“You fool.” I thought to myself, “How could you believe in this team?
“Were you really blinded by the fluke that was 116 regular season victories? Did you really think a team that lost Johnson, Griffey and A-Rod could win a playoff series? Did you really think that a town that has won just one major professional sports championship in the last 50 years would ever win another? Don’t you remember Dikembe Mutumbo weeping tears of joy under the basket? Don’t you recall Arthur Rhodes and Al Martin letting the Yankees get to another World Series? What did you expect?”
Flashback to Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001:
It was the bottom of the sixth inning, and the Cleveland Indians led the Seattle Mariners 1-0. The Seattle Sports Choke was rearing its ugly head. Like so many times before, it looked as though another promising team out of the Northwest would fall short. The national and local media were ready to move in for the kill, ready to flash headlines all over the nation: The 2001 Seattle Mariners, the story of the regular season, had come up losers.
Then something happened. Maybe it was Bartolo Colon’s arm getting sore. Maybe it was John Olerud finally getting on base. Maybe it was the baseball gods taking pity on a team that seemed doomed to suffer a most humiliating defeat. Whatever it was, it saved the Mariners’ season. The Mariner bats came alive in the top of the seventh inning, carrying them to a 6-2 win. The victory allowed the Mariners to return to the loving embrace of Safeco Field and, more importantly, put them in the crafty hands of Jamie Moyer. There, Moyer would pitch six gorgeous innings, earn his second win of the series, and the Mariners would gain redemption with a 3-1 victory.
You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t anything short of a World Series victory a disappointment for a team that won 116 games? How does simply getting to the ALCS vindicate this team?”
First of all, 116 victories do not need vindication. The playoffs may mean more than the regular season, but that does not mean what the Mariners did was not impressive, even if they don’t win the World Series.
Second, a loss to the Athletics or Yankees would not have crushed the Mariners the same way a loss to the Indians would have. The Yankees are the world champs, and everyone knows the power of the pinstripes in the postseason. The Athletics are the only team the Mariners had trouble with all season long. A loss to either would be a disappointment, but would not qualify as a “choke.”
A loss to Cleveland would have been a choke. It would have been the ultimate insult. An upset of David vs. Goliath proportions. Fortunately, this time Seattle did not fall to David, Juan Gonzalez or Dikembe Mutumbo. Thanks to the artistry of Jamie Moyer and the incomparable hitting ability of Ichiro, Mariner fans everywhere can breathe a little bit easier.
Not that it’s over. To cap off the perfect season, the Mariners have to win a title. But the Seattle Sports Choke was avoided, and only memories of DeShaun Foster’s game on Saturday can hurt Seattle now.