This week, the Mariners strung five wins together. They swept the Atlanta Braves, albeit in a two-game series. Kyle Seager went 3-for-5 against the New York Yankees with two triples, a double, and a home run. Felix Hernandez put together another solid start in New York City, holding the Yankees to two runs and striking out eight batters. Roenis Elias pitched a complete game three-hitter against Max Scherzer and a loaded Detroit Tigers lineup. The Mariners, it would seem, are in a good place.
Looking back through the M's history, it appears that this has been a lucky week on more than one occasion. That is, unless you talk to Wladimir Balentien...
June 2, 1990: Randy Johnson pitches the first no-hitter for Seattle.
Prior to this day, Randy Johnson had yet to pitch a shutout in his career. He was sitting on a 3-3 record in 1990, and his best game to date -- two hits, two runs, six walks, nine strikeouts in seven innings -- had been wasted on a 2-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Johnson began and ended his no-hitter with a whiff. The imposing 26-year-old restricted the Tigers to six baserunners, though an extra one slipped through on an error by shortstop Mike Brumley. It was the first time since Mark Langston's one-hitter in 1988 that a Seattle pitcher shut out his opponent with at least six walks. Johnson fanned eight batters, one shy of his career record, though he would break that record by week's end with a 10-strikeout performance against the Chicago White Sox.
While Johnson crafted the first of two career no-nos, the Mariners scraped together the most meager run support. With the bases loaded in the first inning, designated hitter Jeffrey Leonard hit an RBI groundout to score Harold Reynolds. Several innings later, Reynolds hacked at another pitch for a sacrifice fly, scoring Brumley and giving Johnson a slight 2-0 lead to cling to.
It would be more than enough. Johnson kept the Tigers on a strict diet of fastballs, telling Seattle Times reporter Bob Finnigan: "I'm a fastball pitcher, and I'm going down throwing fastballs. I'm not going to lose this on anything but my best pitch." Despite a few jitters in the eighth inning, when Johnson gave up his sixth and final walk of the night, he rallied to finish off the Tigers with a pop fly to first baseman Chet Lemon and a pair of swinging strikeouts -- the last of which was thrown so high that catcher Scott Bradley had to leap in the air to snag it. According to Finnigan, his last pitch was also his fastest that night, clocking in at 97 m.p.h. As for their next no-hitter, the Mariners would have to wait three years for one Chris Bosio and an ailing Boston Red Sox lineup.
June 5, 1997: Alex Rodriguez becomes the first Mariner to hit for the cycle in nine innings.
Jay Buhner holds the official title as the first Mariner to hit for the cycle, but it took him an additional five innings to do so. On June 23, 1993, the Mariners carried a 7-7 tie with the Oakland A's into 14 innings. Buhner had homered in the first inning, doubled in the third, and singled in the fifth. He struck out swinging and grounded out to Oakland reliever Ed Nunez in his next two at-bats, then tripled to lead off the 14th inning -- representing the winning run and securing both the Mariners' 35th victory and his own spot in the record books.
Alex Rodriguez, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, also left Mariners fans on the edge of their seats. He settled into a rhythm early on, alternating hits and outs every inning as the M's climbed to a 14-6 lead. In a four-run eighth inning, A-Rod drove Joey Cora in with an RBI triple, leaving just the double to complete the cycle. His last opportunity arrived in the ninth inning, with two outs and certain victory at hand. Alex shot the ball to shallow right field, where it tucked just inside the foul line, allowing him to reach second base with time to spare. Just like they planned it, right?
The real winner of the day, however, was neither A-Rod nor his teammates, but a woman named Pamela Altazan. Prior to the game, the M's orchestrated a contest: if any Seattle player hit for the cycle, one fan would receive a prize of one million dollars. As luck would have it, the ball that jammed in the right field corner made Altazan a millionaire.
June 6, 2009: Wladimir Balentien loses a Felix gem on a ninth-inning error.
This week didn't just bring sunshine and roses to Seattle. It also brought the familiar scent of poor run support and missed opportunities, including a key error by left fielder Wladimir Balentien.
On June 6, 2009, Felix Hernandez was in the middle of his sixth win of the year. He'd struck out seven batters in seven innings, allowing six hits, a run, and three walks, and had just retired five in a row before exiting the game. As has become routine for the King, the Mariners had only managed one run to back his performance, leaving the game tied 1-1 going into the 10th inning. From here, things only got worse.
Wladimir Balentien had played left field just six times before the 2009 season. This shouldn't have been a problem for the outfielder, who was used to patrolling the right side of the field on most occasions. Here, with a runner on second and two outs, Balentien was charged with handling a fly ball to deep left center field, right off the bat of Twins' pinch-runner Matt Tolbert. Instead of snagging the last out, Balentien broke in the opposite direction. The ball deflected off of his glove and bounced into the grass, allowing Justin Morneau to sprint home for the last run of the game.
June 2, 2010: Ken Griffey, Jr. announces his retirement after 22 seasons.
With all the fanfare that Derek Jeter is getting on his farewell tour, it brings to mind the stark contrast of another great player's retirement just four years ago. When Ken Griffey, Jr. closed the door on his time in the major leagues, he did so without fanfare or proper closure. After announcing his retirement through a brief press release, he packed up his 630 home runs, 1836 RBI, 83.6 bWAR, 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, 1997 AL MVP trophy, and walked out.
One of the most touching sentiments came from Ichiro Suzuki, who spoke to ESPN following the announcement:
"To play with him is a treasure I will keep deep in my heart," Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki said through an interpreter. "I have played 19 years in professional baseball and I can say he was one of my best teammates and my best friend."
Coincidentally, Junior's major league career ended the day it began. He was drafted by the Mariners on June 2, 1987, an easy first-round pick from Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
June 4, 2012: Munenori Kawasaki gets the first extra-base hit of his major league career.
In light of Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, Jr.'s accomplishments, an RBI double by a one-time shortstop may not seem like that big of a deal. But if you asked Munenori Kawasaki, he might raise his arm high above his head to show you how significant it was to him. At least, that was the story according to MLB.com's Greg Johns following the Mariners' 8-6 win against the Los Angeles Angels.
Preceding an explosive fourth inning, Jason Vargas was in the middle of his sixth win of the year. He had six strikeouts on the night and had struck out the side in the fourth, despite allowing a home run and two base hits between whiffs. Still, Vargas couldn't pull the win off by himself -- the M's had left him with a two-run deficit by the middle of the game.
In the bottom of the fourth, Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak set up the dramatic rally by hitting into the first two outs. John Jaso grabbed a base hit, advancing on a wild pitch while Mike Carp received an intentional walk. Miguel Olivo drove in Jaso and Michael Saunders drew another walk, setting Kawasaki up for the tie-breaking run with two outs and the bases loaded. Mune fouled off a pitch and looped a double to left field, clearing the bases with a 3-RBI double.
It wasn't the only strange thing to happen in the game -- Brandon League's three consecutive strikeouts being another -- but it was certainly the happiest moment for the happiest Mariner that year. Except, you know, for that one time he mounted Casper Wells.