We accept the scientific evidence that it happened. But its enormity, and absence of contemporary consequence, makes the brain sputter and seize.
Nevertheless, Norm Charlton gave ’01 his best shot — aided, he said, by one Bloody Mary with another on the way.
“One of the beauties of baseball is that you can win 116 games and still not win a World Series,” he said by phone this week from a local bar. “You have to be good to win 116 games, but to win a World Series, you have to be hot and lucky.”
That Charlton can call this franchise vexation a “beauty of baseball” is a tribute to his reputation as one of baseball’s more notable thinkers (three degrees, including philosophy, from Rice University). Many Mariners fans will look upon Saturday’s 10-year anniversary tribute largely as a reminder of an opportunity lost — made more, not less, agonizing with the passage of time.
The regular-season feat was epic — “what the Mariners did,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, “will be the envy of major league baseball for decades” — but never turned into even a World Series appearance, much less a championship. The subsequent decade would see Series appearances by a host of oddball teams, so many that only the Mariners and Nationals remain Fall Classic virgins.
A three-time Mariner, including membership on the 1995 team that helped save baseball in Seattle as well as the ’01 team, Charlton understands the lingering conflict.
“It was very frustrating for us,” he said. “We were very proud of season and not so proud we didnt win the World Series. That’s what it’s all about. Starting in spring training, the goal for some teams is making the playoffs. But most teams I played on (including the 1990 champion Cincinnati Reds) wanted to win the Series. That was the goal.
“Everything else is a failure.”
As much fun as it will be to see Lou Piniella, Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, Kaz Sasaki and the rest of the team and coaches, the Saturday party, absent a ring, will feel more like a family reunion.
The dearth of notable postseason success since ’01 adds a tinge of melancholy.
No one is to blame for the disappointment, especially not with the unmistakable, albeit unmeasurable, impact of 9/11. The world was nearly knocked from its axis by the horror, so the consequences for one baseball team’s fortunes was negligible.
Still, the show eventually resumed Sept. 18. As with everyone and everything else, nothing was the same. The Mariners were stuck in Anaheim for several days, and prepared to charter buses for the 20-hour ride back to Seattle just before civil aviation resumed.
Even though the Mariners appeared to find their old pace, finishing the season 12-6 to complete the astonishing season at 116-46 — absurd contrast: That team scored 927 runs, last year’s scored 513 — things were askew.
“Any layoff hurts a team, especially one playing as well as we were,” Charlton said. “If your pitchers dont go play catch on the off day, they feel weird. Hitters have their routines too. We spent five days in Anaheim doing nothing but watching TV and looking at each other. It brought us even more together as a team, but . . .”
The relevance of the feat was fading. In the first game of the playoffs, the Indians’ Bartolo Colon threw a six-hit shutout against the Mariners at Safeco. The 5-0 defeat suddenly towered over 116 wins. Though the Mariners rallied for a 5-1 victory in Game 2, the Mariners were crushed 17-2 in Game 3 in Cleveland.
Eventually, they won the series 3-2, thanks to two victories from 20-game winner Jamie Moyer. But the seasonal mystique was gone.
Then they headed to New York, and ran into America’s Team. The sentiment for New Yorkers and the Yanks in the American League Championship Series was palpable.
Didn’t hurt that the Yankees’ starting rotation was Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens and Livan Hernandez, all at or near their primes. Yankees 4, Mariners 1.
Season over. The Yankees’ fans didn’t let the Mariners forget it: “It don’t mean a thing, without the ring,” was the Bronx refrain. They knew from where they spoke: Three years earlier, the Yankees won 114 games — and the Series.
“Were they the better team?” Charlton asked. “I don’t think so. They just beat us. In the playoffs, anything can happen. When we played the Yankees in 1995, we were down 0-2 and no way should we have beaten them. But we did.”
“What’s on paper isn’t necessarily what’s on the field.”
Discerning sports fans have always known that truth. But after a season of unprecedented success, discerning eyes were shaded by rose-colored glasses. It was hard to see that the Mariners were no longer hot or lucky.
For the admirable regular season feat — a good case can be made that winning 116 times in 162 tries is much more difficult than winning four of seven in October — the Mariners were recipients of something called the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, given to a group or individual who has made “a major impact on the sport.”
It has been presented 11 times, only once to a team — the 2001 Mariners.
I know. Until the Mariners mentioned it this week in a press release, I hadn’t heard of it either.