It was supposed to be easier than this. Much easier.
The Seattle Mariners, picked by baseball prognosticators to run away with the A.L. West, instead waited until their final homestand to clinch the division title for the second time in three years.
But in the end, the Mariners’ record-setting home-run power overcame an inconsistent bullpen that was up and down all season - mostly down.
It was a season in which Ken Griffey Jr. continued to demonstrate he is the best player in baseball, and Randy Johnson made a remarkable recovery from back surgery.
While Griffey chased Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, the Mariners struggled to widen the gap between themselves and the surprising Anaheim Angels. In fitting fashion, they finally closed the door on the Angels by beating them 4-3 Tuesday night.
Jay Buhner’s 40th homer, a 484-foot, three-run shot in the first inning Tuesday night, was the Mariners’ 258th of the season, breaking the record for most home runs by a major league team in one season.
Baltimore hit 257 last year.
By the final week of the season the Mariners had already won more games than any Mariners team in 21 seasons of franchise play. With a solid bullpen, there might have been more victories. But Seattle’s relievers blew 26 saves.
The Mariners felt they had to part with one of their future stars, Jose Cruz Jr., in order to get to the playoffs. On July 31, they traded Cruz to Toronto for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric to help their beleaguered bullpen. Then, just to make sure, they acquired Heathcliff Slocumb at the last minute in a trade with Boston.
How far will the Mariners go in the playoffs?
They’ll be matched against the A.L. East champion - probably Baltimore - in a best-of-5 series that will open here next week.
The Orioles had a 7-4 edge over the Mariners, including 4-1 in the Kingdome, this season.