“You kinda have to pinch yourself every day.” —Alex Wood

EVERYONE LOVES A WINNER. Home attendance at Seattle’s 47,116-seat Safeco Field exceeded three million in 2001. Baseball fans arrived early. They came to watch batting practice, seek player autographs, and purchase souvenirs.

Mariner victories came at a pace seldom seen in the history of America’s pastime. Fifteen wins in a row at one stretch. Into September, the Mariners hadn’t lost more than two games in succession. A new hero surfaced every game. Ichiro, Bell, Boone, Martinez, McLemore, Olerud, Cameron, Garcia, Sele, and Sasaki.

Baseball All-Americans Aaron Sele and John Olerud were Washington State University teammates in 1989. Sele, the pride of Poulsbo, ate up innings for the Mariners in 2001 and went undefeated in his first nine pitching decisions. Seattle native Olerud was the American League starting first baseman in the 2001 All-Star Game at Safeco July 3. By that time, the Mariners had forged a 63-24 record. They and their fans never looked back.

Seattle relied on finesse rather than power…on stingy pitching, solid defense, and clutch hits. “Two Outs—So What” became the Mariner mantra.

When Seattle general manager Pat Gillick wanted to sign Olerud away from the New York Mets before the 2000 season, he first called legendary Cougar baseball coach Bobo Brayton for a first-hand assessment of “Oly.” “He will become the cornerstone of the Mariners’ infield. The guy will drive in 100 runs, hit 30 doubles and bat over .300. In the clubhouse, he’ll be the only comatose leader you ever have,” Brayton said of the low-key Olerud.

Brayton is high on Sele, too. “He had a lot of confidence and composure from day one. I put him in all the rough spots. He always got the job done. I figured he’d get it done with Seattle. And he has.” The 100 tickets allotted for “Cougar Day With the Mariners” were gone a month before the July 14 game with San Francisco at Safeco. “We could have easily sold 1,000 tickets,” reports Alex Webster, assistant director of alumni relations at WSU West. The 3-2 win extended Seattle’s divisional lead to an incredible 19 games.

“You kinda have to pinch yourself each day,” Webster said in August of the Mariners’ roll. “It’s a lot like the Cougar [Rose Bowl] football season of 1997.”