October 5, 2001: The Seattle Mariners notch their 115th win of the year to set the American League record for victories in a single season previously held by the 1998 New York Yankees. The Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 6-2 at Safeco Field to hit the milestone, with Jamie Moyer becoming a 20-game winner. The M’s, managed by Lou Piniella, would also win their next game over the Rangers, establishing the current AL record of 116 victories. The Oakland A’s won 102 games that season—and finished 14 games behind Seattle.
The building of this record-setting team was amazing, considering all the players that got away. First, three years earlier, the Mariners had let future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson go in a trade with Houston. But three guys they got in return would be important pieces in 2001: shortstop Carlos Guillen and pitchers Freddy Garcia (a 2001 All-Star) and John Halama. Then franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr. was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds after the 1999 season, and Alex Rodriguez walked as a free agent after the 2000 campaign. Included in the package Seattle received for Griffey, though, was Mike Cameron, a Gold Glove centerfielder in 2001.
But there was one M’s acquisition that stood above all the rest. They signed Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, and he was instant gold around Puget Sound. Ichiro became the first player in Major League Baseball history to win MVP, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove honors as well as start in the All Star Game in the same season. He led the American League with a .350 batting average, 242 hits and 56 stolen bases. Another key signee was Bret Boone, who essentially replaced A-Rod in the infield.
Alas, Seattle would not make the World Series. After beating Cleveland in the AL Divisional Series, the Mariners fell to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. Ground Zero was still smoldering in New York City after the attacks of 9/11, and the Yanks were playing inspired baseball, with support from around the country. But Boone put it on him and his teammates. “I think we didn’t play well,” Boone said. “Maybe it was a letdown because there was so much emphasis on, ‘Are you going to set the record?’” The M’s wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2022.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)