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Groz Remembers ’01 Mariners: Kaz Sasaki and Seattle’s incredible bullpen

Closer Kazuhiro Sasaki was just one piece of a dominant Mariners bullpen in 2001. (Getty)

2001: A Baseball Odyssey – a weekly look back at the record-setting 2001 Mariners and the players who got them there.

The All-Star Game was wildly successful for Seattle, and as the second half of the season began, the Mariners would welcome in the biggest star in baseball on July 12 and show off another weapon in this team’s incredible arsenal: the bullpen.

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One of the many reasons for the Mariners’ success in 2001 was the feeling that in most of their games, if an opponent didn’t have the lead against them by the seventh inning, they were toast.

The back of the M’s bullpen was stellar with lefty Arthur Rhodes and righty Jeff Nelson setting the table for closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. Nelson struck out 88 in 65 innings, Rhodes was 8-0 with a 1.76 ERA, and Kaz saved 45, but they weren’t the whole story.

So back to the game. It was Barry Bonds and the Giants who were in town and with 45,000-plus watching, and Bonds wasted no time launching his 40th home run of the season off Paul Abbott in the first. The Mariners took the lead 2-1 in the third, but Rich Aurilia took Abbott deep in the sixth, and the Giants not only led 3-2 but they had the bases loaded and a chance to break the game open.

In stepped Jose Paniagua to force a pop up to end the inning. Jose worked 2 1/3 scoreless with a strikeout of Bonds to boot. Ryan Franklin worked a scoreless eighth, and a blast by David Bell in the ninth sent the game to extra innings.

Sasaki came in to work the 10th and struck out Bonds to end the inning. It was Rhodes’ turn in the 11th, and he picked up his sixth win when Mike Cameron raced home from second on Tom Lampkin’s RBI infield single to walk it off it in the bottom of the inning (box score).

For the bullpen it was 5 2/3 scoreless innings with the vaunted Bonds striking out twice, and the Mariners picked up right where they left off before the All-Star break.

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More 2001 Mariners memories from Groz

• Seattle hosts an All-Star Game for the ages
• The bounceback year of M’s Hall of Famer Dan Wilson
• Mark McLemore, the all-important 10th man
Edgar Martinez cements his legacy with his last great season
• Aaron Sele, the pitcher who ‘fell from the sky’
• Bret Boone gave Seattle a huge, surprising boost
• Paul Abbott, the forgotten hero of the historic ’01 M’s
• Introduction: Celebrating the 2001 Mariners, 20 years later

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