Happy Labor Day!
I'm not sure if the graphic history of this holiday merits the word "happy," but I hope you are all enjoying your barbecues, baseball, and the extra day off from school and work today.
It's been a fairly positive week for the Mariners of seasons past, including a baby-faced Dustin Ackley and two famous relatives. Before you read through the history tidbits below, see if you can answer this question: Who was the last Mariner to hit for the cycle?
August 25, 2009: Dustin Ackley signs with Seattle.
The buzz around the No. 2 pick of the 2009 amateur draft was hot and heavy. "I would walk over hot coals naked to watch this kid hit," said one scout, the salacious line making its way into an ESPN column.
Dustin Ackley was 21 years old and on the cusp of his pro league career. The scouts swooned. They lauded his drive, his deft control over the strike zone, the intangibles of rigorous effort and leadership, his eyes.
On paper, Ackley had rocked shortstop, center field, first base, and left field for the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina. He filled the school record books with 74 runs in 2007 (the most by a freshman), then raised the bar with 82 runs in 2008. He maintained a .400+ average for two consecutive seasons. In 2009, he participated in the College World Series for the third year in a row, earning national recognition with an NCAA-best 27 hits in 14 games.
"We thought he was the best hitter in the country," Jack Zduriencik told MLB.com's Christian Caple. He was certainly the best hitter the Mariners' org had seen among their draft picks since they had selected Alex Rodriguez in 1993. After agreeing on a contract 15 minutes before the August 17 deadline, the Mariners officially welcomed Ackley to the club with a five-year, $7.5 million deal on August 25.
As for the No. 1 overall pick of 2009? Stephen Strasburg signed a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million contract with the Nationals. Due to a complex interleague system, last Saturday marked the first time the pair of draft picks met each other on the field.
August 31, 1990: Ken Griffey, Sr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. become the first father and son duo to play in an MLB game together.
Speaking of the best hitter in the country, the Griffey family boasted not one, but two major leaguers on the same Seattle roster as Labor Day weekend rolled around in 1990. The Mariners signed Ken Griffey, Sr. after the 40-year-old was dropped by the Reds, who were 75-55 and working their way towards their fifth World Series championship.
Junior was in his sophomore major league season. At 20 years old, the center fielder was enjoying the perks of a successful year -- his first All-Star selection, his first Gold Glove award, and his first time in the company of MVP nominees. Despite the Mariners' struggle to reach .500, the Kid was on his way to a 5.0 fWAR season, complete with a .300 average and 22 home runs. His father, by contrast, was in his second-to-last season in the majors. After courting four different teams over the past four years, he would spend the remainder of his career in Seattle.
The Griffeys' first game together also marked the first time that a father and son had played for the same team in a major league game. Manning left and center field, they hit back-to-back in the lineup -- first the father, then the son. Against the Royals' Storm Davis, Griffey lined a base hit to center in his first at-bat as a Mariner. Behind him, Junior drove a single into right field, running on his father's heels and setting up Alvin Davis for the RBI.
Davis drove Griffey home on another base hit, while Junior scored on a wild pitch from the Royals' right-hander. In one inning, the Griffeys had become the first father/son pair to start a game for the same team, hit back-to-back singles, and score in the same inning.
During less memorable moments of the game, the pair also made back-to-back outs in the fourth and sixth innings. (That might also be a record but is certainly not a noteworthy one.) Thanks to their three-run first inning, the Mariners finished off the Royals with a score of 5-2, capping the Griffeys' first appearance together with their first win.
September 1, 2008: Adrian Beltre becomes the fourth Mariner to hit for the cycle.
First came Jay Buhner, then Alex Rodriguez, then John Olerud. Finally, it was Beltre's turn.
Smack in the middle of a 15-game hitting streak, the 29-year-old was putting together one of the strongest performances of the year. For only the third time in his career, Beltre collected five hits in a single game. Not one to waste time, he jump-started the cycle with a solo home run off of Rangers' Matt Harrison to lead off the second inning.
Harrison, a 22-year-old rookie southpaw, was 6-3 on the year through 10 games in the majors. Beltre worked three 0-2 counts against him for his first three hits of the game, following his home run with a pair of base hits to left field. The Mariners, meanwhile, were facing challenges of their own after weathering a five-run explosion from the Rangers in the fifth inning.
Seattle's big break came in the seventh, when they batted around for three base hits, two doubles, an intentional walk, a hit by pitch, and a sacrifice fly, reclaiming the lead and jacking up the score to 9-6. Beltre ripped a line drive to left field, propelling Raul Ibanez to third base on a double.
Now, all that remained was the most elusive of hits: a triple. Beltre had not hit a triple since the previous September, and only boasted a total of 25 in the past decade or so. Despite the impressive showing by his team, it was unlikely that the third baseman would see more than one or two at-bats in the remainder of the game.
Yuniesky Betancourt opened the eighth inning with a solo home run. Raul Ibanez swung for his second hit of the night to bring up Beltre. Again, Beltre faced an 0-2 count. Again, he muscled a pitch to the deepest parts of the ballpark, sending the ball to center field while he rounded the bases. When the dust settled, he was standing on third base.
Beltre came around to score in the eighth inning, driven in by pinch-runner Tug Hulett in his first and only season with the Mariners. By then, however, the run hardly mattered -- the Mariners had bagged their 12th run of the evening, and Beltre had his cycle.
Not only was Beltre's accomplishment fit for Seattle's record books, but it made major league history as well. In Arizona, Diamondbacks' shortstop Stephen Drew had also completed the cycle against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. It was the first time since September 17, 1920 that two players hit for the cycle on the same day of the season.