The Mariners could be standing alone with the record for most wins in a single season, instead of sharing the title.
But this isn’t about the age old question of “what if we still had Junior., The Big Unit, and A-Rod?” No. This is about a game. A game in the midst of summer: a game where things got hot in Cleveland.
August 5th, 2001, Cleveland — The Indians made a historic comeback against the Mariners. With Seattle up 12 runs at the seventh inning stretch, the Indians began their impossible rally.
The game started off normally. Neither team scored in the first inning.
But after that, the course of baseball history was changed forever.
In the top of the second inning, Mike Cameron doubled in a run, Tom Lampkin doubled in Cameron, and Ichiro singled in two more.
Score: Mariners 4, Indians 0 — 82 percent win probability for the M’s.
The M’s kept the Indians quiet in the bottom of the inning and entered the dugout in the third ready to score. Mike Cameron doubled home two, Carlos Guillen singled home two, Ichiro sac flied, John Olerud singled in another, and an Omar Vizquel error brought in two more.
Score: Mariners 12, Indians 0. — 100 percent win probability for the M’s.
There have only been two 12-run comebacks in the history of the Majors.
The Mariners held the Tribe in the bottom of the third. Seattle’s bats stayed quiet in the fourth, but in the bottom of the fourth, a small blip occurred. Jim Thome hit a two-run homerun. No big deal when you are still down by ten runs.
Score: Mariners 12, Indians 2. — 100 percent win probability for the M’s.
Top of the fifth, the M’s added on two more. Ed Sprague drove in Mark McLemore, and Al Martin brought in Edgar Martinez with a groundout to first base.
Score: Mariners 14, Indians 2. — 100 percent win probability for the M’s.
At this point, both teams began resting their stars; no reason for anyone to get injured in garbage time. The game was finished, right? The Indians took out Ellis Burkes, followed by Roberto Alomar and Travis Fryman. The M’s took Edgar Martinez, Ichiro, and John Olerud out of the game.
The M’s hopes and dreams remained intact after the 7th inning stretch. That’s when 1-1-7 began its gradual downfall to 1-1-6.
In the bottom of the fifth, substitute and 2001-scrub Russell Branyan hit a solo-shot. Jolbert Cabrera singled home two.
Score: Mariners 14, Indians 5. — 100 percent win probability for the M’s.
Seattle didn’t tack on any more in the top of the eighth, and the bottom of the eighth is where Cleveland really went to work.
Jim Thome started it off with a solo-shot, followed by John Halama pegging Russell Branyan. Marty Cordova proceeded to hit a homerun, driving in Branyan and himself.
The Indians go on to score one more run off of fresh-out-of-the-’pen reliever Norm Charlton.
Score: Mariners 14, Indians 9. — 99 percent win probability for the M’s.
The Mariners went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, leaving the Indians down five runs and only three outs left. The M’s were very close to a much-needed win.
Ed Taubensee lined one into center field for a single off of Norm Charlton. Jim Thome came to the plate next and flied out to right field. Russell Branyan then struck out.
The Indians had two outs, one man on, and were down by five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. But that’s why there’s no clock in baseball, right?
Marty Cordova knocked a 1-0 fastball deep to left field for a double, bringing Taubensee to third. The Mariners then brought in Jeff Nelson. Wil Cordero worked the count full, and drew the walk.
Einar Diaz then came to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to keep the game alive. He worked a full count, then on the 3-2 pitch he knocked a single to left field, bringing in Taubensee and Cordova, and sending Cordero to second.
The Indians were now only down by three with one out left, but the Mariners decided it was time to get serious, and brought in All-Star closer Kazuhiro Sasaki to face Kenny Lofton.
Lofton singled, loading up the bases for Omar Vizquel.
Vizquel, an eight-time gold-glover by 2001, worked the count full.
It is every kids’ dream to have the bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, two men out, and a full count, down by three and a chance to win the game. Omar Vizquel had that chance.
He worked the count full, and then on the 3-2 pitch he smacked a ground ball to right field. Cordero scored, Diaz booked it from around second and also scored. Lofton was coming from first base–and–and–the third base coach waved him in! And Lofton–all the way from first base–scored! A three-run triple by Omar Vizquel!
Cleveland went wild. Their Tribe had come back from a 12-run deficit and now had a chance to take the cake with just one more run. Lou Piniella couldn’t believe his eyes.
Jolbert Cabrera grounded out to third base to end the ninth. This game was going into extra innings.
Neither team did much in the 10th and on to the 11th the game went.
In their half of the inning, the M’s go down 1-2-3, and the Indians have a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 11th.
On the first pitch of the inning Einar Diaz popped out to the shortstop, bringing up Kenny Lofton. Lofton singled to center, and Omar Vizquel singled him to second. Then, for the nail in the coffin, Jolbert Cabrera singled off of Jose Paniagua and Lofton came around to score the winning run.
Score: Mariners 14, Indians 15. — zero percent win probability for the M’s.
So the M’s lost a heart-breaker. Who cares? What’s so special about a regular season game back in 2001?
That game could have been the M’s 117th win. Seattle had a record in their grasp, but they let it slip through their fingers. Had the Mariners won that game Sunday night in Cleveland, they would stand alone atop the record books. No more sharing the title of most regular season wins with the 1906 Chicago Cubs. This isn’t to say the rest of the Mariners’ season would have gone exactly the same. The Mariners might have only won 111, or maybe they would have won 119? We’ll never know.
But what would 117 have meant?
Would they have more respect from the media? Journalists everywhere would respect the fact that at one point, the M’s were the best team on the planet.
Or would Seattle stand in an even larger shadow of 2001, knowing they will never again be able to live up to the standard they set for themselves that year?
117 could have meant that the M’s could be respected as the organization that fielded the winningest team ever. They could have been known as the organization that stands alone as the one capable of putting together the best baseball team of all time. Seattle wouldn’t still be fighting for respect, because M’s fans everywhere would be able to point to ’01 and say, “your team never did that.”
But who are we kidding? Almost every other team in the Majors can point to their World Series rings and say, “your team never did that.”
116 doesn’t mean anything now. 117 wouldn’t have meant anything more. 116 doesn’t matter because it wasn’t followed by 8 wins in the postseason. Until the M’s win eight, eleven, or twelve games in the postseason, their tremendous regular season accolades won’t mean anything.
But 116 will hold me over until Felix Hernandez hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Josh Gibbs blogs about the Mariners on Baseballblaze. He is a huge Mariners fan and loves connecting with other Mariners fans. You can find his blog’s RSS feed here. Follow him on Twitter @Real_JoshGibbs.