Safeco Field. Sunday afternoon, April 13th, 2003. It’s a few minutes before first pitch at 1:05 pm. It’s too early in the season for records to count, but it’s the 5-6 Mariners hosting the 4-7 Rangers. The Mariners were working out their early-season kinks but just came off a 13-4 blowout win the previous night.
For the Rangers and Mariners fans, the aftershocks of A-Rod’s departure were still prevalent in only his third season departed. It was a warm spring day at the ballpark with the usual smell of garlic fries, peanuts, and even hot pretzels. Notable vendors like Scooter and the late great “Rick the Peanut Man” were making their rounds.
For me and my baseball-loving dad, this would be the first of multiple games together in 2003. I felt the pregame thrill as the Mariners theme blared through the stadium and each lineup was introduced. The boos for A-Rod were just as loud as the cheers for all nine starting Mariners.
The pitching battle was between veteran southpaw Jamie Moyer and John Thomson. Ichiro. Carlos Guillen. Edgar. Olerud. Boone. Cammy. John Mabry. Jeff Cirillo. Dan the Man Wilson. Okay, This Mariners lineup was a mostly stacked one and full of guys who knew how to win. Most of the starters experienced 116 wins together. And the bottom line is that all nine guys were MLB veterans.
A-Rod shut Mariners fans up from the get-go with a ground-rule double to put two men in scoring position. Thanks to Rafael Palmeiro, the Rangers took a quick 1-0 lead. Meanwhile, the Mariners’ offense didn’t strike early through the first two innings.
In the top of the third, the former Mariner struck again. A-Rod deposited a 2-1 Moyer pitch into left field for a 2-0 Texas lead. Things looked bleak for the Mariners offense heading into the bottom of the sixth, still getting shutout at home. But with two outs and Ichiro in scoring position, Edgar ended the shutout to cut the deficit in half. Thanks to Mr. Mariner, my dad and I saw our first Mariners run of 2003.
Despite only three innings and nine outs remaining, I had a feeling the Mariners would come back to claim this one. Due to Jamie Moyer’s pitch count, he didn’t last too long. But the Mariners bullpen was strong in this one. Especially Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a true workhorse in this game. He began what would be his lone All-Star season, throwing three gritty innings in extras against one of baseball’s top offenses.
The primary hero of this game was the man pictured above, second baseman Bret Boone. The late-inning magic I anticipated came through as Boonie powered a long homer to center field. This low-scoring rubber match was knotted up at two. And thanks to one-and-done Mariner John Mabry, our team took their first lead of the game heading into the eighth.
So after a game-tying jack by Rangers backstop Todd Greene in the eighth, how fitting that this contest was headed into extras. So after the battle of the bullpens, we find ourselves at the bottom of the 13th at Safeco Field. You can smell the energy of thousands of faithful who just want to see a Mariners win and go home.
We jump to two outs and no one on. It’s current Mariner Bret Boone against future Mariner and knuckleball connoisseur RA Dickey. So with one out needed to stretch this thing to 14 innings, Mr. Dickey played with fire and got burned. His 2-0 pitch left Boonie’s bat and landed in the right-field seats. Game over. Boonie had hit his second homer of the game en route to many more this season. The Mariners took the series and were at .500.
I have attended many Mariners games since this one a little over 17 years ago. But what stood out about this is that even though the 2003 squad fell short of the playoffs, this team was the last of a perennial winner. These were guys who knew how to come up clutch and we haven’t seen a more balanced lineup of nine since this one. Like all other baseball players, these Mariners, of course, didn’t always get it done at the plate. But they were consistent and knew what they were doing up there.
Regardless of the game’s results, the early 2000’s Mariners were fun to watch. They were one of those admirable clubs who instead of one big superstar hogging the limelight, these nine guys all did their jobs and were good all-around players. And to make 2003 more memorable, no Mariners team since has won 90 or more games like this one (93-69).