It was August 2001. The Seattle Mariners were flush with confidence. This was their year, finally.
After taking two of three at Yankee Stadium, and six of nine during the regular season, the Mariners packed up and assured the New York clubhouse attendants they would see them again – in October.
By season’s end the Mariners had compiled 116 wins (.716), tying the Major League record set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and smashing the Yankees record for wins (114) by an American League team.
Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 his rookie year. Four of the Mariners starting nine batted over .300 for the season including Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez and Jon Olerud. Seattle led the American League in run scored, stolen bases, batting average and on-base percentage.
They were nearly unbeatable.
As a team, they won 20 games in April, 20 more in May (including 15 straight from late May to mid-June) and the Mariners didn’t lose a series on the road or three consecutive games until mid-September.
The playoffs seemed like a formality.
The Mariners edged the Cleveland Indians 3-2 in the best-of-five American League Divisional Series before collapsing against the Yankees in the ALCS. As the Seattle Times stated so boldly, One hundred sixteen victories were reduced to a footnote, an anomaly from a good team that wasn’t good enough.
“It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end here,” said Bret Boone, after losing the ALCS to the Yankees. “We owned the Yankees that year. I remember looking around and going, ‘how did this happen?’ That’s baseball.”
The 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers (81-33) enter this weekend two games behind the 2001 Mariners (83-31) pace through 114 games of the regular season. Southern California is once again Dodger Blue and all the talk is if the team will break the MLB record for wins? For the record, the Dodgers will need to go 36-12 over the last two months of the regular season to break the single-season record for wins by a team.
The 2017 Dodgers appear to be deeper and more talented than the 2001 Mariners.
But, baseball is played one game at a time, and in October, regular season records mean nothing. Regular season success is your ticket to play another day. To win another game. If a team gets hot, and consistently repeat the process throughout the month of October, they will go down in baseball history books as World Series champions.
Since 1994, of the teams that lead all of MLB in regular season wins only five have won the World Series while six Wild Card teams have won.
”It doesn’t matter if we had 80 wins and got to the postseason or 150 wins and got to the postseason,” the Mariners’ Mark McLemore said. ”Our ultimate goal every single year is to win the World Series. So it doesn’t matter what your record is during the season. If you don’t end up winning the World Series, it’s a definite disappointment.”
Come October, the only certainty is uncertainty.