The frustration, the angst, the agony, the brow-beating that accompanies a 14-game losing streak– it’s all been seen and experienced before by the Mariners.
But you have to go back nearly 20 years, to the miserable 1992 season, to find it. Which is exactly what I did, through the magic of Lexis-Nexis and Baseball Reference.
What I found is that Tolstoy’s famous quote — “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” — applies to unhappy baseball teams, too. The 1992 Mariners of first-year manager BIll Plummer, en route to a 64-98 season that would make Plummer a one-and-done manager — and usher in the era of Lou Piniella in ’93 — found unique and multi-faceted ways to lose ballgames. Just like the 2011 Mariners.
Here is a look at each of those losses, along with the increasingly anguished quotes of Plummer, culled from the Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Associated Press:
Sept. 2, 1992. Red Sox 5, Mariners, 2, at Kingdome: The M’s were going for a three-game sweep of the Red Sox at the Kingdome, but Roger Clemens – who once struck out 20 Mariners – delivered his 10th complete game of the season. The M’s could parlay 10 hits and a walk into just two runs.
Bill Plummer: “It’s real hard to hit Roger when he’s in a groove. You’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity because chances are he’s not going to give up more than two or three runs a game. I thought we did a pretty good job against him.”
Sept. 4, 1992. Indians 7, Mariners 0, in Cleveland: Jose Mesa, of all people, pitched an eight-hit shutout, and the Indians crushed rookie Dave Fleming – coming off a two-hit shutout of the Indians his previous start — for five runs in three innings. To make matters worse, Edgar Martinez was a last-minute scratch because of a stiff right shoulder, and Kevin Mitchell went on the 60-day DL with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Bill Plummer: “Flem just didn’t have much early. He’s coming off two nine-inning stints (the Cleveland win and a 2-0 loss to Baltimore). He wasn’t putting the ball where he wants to. He did not have much. He’s pretty readable early when he doesn’t have it….It takes a lot out of your offense when you don’t have Edgar and Mitchell.”
Sept. 5, 1992. Indians 5, Mariners 4, in Cleveland: You can’t make this stuff up: Randy Johnson was cruising along with a two-hitter and a 2-0 lead until an F-14 fighter from a nearby air show flew over and rattled Johnson with the thunderous noise. He gave up four runs in the fifth, and the Indians won it in the ninth on Albert Belle’s single off Mike Schooler, scoring Felix Fermin from third.
Bill Plummer: “I told Schools to pitch him (Belle) bad in. If he gets behind (in the count), we can walk him and take our chances with (Carlos) Martinez.”
Sept. 6, 1992. Indians 12, Mariners 9 (12 innings), in Cleveland: The Mariners went ahead 9-7 in the 12th on a two-run homer by Jay Buhner, only to lose when closer Mike Schooler gave up a grand slam to Carlos Martinez in the bottom of the 12th. It was the fourth grand slam allowed by Schooler, and the 10th given up by Mariner pitchers in 1992, a major-league record.
Bill Plummer: “I feel sorry him. Sooner or later, someone is going to pop one up on him. I feel sorry for the guys. They busted their butts for four hours out there and have nothing to show for it. We don’t have anyone who can come in there and strike a guy out…. I just don’t know what I’m going to get from Schools from one game to the next. I’m not saying this is the reason for our (bad) season, but good teams have good closers. You can’t be successful without a consistent stopper.”
Sept. 7, 1992. Twins 4, Mariners 2, at Minneapolis: Twins first baseman Gene Larkin made two errors, including one that led to two Mariner runs, but he compensated with a two-run homer and game-winning two-run double. The Twins made three errors, but the Mariners grounded into four double plays and had two runners thrown out at the plate.
Bill Plummer: “They tried to give it to us and we couldn’t take it. We helped them out in a couple big situations. The guys in the middle of our lineup were up at the right time, but we just didn’t get the job done.”
Sept. 8, 1992. Twins 8, Mariners 4, at Minneapolis: With the game tied in the eighth, Seattle relievers walked four batters and threw two wild pitches as the Twins scored four to break the game open. Ken Griffey Jr. hit a grand slam for the Mariners’ runs, but the bullpen couldn’t make it stand. The M’s at that point of the season had 18 blown saves in 44 chances. The Mariners, with a 56-83 record, were officially eliminated from the playoffs with the loss.
Bill Plummer: “We would have won 100 games if we played only six or seven innings every night. Four walks. Two wild pitches. It’s the same old story. It’s no fun. The only guy we have out there who is doing the job is (Jeff) Nelson, but I can’t keep bringing him into tie games. Someone, somehow has to get us from the sixth to the ninth inning, and we haven’t done it all season. I’m going to have a talk with them (the bullpen). What am I going to say? I don’t know.”
Sept. 9, 1992. Twins 6, Mariners 2, at Minneapolis: The Twins ran crazy on the Mariners, finishing with a club-record six stolen bases. They banged 10 hits off rookie Dave Fleming, who had beat them 1-0 earlier in the season. Struggling rookie Bret Boone was 0-for-3 to drop his average to .162.
Bill Plummer: “I think he (Boone) has listened to all of those expectations and he’s not being himself. He has been successful wherever he has played, and once he uses the talent that got him here, he’ll be okay. He didn’t get to the major leagues because of osmosis. He got here because of his talent. When he came up (from Calgary on Aug. 18) we told him he was going to play no matter what, and that’s what we’re going to do. He’s struggling right now, let’s face it, but a lot of players struggle early in their careers. I know he didn’t think he would struggle, but I told him that the only pressure he faced was the pressure he put on himself.”
Sept. 10, 1992. A’s 6, Mariners 4, at Oakland: The two teams nearly brawled when Randy Johnson hit Carney Lansford with a pitch in the seventh inning. Lansford moved toward the mound and players poured onto the field, but order was quickly restored. The M’s lost despite the 24th home run by Jay Buhner, which put the M’s up 3-0 in the fourth. Ruben Sierra’s three-run homer in the seventh was the big blow for Oakland. Johnson apparently didn’t like the way Sierra postured after the homer and took it out on Lansford. Also, in the top of the inning, Oakland starter Ron Darling had hit Dave Valle in the leg.
Bill Plummer: “What about that? It’s not their field. We have as much right to pitch inside as they do.”
Sept. 11, 1992. A’s 4, Mariners 3, at Oakland: The Mariners used a major-league record five left fielders in the game – including Harold Reynolds in his first career outfield appearance — and took a 3-2 lead in the eighth. But Oakland tied it in the bottom of the inning on Harold Baines’ homer off Jeff Nelson, then won it in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Rickey Henderson. Ken Griffey, Jay Buhner and Henry Cotto were all out with injuries, forcing Plummer to improvise in the outfield. Henderson’s game-winning sac fly was close to the foul line, but Seattle right fielder Shane Turner elected to catch the ball, then threw home too late.
Bill Plummer: “It’s a tough call. If he knows it’s going foul, he’s got to let it go.”
Sept. 12, 1992. A’s 5, Mariners 4: The Mariners left 13 runners on base. Plummer used four pitchers in the sixth inning, but it was Dennis Eckersley who closed out Oakland’s win in the ninth for his 45th save.
Bill Plummer: “You’ve got to put ’em in the fire…you’ve got to find out.”
Sept. 13, 1992. A’s 3, Mariners 1: The Mariners nearly had the indignity of being no-hit by Oakland starter Kelly Downs, who held them hitless through the first eight innings. Downs struck out John Moses to start the ninth before Harold Reynolds delivered a clean single up the middle. Greg Briley’s two-out double scored Reynolds, but reliever Jeff Russell retired Ken Griffey Jr. on a grounder to second to end the game.
Bill Plummer: ”We just haven’t been able to score a lot of runs here. It’s a tough park for us. But they’ve all been tough parks for us this year. The only good thing is that we didn’t get no-hit.”
Sept. 15. Angels 9, Mariners 0, at Kingdome: Fleming dropped his fourth straight game as Chuck Finley blanked the Mariners. The benches cleared in the eighth when Mariner reliever Eric Gunderson buzzed Luis Polonia with a pitch. Fleming held the Angels to two runs through five innings, then got lit up in a four-run sixth. The M’s hit into double plays in the second, third and fourth.
Bill Plummer: “Dave was pitching well early. It might have been a different game if we had scored early, too.”
Sept. 16. Angels 2, Mariners 1 (13 innings), at Kingdome: In perhaps the most frustrating loss of the streak, Randy Johnson held the Angels to one hit in nine innings and struck out a career high 15, yet got a no-decision. He gave up an unearned run in the sixth when Hubie Brooks, after getting the only hit off the Big Unit, scored on a wild throw by second baseman Bret Boone. The Angels, who got seven strong innings from ex-Mariner Mark Langston, won it in the 13th off Seattle reliever Calvin Jones on a single by future Mariner hero Luis Sojo, scoring Ron Tingley from second. Plummer was second-guessed – by Johnson – for not sacrificing with Boone after Mike Blowers led off the seventh with a double in a 1-1 tie. Boone struck out, and the M’s didn’t score. “I can’t figure out why we’re not bunting him (Blowers) over,” Johnson said. “One run is going to make the difference. It’s just fundamental baseball.”
Bill Plummer: “A lot of people think I should have bunted him over. I was trying to give him a break, a chance to get the runner over. It didn’t work out very good.”
Sept. 18. A’s 7, Mariners 4, at Kingdome: The Mariners issued 10 walks – the fifth time that season their pitchers reached double figures in base on balls. Bret Boone’s homer and doubled to start two rallies, but Dennis Eckersley got the final four outs for his 48th save. For the A’s, who won their 10th straight game, Mark McGwire had a three-run homer, his 39th, in the first inning off Seattle starter Brian Fisher.
Bill Plummer: “You can’t give up 10 walks and expect to win. You don’t give yourself a chance to win. Ten walks, you don’t have that in (Class) A ball. Ten walks . . . you lose. You can’t spot this club (Oakland) a four-run lead once – never mind twice – and win. But we’ll keep fighting and get through this losing streak.”
The streak ends:
Sept. 19. Mariners 6, A’s 4, at Kingdome: The M’s fell behind 3-0 early, then broke loose for six runs in the third, spurred by Brett Boone’s two-run single. Jeff Nelson worked the final two innings for his fifth save.
Bill Plummer: “I can’t remember the last time we had a lead late in the game and our bullpen got six straight outs.”