It's been an emotional week for the Mariners. Twenty years ago, the players' strike amputated the end of the 1994 season, leaving the M's two games out of running for first place in the AL West. Twenty years ago, in a different Washington ballpark, a minor league manager scandalized the organization. Two years ago, Felix Hernandez brought the Mariners a perfect game for the first time in club history. Today, the team is sitting on a five-game winning streak, grasping a half-game lead on the second wild card, and looking like a legitimate playoff contender. Baseball is funny, and right now, baseball is also very good.
August 9, 1994: Bellingham Mariners manager gets suspended for mooning an umpire.
On the eve of the infamous players' strike of 1994, Mike Goff made the ESPN highlight reel in a short-season Single-A game. The Southern Oregon A's were going head-to-head against the Bellingham Mariners while first place hung in the balance. Officiating were a pair of amateur umpires, who had been hired as part of a cost-cutting initiative pervading the Northwest League. When Oregon bounced a ball down the first-base line, the umpire and Goff had a minor disagreement about the placement of the ball. Standing on home plate, Goff took his protest to the next level by yanking down the top of his pants.
While Goff gave the media plenty to discuss, the Mariners handed down an immediate and indefinite suspension. League president Bob Richmond talked the club down to a three-game suspension and a hefty fine. The Baby M's, meanwhile, went on to finish second in the division, but not before their booster club hosted an honorary "Drop Your Pants Night" at the park.
August 11, 1994: Mariners play their last game of the season before the players' strike.
As the minor league Mariners stirred things up in Bellingham, their parent club was suffering as well. Extensive roof repairs at the Kingdome forced both the Seahawks and the M's to pick new venues for a month. The Hawks took refuge in Husky Stadium, while the Mariners were forced to take a 20-game road trip from mid-July through the end of the season. Just around the corner was a player's strike that would sever the last month and a half of the 1994 season -- as well as all ensuing playoff games.
In Seattle, reports began to surface of plans for a new baseball stadium. In Oakland, the Mariners were playing out their road trip with a one-game finale against the A's. It was an unfortunate end to an unfortunate season -- the Mariners had clawed their way through the standings to a 48-63 record, good for third in the AL, but the entire division had collapsed with sub-.500 numbers. At the front of the pack were the Texas Rangers, who led the Mariners by two games with a 52-62 record, and who had just been swept in a three-game series by those same Mariners.
The season went out with a bang. Against 33-year-old Ron Darling, the team put up a six-run inning, capitalizing on a two-RBI base hit by second baseman Felix Fermin and a grand slam by Ken Griffey, Jr. It was Junior's 40th home run of the year. Randy Johnson limited the A's to four hits, a walk, and a run, striking out 15 batters in his ninth complete game of the year, good for best in the league. The 8-1 finish cemented the M's 49-63 record, marking one of only three losing seasons that Lou Piniella managed during his 10-year career in Seattle.
August 15, 2012: Felix Hernandez throws the first perfect game in franchise history.
Only three MLB seasons have ever seen multiple perfect games: 1880, 2010, and 2012. Of those three, only one has witnessed the same team host a perfect game by its own pitcher and one by the opposing pitcher.
After suffering a 4-0 perfecto by Phil Humber earlier in the season, the Mariners were ready for a little retaliation, and there was no one better to lead the charge than Felix Hernandez. Against the Tampa Bay Rays and their last-place offense, Hernandez wielded 113 pitches and 27 flawless outs. Eric Thames made a running catch for the first out of the game, but no other balls reached towards the fences. Of the 113 pitches Felix threw, 26 sent the Rays swinging.
In the third inning, Brendan Ryan and Jesus Montero diverted the crowd's attention for a brief moment. Ryan roped a line drive to left field for a base hit, then stole second base while Tampa's Jeremy Hellickson was distracted with Montero. During the same at-bat, Ryan advanced to third base on a wild pitch. Montero finally found the ball, sending it down the left field line while Ryan came home to score the lone run of the game. For once, the Mariners' paltry run support was not going to spoil one of Felix's starts.
It was a game that was meant to be savored. Felix retired each batter on a swinging strikeout in the sixth inning; in the eighth, he did it again. He collected 12 punch-outs by game's end, the last coming on a slider to third baseman Sean Rodriguez. After the game, Felix gave credit to his batterymate John Jaso, who called for the slider after Rodriguez had worked a 2-0 count. There was little to worry about. Home plate umpire Rob Drake didn't face the same conundrum that Brian Runge did during Humber's perfecto. Rodriguez checked his swing as the pitch swiveled into Jaso's mitt for a called third strike and the final out of the game.
Felix was perfect.