It's easy to think of these as the dark days of Mariners past. The team clung to second place in 2007, but was repeatedly pushed to the bottom of the division as their superstars fizzled out or, like several managers, ditched the club mid-season.
August 8, 2006
Armed with a potent new starter, a 200-hit wonder, and little else, the Mariners were steadily inching their way to .500. Two wins out from breaking even, they took on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who were eight years old and skidding to their third 100+ loss season.
Still settling into his first full season in the M's rotation, 20-year-old Felix Hernandez pitched eight innings with relatively little disruption, allowing five hits, a walk, and a run while striking out five Devil Rays. In a characteristically low-scoring affair, the Mariners had also contributed just one run to the game on catcher Kenji Johjima's RBI single.
Entering the 10th inning, Ichiro Suzuki lined a double off of Tampa's right-hander, 30-year-old Shawn Camp. Jose Lopez laid down a sacrifice bunt, paving the way for sluggers Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez, but Seth McClung stepped in to relieve Camp and intentionally walked both players.
With the table set, Richie Sexson approached the plate. The 31-year-old first baseman was 1-for-4 that day, picking up a base hit against the Devil Rays' starter Jae Weong Seo, who was having one of the best starts of his season. Sexson took one pitch from McClung, then flung the second over the center field wall for a walk-off grand slam in front of 32,951 Mariners fans.
The M's completed their sweep of the Devil Rays the following afternoon, but couldn't maintain the battle for a winning record. Two days after Sexson crushed the game-winning hit, the team plummeted to the bottom of the standings with 11 consecutive losses.
July 10, 2007
In an odd twist of fate -- or, more accurately, a funny intersection of talent -- Ken Griffey, Jr. crossed paths with Ichiro in the 78th annual All-Star game.
Junior had long ago left the Mariners for the Cincinnati Reds, where his father had established a career in the mid-70s. Despite receiving three nominations since the trade, Griffey had yet to meet one of his former teammates in the midseason festivities.
By the 5th inning, the National League all-stars were skating by on a 1-0 lead, powered by Griffey's RBI single off of Oakland's Dan Haren. The American League team had squandered several opportunities to even the score, including Alex Rodriguez's unsuccessful dash to home plate on a single by Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.
Ichiro stepped to the plate to face San Diego right-hander Chris Young, a 28-year-old in his first and only All-Star appearance. Already 2-for-2 that day, Ichiro wasted no time laying down his third base hit, sending the first pitch he saw straight to right field. In a spacious AT&T Park, the ball rattled around like a pinball machine, striking the right field wall above Griffey's head. Junior backed into center field, expecting a straight drop, and watched the ball ricochet into the right field corner. By the time he recovered, Ichiro had touched home plate.
It was the first time an All-Star game had been commemorated with an inside-the-park home run, and was approximately the 863rd inside-the-parker in MLB history. Thanks to Ichiro's heroics, the AL All-Stars held on to win 5-4, their 10th consecutive win since 1997.
June 23, 2008
Before there was the perfect game, there was the grand slam.
It was June, and the Mariners were already hugging the bottom of the standings with a 26-49 record. Even Felix was feeling the effects of a dismal offense, and would finish with fewer than 10 wins for the first time in his career. The 22-year-old shared the mound with the equally dazzling Johan Santana, who was crafting a 16-7 record and would lead the league with a 2.53 ERA and over 234 innings pitched by season's end.
Santana retired the first three batters with ease, as did Felix. All hope of a pitcher's duel was shattered by the second inning, however. Adrian Beltre and Jeff Clement plucked a few base hits off of the 29-year-old southpaw, while Willie Bloomquist joined them on a simple throwing error by New York's David Wright. With the bases loaded and two outs, the M's brought up what should've been an easy end to the inning: Hernandez and his .000 batting average.
According to the Seattle Times' Larry Stone, it was Felix's first home run since Little League. He picked it in three pitches, sending the ball right over center wall in the soon-to-be-demolished Shea Stadium. It was the first home run by a Mariners pitcher, and the first among AL pitchers in 37 years.
Stone continued with a quote from Santana, who reached the same conclusion as Felix following the grand slam:
"It seemed like when he swung, he closed his eyes," Santana said.
If the game ended there, it might've been perfect. Instead, Felix exited the game two innings later when Carlos Beltran scored on a wild pitch, sliding into the young pitcher's ankle and forcing him to sit out on the 15-day disabled list. When he returned, the King finished off the year with a 3.45 ERA, striking out 175 and posting over 200 innings for the first time in his career.
April 15, 2009
When Griffey returned to Seattle, much had changed. The charismatic star of the 1990s received his last accolade in 2007, when he misplayed Ichiro's inside-the-parker during the All-Star game. After nearly a decade in Cincinnati, Griffey played a brief season with the Chicago White Sox, batting .260/.347/.405 in 41 games and becoming a free agent when the Sox declined his $16M option at the end of the year.
In Seattle, the Mariners were desperate for any form of help, though Griffey's return appeared to be more of a marketing ploy than anything else. It was an uneasy end to the 39-year-old's illustrious career, but not without its milestones.
Nine games into the 2009 season, Griffey helped the Mariners cap a six-game winning streak with an 11-3 victory against the visiting Los Angeles Angels. Against right-hander Jered Weaver, Griffey and Endy Chavez mashed back-to-back home runs, putting the team up 3-1 in the 5th inning. It was the Kid's 400th home run in a Mariners uniform, though he waited nine years to set the record.
Even more exhilarating, however, was the home run in the 7th inning. As the Angels cycled through their relievers, the Mariners crossed home plate three times, leaving the bases loaded for Ichiro in the 7th inning. The 35-year-old inscribed his own milestone in the history books with a grand slam off of Anaheim reliever Jason Bulger, tying the record for most hits by a Japanese player. He would finish the season with a league-best 225 hits and 11 home runs, a personal high since his 15 homers in 2005.
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