USA Today Sports

Red Sox coach learned 2001 Mariners' lesson first-hand

Rob Bradford
August 09, 2018 - 8:42 pm

TORONTO - The coaches and the players in Rogers Centre's visitors' clubhouse weren't oblivious to the talk. Having a team that won 81 of its first 115 games will do that.

"What are we 35 games away? It's probably not a record we want to be focusing on," said one Red Sox player.

The conversation had been centered on the mark set by the 2001 Mariners, who finished their regular season with 116 wins before being bounced by the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The landmark moment serves as a warning for any team like the Red Sox who probably can't imagine not finishing off its season with a World Series win.

Fortunately for the Sox, there was a coach sitting at the end of the row of lockers who would be happy to pass along the reality that was that Mariners' season. Ramon Vazquez should know what was like. He was there.

"We never really talked about breaking the record or anything like that. The atmosphere, it was just a magical year for us," said Vazquez, the Red Sox' quality control coach, who appeared in 17 regular season games and one postseason contest for those '01 Mariners. "They had a veteran team and you could feel every time you went out there you were going to have a good chance to win the game. It was fun. Nobody talked about the record or anything like that. It was just focusing on playing the game the right way and staying healthy for the playoffs. It was fun being around those guys. For the first time being in the big leagues, it was a great experience.

"Like these guys, we were just thinking about playing the game and winning that day."

Vazquez is quick to point out that while the level of regular season success might be similar between that Seattle club and this edition of the Red Sox, it's not an apples-to-apples situation.

The Mariners were an extremely veteran club, with nine position players 32-years-old or older, a bullpen made up of almost exclusively 30-somethings and a starting rotation anchored by Jamie Moyer (38), Aaron Sele (31) and Paul Abbott (33).

"They had done it for so long," remembered Vazquez. "You look at that lineup back in ’01, all those guys had been in the big leagues for a long time. It was a really good, veteran team. But the information wasn’t there. I don't remember having one hitters' meeting."

The Red Sox' coach clearly does not see this as a mirror image of that Mariners' situation, in large part because of the way the Sox go about doing things. It wasn't like Seattle's loss to New York was a product of overconfidence or lack of focus. Lou Pinella's team did go 15-6 in the final month while beating the Indians in the American League Division Series. ("The Yankees just played better than us," he said.)

It's just that it was a different group at a different time.

"We know how good these guys are," said Vazquez of his current club. "To me, watching them prepare, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing a first-place team or a last-place team, these guys prepare the same way every day. They’re not willing to give up at-bats, no matter if the game is 14-0. They’re getting after it and it’s fun to see. It’s a little different (than in Seattle). I was a young kid with all those veteran guys. Now you see all these young guys getting after it, with all the information they have these days. It’s fun to watch."

He adds, "It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You see it over and over. We got beat by Tampa and Baltimore. It can happen. Everyone in here knows. They prepare. If we lose that day it’s because they happen to play better, but it’s not because we were not prepared, which is the main focus with these guys."

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