In 2001 the greatest team in Mariners history blew out of the gate on April 2nd, beat the Oakland A’s 5-4 and never looked back. The previous year they’d won the division series against the White Sox and lost to the Yankees in the ALCS. They were supposed to be good, and they were on the road to the World Series until the divine intervention of 9/11 stepped in and tipped the American League Championship once again to the Yankees.
Though the 2001 team was brilliant, but not perfect, it is the 1995 team we all remember most fondly. Edgar and Junior, Buhner and Randy. Joey Cora crying tears of disappointment on the bench. Luis Sojo’s double down the line of the one game playoff against the Angels, leaving Mark Langston prone on the mound. They saved baseball in Seattle. Most importantly, they won when they weren’t supposed to. They were a bad team the previous year, at 49-63 when the strike took place and plunged baseball into darkness. When the Mariners defeated the California Angels on August 3, 1995 they were twelve games back of the Halos and they weren’t even a .500 team at 44-46. They sputtered and coughed through most of the month of August, going 10-8, until they played the Yankees on August 24th. Still behind the Angels 11.5 games they outlasted the Bombers 9-7 and began a run to the end of the season that saw them go 25-11. It coincided with the Angels’ epic collapse.
Today Lloyd McClendon will look at the standings and find his team 5.5 games back of the Oakland A’s and the Los Angeles Angels. The Mariners are on a 10-2 roll. The once invincible Athletics are having trouble pitching. The Angels offensive juggernaut isn’t hitting. The Mariners have 39 games left to play with six games against each of the division leaders. With every game taking on increased importance, remembering Al Davis’ words from another sport, “Just win baby,” is probably most relevant. This team wasn’t supposed to be this good, but they are. They can pitch, they can play defense, and god help us, they’re starting to hit like they mean it. There is a look to this team like last year’s Red Sox, in which all the pieces come together and the unthinkable is now doable.
It’s time for the cast of Mariners fans to come out from behind the woodshed, where you’ve been shivering, ignored and afraid since 2005. It’s time for the Bavasi-haters, the Chuck and Howie anti-fan club, and the 2001 “truthers” to swallow their quart of Pepto-Bismol and, like Lou Piniella, embrace this team and accept that they’re good. It’s time for those who celebrated the underdogs of 1995, who, like me, have gone gray in our quiet loyalty and drag out those Refuse to Lose, and Sodo Mojo banners, proudly don your M Heads, stop muttering “I hope they can,” and start shouting “I know they can.” The moment is ripe Mariners fans. In the words of the great philosopher king, Jay Buhner, “F**k the wild card, let’s win the division.”