month, they only managed to get two runs for his three-hitter, on a pair of RBI base hits by Justin Smoak and Adam Kennedy. Like their opponents, the M's were also shut out for five innings, thanks to a strong outing by left-hander Cole Hamels.
Vargas finished the year with three shutouts, the last a 6-0 victory against the San Diego Padres. He wouldn't get another such opportunity until 2013, when he completed two shutouts and a second three-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels.
June 20, 2002: Ichiro surpasses Barry Bonds in All-Star votes.
Admittedly, it's silly to pretend that Barry Bonds had any real competition in, well, anything. While Ichiro surpassed Bonds with 924,758 votes to Barry's 845,032, both made their respective leagues' All-Star squads in the middle of incredible seasons.
Ichiro was in his sophomore MLB season, batting .321/.388/.425 by year's end with 208 hits and a league-leading 27 intentional walks. His 4.4 fWAR was down from 6.0 in 2001, but still good enough for second-highest among American League right fielders. Not only was he running away with the All-Star voting for the second year in a row, but it marked the second of ten consecutive nominations he would receive.
Bonds, meanwhile, was crushing the National League with another MVP-caliber performance. He led the NL with 198 walks and 68 intentional walks, batting .370/.582/.799 and finishing with 12.4 fWAR, just a hair under his totals for 2001. He would go on to win the NL MVP award for the fifth time, picking up his 10th career Silver Slugger and 11th All-Star nomination along the way.
Unfortunately for these two great players, the 2002 All-Star game turned out to be a wash. Ichiro went 0-2 with a pair of groundouts before getting pulled for Tampa Bay's Randy Winn. Bonds mashed a 2-RBI home run off of a 25-year-old Roy Halladay. In the eighth inning, Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel tied the game 7-7 on an RBI triple, where it would end, still tied, three innings later.