For most of the Mariners faithful, the 2001 season is perhaps the chief “What if?” moment of their fandom. What if baseball had not been interrupted due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks? What if the Mariners hadn’t been felled in a five-game ALCS, victim to that cruel mistress of sample size? Heck, what if Carlos Guillen hadn’t contracted tuberculosis?
But just as important are the questions on the other end of the spectrum. How, exactly, did this team manage to win 116 games? In a vacuum, could they have expected career years from (checks notes) everybody? Consider:
- Bret Boone, a career 88 OPS+ hitter up to this point, posted a 153 OPS+.
- Mike Cameron, a career 96 OPS+ hitter, posted a 123 OPS+.
- Mark McLemore, a career 79 OPS+ hitter, posted a 115 OPS+.
- Arthur Rhodes, a career 94 ERA+ pitcher, posted a 241 ERA+.
It took an incredible confluence of unlikely events to allow the 2001 M’s to reach their potential. And it’s that backdrop that caused staff writer Tim Cantu to challenge me to recreate the Mariners’ success in Out of the Park Baseball 21. The goal was simple: Can you win 117 games with the 2001 Mariners?
(Friendly reminder: If you’d like to purchase OOTP 21, which for my money is the best sports sim game out there, you can do so here — and if you do so from that link, we will get a little commission which helps support the content we bring you on the site. You can also get a 10% discount by entering the code LOOKOUTLANDING. And you can check out our beginner’s guide on how to play OOTP here!)
It helped that because my goal was so singular, I was able to discard worries like “having a farm system” or “maybe you shouldn’t trade all your prospects” or “no, seriously, don’t trade all your prospects, what on Earth are you doing.”
Team owner Jeff Wooten, who probably made his millions from Microsoft (it is 2001, after all), gave me just two goals: reach the playoffs this season and win the World Series within the next two years. Can-do, boss.
I knew that I needed to shore up one position in particular. Left field has been a bugaboo for the Mariners for as long as I can remember, with the exception of the Randy Winn years. (As far as I can tell, Lou Piniella was simply fired to make room for me, rather than, well, being traded for Randy Winn two years early.) There were a couple guys I considered acquiring. A young J.D. Drew, fresh off a 2.7 WAR season for the Cardinals, looked like an enticing target, but given his four years of team control, the Cards were asking for a lot. And a very young Adam Dunn, who spent 2000 tearing up A-ball, was similarly exciting but just a bit too far away from MLB production.
And so it was that I settled on the Philadelphia Phillies’ Bobby Abreu.
Again, this is a one-year mandate. So I don’t particularly care about trading two top-100 prospects in Choo and Lopez, since neither of them will contribute to the big-league club this year and I don’t have any interest in getting Ben Broussard in like 2006. This apparently “slightly” increases the fans’ interest. Love that.
Before Opening Day, I also traded away a 36-year-old Jay Buhner, since I would rather have the roster spot for a useful player. The Bone had 15 at-bats for Oakland all season before sailing off into the sunset; meanwhile, the player I got for him (Olmedo Saenz) had just 16 for me, but with the A’s paying his entire salary. Thanks, Billy Beane!
It was also time to check which AAA players were ready for the big leagues. There was one guy in particular who looked like a winner…
The media was also all-in on the Mariners in 2001, picking us to run roughshod over the poor American League on the strength of a 3.44 team ERA.
Opening Day! This one was a simple affair, with all the offense we needed coming in the first inning.
See that sterling appearance from Freddy Garcia? Yeah, that’s going to become a trend. Stay tuned.
My favorite game of April, no doubt, was a Thursday night contest at Yankee Stadium. This one had a few parallels to a certain 2009 game...
I knew that it was time to start wheeling and dealing, however. The Mariners stood at a remarkable 40–12 through the month of May, but I couldn’t become complacent. I had a job to do. And so I called up Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon.
Up to this point, Snelling had destroyed A-ball (.348/.449/.510 in 53 games), but the real prize was the #60 prospect in baseball, Joel Pineiro. The Puerto Rican righty had 12 subpar appearances out of the ‘pen for the Mariners, and my thinking was simple: Schmidt, although a rental player, would be a useful starter in the back-end of my rotation, and Jack Wilson (a fellow top-100 prospect) could be either a depth piece or trade bait.
June was a tough month for the teal & green, winning just 16 out of 28 games. Perhaps it was due to a few slumps: Ichiro hit “just” .318 after months of .400 and .346, and Schmidt was putrid, with a 7.36 ERA in five starts. Compared to that, Paul Abbott’s 7.20 ERA in his June starts doesn’t even look too bad. I’d also put some blame on two dueling injuries: Mark McLemore broke his hand in mid-April and missed 2-3 months, and perhaps most critically…
It was clear that the rotation needed some help. Beyond Freddy, and perhaps Aaron Sele, there wasn’t much. And that’s what led to the most dramatic move yet, a true all-in trade to add a frontline starter...
Yep. You read that right. Aaron Sele, Jack Wilson (we hardly knew ye), and a couple minor leaguers for the legend himself, Pedro Martinez. Pedro didn’t manage to make a start for the M’s before the All-Star Break hit, but that’s okay — given that he went 14–1 with a sterling 2.51 ERA down the stretch, I think we got our money’s worth.
In the real 2001, Seattle welcomed the All-Star Break with eight All-Stars. In alt-2001, the Mariners (with a 62–25 record, just one game behind the real Mariners’ pace) mustered just seven:
- Freddy Garcia (entering the break with a 2.17 ERA)
- Edgar Martinez (.355/.466/.642, 4.9 WAR)
- John Olerud (.344/.408/.527, 3.4 WAR)
- Bret Boone (.308/.352/.552, 3.7 WAR)
- Bobby Abreu (.307/.409/.589, 4.3 WAR)
- Ichiro (.357/.386/.451, 3.5 WAR)
Of course, there were a few former Mariners putting up dominating stats for other teams. A-Rod was at 4.5 WAR en route to a 46 HR, 8.2-win season, but he was overshadowed in the former Mariner department by one Randy Johnson. The Big Unit finished 2001 with a 26–5 record, a 1.66 ERA, and 387 strikeouts in 254.1 innings. That comes out to 12.5 WAR. Holy cow. He somehow had at least seven strikeouts in every single start, including one appearance with 18 and 18 starts with 12+ Ks.
From here on out, the Mariners finish strong. I figured we could use another reliever or two, so we picked up David Weathers from the Brewers and Armando Benitez from the Mets. We improved at backup catcher by adding Mike Lieberthal from the Phillies. And we bolstered the rotation by grabbing a familiar name, Jarrod Washburn, in exchange for a five-player package headlined by Travis Blackley.
These acquisitions were necessary, as despite a .697 winning percentage, the Mariners found themselves just seven games up on the surging Oakland Athletics on July 23, and only a game-and-a-half above Cleveland for the best record in MLB. The A’s took advantage of big seasons from Jason Giambi (in his last season before hitting free agency), Eric Chavez, and Johnny Damon, all of whom would put up 7+ wins above replacement.
That sense of urgency only lasted so long, however, as from July 24 to August 21, the Seattle Mariners won a mind-blowing TWENTY-SEVEN games in a row.
- 15–3 vs. KC
- 2–1 vs. KC
- 9–1 vs. KC
- 6–2 vs. MIN
- 4–3 vs. MIN (F/10)
- 7–0 vs. MIN
- 9–3 @ DET
- 7–4 @ DET
- 9–0 @ DET
- 8–2 @ CLE
- 9–1 @ CLE
- 14–2 @ CLE (note: this was the game where the real Mariners blew a 14–2 lead, so I’m glad history didn’t repeat itself)
- 6–0 @ CLE
- 1–0 vs. TOR
- 3–1 vs. TOR
- 7–4 vs. TOR
- 4–0 vs. CWS
- 4–2 vs. CWS
- 6–2 vs. CWS
- 10–3 @ BOS
- 8–4 @ BOS
- 8–6 @ BOS
- 5–2 @ NYY
- 9–5 @ NYY
- 8–1 @ NYY
- 5–1 vs. DET
- 9–1 vs. DET
In all of those games, the Mariners allowed more than four runs just twice, and more than five runs just once. Only three of the wins were by a single run. True, sustained dominance.
That run galvanized the team to well above the 116-win pace, and even after losing five of their last 10, the Mariners smashed the all-time win record.
The stats are equally impressive:
Remember that cryptic reference to Freddy Garcia above? He led the AL in ERA, with a preposterous 0.92 WHIP and 7.7 wins above replacement. Shoot, he even had three CGSO three-hitters, and a two-hitter on top of that! Jamie Moyer came back down the stretch with 19 outstanding starts, although his strikeout numbers (59 in 130 innings) were abysmal at best. And Kaz Sasaki, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, followed up his 2000 campaign by walking just seven hitters in 55 innings and recording 35 saves.
On the other side, here’s the hitters:
I don’t know how you pitch to a lineup that goes Ichiro/Boone/Edgar/Abreu/Olerud/McLemore/Cammy. Even David Bell got in on the fun by producing 5.5 wins (!!) and a .327 average.
However, we still had one big hurdle in our way: the playoffs. As you might recall, those didn’t turn out so great last time for the Mariners. Perhaps this would be different?
Game One of the ALDS (a matchup between Tim Hudson and Pedro Martinez) was scoreless until the 7th inning, when John Olerud singled to right-center and Mark McLemore tripled down the right field line. After Hudson intentionally walked Mike Cameron, David Bell singled to score McLemore, and although Cammy was caught stealing third, Ichiro doubled to bring Bell home and give the M’s a 3–0 lead.
But things can never be truly happy for the 2001 Mariners, and the bullpen — long a strength of the team — faltered. Norm Charlton allowed a double to Jason Giambi, Armando Benitez allowed a double, single, and a walk, and finally, Kaz Sasaki gave up a go-ahead single, giving the A’s four runs. Despite getting runners in scoring position in each of the final two innings, the Mariners couldn’t quite punch them in, with a 4–3 final.
Game Two, meanwhile, was all about Mark Mulder, who threw a two-hitter en route to a 5–0 win.
Game Three, in Oakland, saw the Mariners erupt for four runs in the 12th inning and stay alive.
Jarrod Washburn allowed three runs in the fourth inning, and the M’s wound up entering the 9th down 5–2.
Mark McLemore: walk.
Mike Cameron: hit by pitch.
David Bell: groundout.
Dan Wilson: RBI single.
Ichiro: fielders choice.
Bobby Abreu: groundout.
The tying run, stranded at third base. And that’s how the Mariners lost 5–4.
The A’s went on to make the World Series, beating the Yankees in five, but it was the Phillies (86–76 in real life, 97–65 in alt-2001) who took home the crown. And now, here I sit, staring at the shambles of a once-promising team all hitting free agency with no prospects to speak of.
But it can’t get much worse than the real 2002–2019 stretch...right?