It's been an odd week in Mariners' history. While the Mariners of 2014 are coasting through the wild card race, other Seattle rosters faced uncharacteristic setbacks before securing a spot in the playoffs.
August 20, 2000: Mariners suffer a historic losing streak.
It wasn't the worst losing streak for the franchise, nor was it the longest, but there hadn't been one quite like it in almost a hundred years. On August 13, the Mariners lost 10-4 to the visiting Cleveland Indians. In the six losses that followed, their pitching staff relinquished nine or more runs per game, cresting 10 runs in five of the seven contests.
The most dramatic loss of the week came during a series opener against the Detroit Tigers. Thanks to the combined efforts of Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro, the Tigers saw 15 runs, doing their worst damage during an eight-run fifth inning. Seattle didn't lack opportunities to catch up, driving home four of their 14 baserunners, but found themselves unable to corral Detroit's offense in the second half of the game.
By the end of the week, the club's pitching staff had racked up 77 runs, 35 walks, and 13 home runs in 60 1/3 innings. They struck out just 32 batters. In the 14 years since August 2000, no major league team has replicated seven losses with nine or more runs issued per game. Only one team has come close -- the 2002 Kansas City Royals, who managed a six-game losing streak with 73 runs, 26 walks, 13 home runs, and 45 strikeouts over 55 1/3 innings.
Despite the historic skid, the 2000 Mariners clung to a 69-55 record and first place in the American League West. By season's end, they had dropped half a game behind the Oakland A's for second place in the division, but advanced to the playoffs for the third time in five years.
August 23, 1997: Lou Piniella suffers from premature symptoms of playoff fever.
There was a time when you could get away with saying that the best "on-the-field rivalry" pitted the Mariners against the Yankees (looking at you, Steve Kelley). In 1997, Seattle had just gotten a leg up on the Anaheim Angels for division lead and was looking to secure a berth in the postseason after missing their shot the year before.
What made this particular game special wasn't its outcome, nor did it mark a significant milestone for the club. It was something far more intangible, something described only as the kind of electric atmosphere that precedes an impending postseason run.
The game lasted nearly five hours, a full-out battle between the bullpens. New York right-hander Ramiro Mendoza survived the longest, getting pulled after 5 1/3 innings and seven runs. In the Mariners' pen, reliever Paul Spoljaric went 2 1/3 innings with six strikeouts, the most by any one pitcher of the ten who took the mound that day. Combined, the Mariners and Yankees allowed 30 hits, 18 runs, 16 walks, and struck out just 26 of 113 batters.
In his recap for the Seattle Times, columnist Steve Kelley remarked the Lou Piniella was managing the game as if they were in the heat of October pennant races, not six weeks out from season's end. He exhausted his bullpen, forcing three of four relievers to pitch at least two innings each. Several days later, when Bob Wells was forced to sacrifice his start in order to relieve a tired 'pen, he recorded a blown save.
The biggest oddity of the game was also its most frustrating moment. In the ninth inning, the Mariners trailed by a single run. Mariano Rivera struggled through the first five at-bats, handing out a leadoff home run, two base hits, an intentional walk, and a wild pitch to load the bases for first baseman Paul Sorrento. With a tied score and Junior on third base, Rivera tossed another wild pitch past Sorrento. It ricocheted off the back wall and straight into the glove of Jorge Posada, who then flipped it to Rivera to catch Griffey at home.
Rivera intentionally walked Sorrento to reload the bases, but the moment had passed. The bottom of the lineup made quick work of the inning, leaving the bases full and setting the tone for the remainder of the game -- which was finally settled in the 11th inning after a two-run double by the Yankees' Paul O'Neill and another bases-loaded strikeout by Alex Rodriguez.
August 24, 2009: Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his 625th career home run.
It was the end of the season, the Mariners were sunk 12 games in the division race, and Junior was still hitting home runs.
He had stockpiled 624 homers in his career and was keeping company with the top home run hitters in major league history. Only the best were ahead of him -- Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, and Mays. On his tail, Alex Rodriguez was climbing towards the 600 mark with 575 home runs, and as of today remains the only active player listed in the top ten.
Standing between Griffey and his 625th home run were the last-place Oakland A's, who boasted notable future Mariners like Adam Kennedy, Jack Cust, and Jeff Gray. Seattle put forth newly-acquired right-hander Ian Snell, who earned his fourth win of the year with four hits, a run, two walks, and two whiffs through six innings. Cust, who went 1-for-3 against the 27-year-old that evening, called Snell "unhittable."
While Snell shut out the A's through five innings, the Mariners found an early lead with Jose Lopez's leadoff home run in the third inning, his 18th of the season. He would finish the year with 25 homers, a career-best record.
Griffey's moment came in the fifth inning. Oakland rookie Vin Mazzaro had just plunked Lopez and sent him to first base when Junior stepped up to the plate. On the third pitch he saw, Griffey deposited his 14th home run of the year in the right field bleachers. "That's how you solve it!" the broadcasters roared. "That's how you get it done!"
As far as milestones went, this was the last two-run shot of Griffey's career. He hit another five home runs before 2009 came to a close, bringing his career total to 630 and fifth-best overall -- until he was surpassed by Alex Rodriguez's 631st home run in the spring of 2012.