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Mariners RF Ichiro Suzuki
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Mariners opening day ‘preview’: Where the M’s were in Game 1 of 2001

Mariners RF Ichiro Suzuki drops a bunt on opening day 2001. (Getty - Otto Greule Jr/Allsport)

The Mariners’ opening game of the 2020 season was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 26 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced MLB to postpone the season. Just because there will be no baseball played Thursday doesn’t mean you won’t have a baseball game to listen to on 710 ESPN Seattle, however. A series of classic Mariners games will air at 7 p.m. each night on 710 ESPN Seattle beginning Thursday (full schedule here). Below, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer provides a preview ahead of Game 1 in the series.

Monday, April 2, 2001.

Opening day 2001 was a day that started with a lot of question marks for the Mariners and those that followed them, and it ended with win No. 1 of a record-tying 116 that year.

The team was coming off a 91-71 season where they swept the Chicago White Sox in the American League Division Series but came up short against the Yankees, falling 4-2 in the ALCS. Despite the previous strong season, there were big question marks as the departure of Alex Rodriguez left the team without a marquee name or superstar. There were some hurt feelings, too, as the Mariners did everything they could to woo the 24-year-old shortstop – including setting up a requested golf date with Bill Gates – but it was to no avail as he grabbed a record $250 million offering from the Texas Rangers.

There was intrigue surrounding the club as Ichiro Suzuki was signed to a three-year, $14 million contract with a $13.25 million posting fee, becoming the first Japanese position player to play in the big leagues. Spring training had been a bit of a madhouse with the press gaggle that followed him. As loud as things were surrounding him off the field in spring training, his bat was relatively quiet on the field in spring. Singles here and there, but not much else.

There is of course the legendary story – which is true – of Mariners manager Lou Piniella wanting to see more from Ichiro and finally asking if he could turn on the ball. Ichiro of course stepped up to the plate and parked one on the berm in Peoria.

Aside from Ichiro, 32-year-old second baseman Bret Boone was brought in, coming off a season where he hit .251/.326/.421 (.726 OPS) for the Padres. The move pushed Mark McLemore to a utility role. With A-Rod gone, Carlos Guillen took over at shortstop and Al Martin was brought in to help in the outfield. His help would be needed as Jay Buhner suffered a torn arch in his foot in Game 1 of Cactus League play and missed most of the season.

On the pitching side, not much changed. The Mariners had a very solid if not spectacular staff in 2000. They did make two additions to the bullpen, signing Jeff Nelson and Norm Charlton, both of whom were returning for their second stints with the team.

Lineups!

Mariners

Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Mike Cameron, CF
Edgar Martinez, DH
John Olerud, 1B
Bret Boone, 2B
Al Martin, LF
David Bell, 3B
Dan Wilson, C
Carlos Guillen, SS

Freddy Garcia, RHP

Athletics

Johnny Damon, LF
Jose Ortiz, 2B
Jason Giambi, 1B
Olmedo Saenz, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B
Miguel Tejada, SS
Terence Long, CF
Jeremy Giambi, RF
Ramon Hernandez, C

Tim Hudson, RHP

A good matchup with the A’s just nudging the Mariners for the AL West division title in 2000 with a 91-70 record thanks to 9-4 record in head-to-head matchups against Seattle. On April 2, 2001, they threw 2000 Cy Young Award runner-up Tim Hudson at the Mariners, and reigning AL MVP Jason Giambi in the lineup. They would go on to win 102 games in 2001 – and finish 14 games out of first place. Absolutely nobody that day could imagine what would transpire for the Mariners over the next six months, not even longtime play-by-play announcer Rick Rizzs.

“What I remember going into 2001 was it was such a different ball club we were going to take a look at,” Rizzs said, “because we weren’t going to have three future Hall of Famers. The Mariners had traded away Randy Johnson in ’98, (Ken Griffey) Jr. in ’99 and then A-Rod signed with the Texas Rangers. So we didn’t really know who we were.”

Despite the success in 2000, only two of ESPN’s 12 baseball experts picked the Mariners to make thepost season in 2001. One voter had them dead last in the division. They were far from the only skeptics.

“I will never forget at spring training doing a pregame show with Lou Piniella, I asked him, ‘Hey Lou, who is the best team in the AL West this year?’ We were coming off a pretty good year the year before, and he said the Texas Rangers! So (radio producer/engineer) Kevin Cremin had to edit that out of the interview,” Rizzs said with a laugh. “But that’s coming from the manager. The manager didn’t know. We didn’t know. Who was this guy coming over from Japan? Would his numbers translate after nine successful years with the Orix Blue Wave? We found out that he was a great player and a future Hall of Famer shortly after that.

“But we really didn’t know what we were.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

Read Shannon’s Get To Know Your Mariners series

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