The number that will go down in history Wednesday was the Seattle Mariners' 100th loss of the season, though what may be worth remembering is the gift a manager in limbo gave to an ace in waiting.
Jim Riggleman was given a choice in the sixth inning of Seattle’s 158th game - pull his starting pitcher with a three-run lead, or let Felix Hernandez get one last out and get his first 200-inning season.
The manager’s decision to reward his pitcher cost the team that lead and, perhaps, the game when the Los Angeles Angels rallied to beat Seattle, 6-5.
If so, it’s a call Riggleman is willing to live with.
“In today's world, 200 innings makes a statement about a pitcher,” Riggleman said before the game, “especially in the American League, where the offense makes it so hard to pitch that many innings. I'd like to see Felix get that number beside his name.”
Hernandez 22, got his first 200-inning season, but it cost him all of his three-run lead and any chance of winning.
“After the fifth inning, I was thinking he could go seven – he’s going to have three or four months to rest,” Riggleman said. “It wasn’t to be. The bottom of their order gave us problems and they wound up tying the game. That one out turned out to be a tough one to get.”
Ahead 5-2 after five innings, Hernandez could have walked off and had the chance to win his 10th game of the season.
Instead, the right-hander went back out for the sixth inning needing one out for his 200th inning. What followed made Riggleman and a Safeco Field crowd of 19,015 wince – three singles and a walk, then a run-scoring double play that tied the game.
And gave Felix his number.
“There are round numbers that mean a lot to a player, they stand for something,” Riggleman said. “I wanted to get him those numbers. He’s pitched well for us, given us the chance to win almost every time he went out there.
“Tonight, his stuff was electric – and they still got hits. That’s a tribute to their hitters.”
The Angels took their lumps from the Mariners but wouldn’t go away, and in the back of the Mariners minds was that large, ugly number: 100 losses.
The franchise hadn’t lost that many games since 1983, and the only man in the dugout with the team both seasons was trainer Rick Griffin.
“My first year was ’83,” Griffin said. “How did it feel, losing 100 games? It hurt then, it hurts now.”
Tied at 2-2 after four innings, the Mariners tried to break the game open in the fifth inning, when they scored three times.
Yuniesky Betancout’s third hit, a double, set up the first run, which he scofredd on shortstop Erick Aybar’s throwing error. Jeremy Reed doubled home Jose Lopez, and Bryan LaHair’s two-out single scored Reed to put Seattle up, 5-2.
Hernandez gave it all back a half inning later.
In the end, Hernandez got his 11th no-decision of the season, finishing 9-11 with a 3.45 earned run average.
When the game went to both bullpens, the Mariners went first to Mark Lowe, who got through a scoreless seventh inning, then got the first two outs of the eighth inning.
Mark Teixeira beat him, hitting his 13th home run as an Angel and his 33rd homer of the year deep into the right field stands.
The Mariners had their chances, and with one out in the eighth-inning had a point-blank shot at breaking the game open. LaHair walked, Kenji Johjima was hit by a pitch and Miguel Cairo walked to load the bases.
Ichiro Suzuki, his 16-game hitting streak on the line, struck out on a pitch well outside. Betancourt tapped out to third base.
For those who wonder, managers often spend the last few days of a season rewarding their best players – or trying to. Power hitters in need of another home run or two get moved to the leadoff spot to give them more at bats.
On the next-to-the-last day of the ’97 season, manager Lou Piniella wanted to get Randy Johnson his first 20-win campaign, although Johnson wasn’t going to get another start.
Omar Olivares started and pitched four innings for Seattle, but was pulled with a 7-2 lead. Johnson was dropped in, pitched just long enough to qualify for the win and pulled.
Voila! A 20-game winner.
Histgory will also remember this one as providing the first video review in franchise history when Angels manager Mike Scioscia questioned umpire Chuck Meriweather’s ‘foul’ call on Vladimir Guerrero’s drive one out into the fifth inning.
The ball banged into the plastic near the base of the foul pole, near the yellow line. The umpiring crew huddled, then took a two-minute, 28-second delay to check out the replay.
The result? It was a foul ball.