This is Part V of a series endeavoring to cover an obscure or unusual event, occurrence, statistic, story, etc. from baseball history. If this all sounds new and exciting, be sure to check out parts one, two, three, and four.
I planned to write about the Mariners today, but I decided that I'm tired of the spring training Mariners. I'm sick of seeing March statistics and I have no desire to blab about how it doesn't really matter that the pitching staff is getting shelled. The end of spring training always drags, but whether it's the late start to the season or the anticipation of watching the best Mariners team we've seen in a decade, the last week of the Cactus League feels particularly brutal this year. Let's talk about something a little more interesting.
On September 26th 1987, the Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers in their penultimate home game of the season. There wasn't much riding on the outcome: with a 71-82 record, the Mariners were guaranteed a losing season for the eleventh year running, and both teams had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the month.
Still, the two also-rans gave a surprisingly large crowd -- the box score says that over 30,000 people bought tickets -- a pretty good game. Otis Nixon's younger brother Donell led off the bottom of the first inning with a single to right field. After Phil Bradley grounded out, Mickey Brantley -- the Casper Wells of the late 1980's Mariners -- hit his twelfth homer of the season to put the M's ahead 2-0.
The lead was undoubtedly important to Mariners starter Mike Moore. He entered the game with a 7-19 record -- a mark he could largely blame on his offense, as his ERA+ was better than league average -- and was on the verge of becoming baseball's first 20-game loser in eight years. Staked an early advantage, Moore kept a decent Rangers offense at bay. He surrendered a run in the second before breezing through the following four innings.
Meanwhile, the Mariners were largely toothless. Nixon singled again in the third but was quickly caught trying to steal second. It was a costly out, as Bradley followed with a single that left fielder Pete Incaviglia nearly misplayed into a triple. Nixon would have scored easily but the inning ended prematurely when Bradley was thrown out trying to reach third on the play.
The Rangers put runners on first and second in the seventh, only to have the rally come to nothing when Moore induced a 4-6-3 double play. He nearly got through the eighth too, but he walked Ruben Sierra with two outs and then allowed a single to Pete O'Brien. Manager Dick Williams went to his bullpen, calling upon Jerry Reed -- the Sean White of the late 1980's Mariners -- to get out of the jam. Reed walked his first man to load the bases but escaped by getting Incaviglia to ground out, keeping Moore safe from infamy.
In the bottom of the frame, Seattle went three up, three down for the fifth consecutive inning. It didn't matter though, as fill-in closer Bill Wilkinson worked a hitless ninth to slam the door and give Seattle the win.
On the surface, there's nothing special about this contest: it's just a close ballgame between two mediocre teams playing out the string. But this is actually a unique game in Mariners history. Something much rarer than a no-hitter occurred, and you have enough information to make an educated guess at what it is.
No clue? Take a look at the Mariners box score. Look closely at Harold Reynolds.
Still don't have it? Let's review what happened to each of Seattle's base runners:
- Nixon: singled in the first, forced out on Bradley's ground ball.
- Bradley: scored on Brantley's homer.
- Brantley: homered in the first.
- Nixon: singled in the third, caught stealing.
- Bradley: singled in the third, thrown out trying to reach third base.
None of the five Mariners that reached base remained there at the end of the inning. Two scored, one was forced out, one was caught stealing, and one was TOOTBLAN. Rangers pitchers faced just two batters over the minimum, and because the Mariners were the home team and didn't have to bat in the ninth, they only had twenty-six plate appearances. Reynolds, the nine-hole hitter, only came to the plate twice.
After nearly forty years of play, it remains the only time the Mariners have come to bat fewer than twenty-seven times in a nine inning game. Other teams have pulled this off too, and the Mariners have been close to turning the trick again on a few other occasions. But of the fifty-seven times this has occurred in baseball history, it's only happened to the Mariners once.
Trivia: Recently, there's been plenty of discussion about the lack of black players in the major leagues. Barring an unforeseen injury, the Mariners will head north with three this year: Austin Jackson, Taijuan Walker, and Rickie Weeks. That doesn't seem like very many, but it's actually a higher percentage than the league as a whole, where only 8% of players identify themselves as black or African American.
In 2001, the Mariners had six black players. How many of them can you name?