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Originally published April 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 10, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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Lost at sea | An M's timeline

Back in 2001, life was good in Mariner Nation. The home team won 116 games, and fans packed beautiful Safeco Field, cheering on their heroes...

Seattle Times assistant sports editor

Back in 2001, life was good in Mariner Nation. The home team won 116 games, and fans packed beautiful Safeco Field, cheering on their heroes and gulping down tasty garlic fries and frosty beverages.

Mike Cameron turned home runs into outs, Mariners pitchers threw first-pitch strikes, and everybody loved the manager.

It seemed like Ichiro, Boonie and Edgar would never stop hitting, and that zany Moose would wave the victory flag forever.

But quicker than you could say "Who Let the Dogs Out?" the Mariners turned into losers. And now, after three straight last-place finishes and meaningless late-summer games played in a half-empty ballpark, it's win-or-else time.

What, exactly, happened to the Mariners' joy, their fun, their seasons in the sun?

*******

ILLUSTRATIONS BY SUSAN JOUFLAS / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Oct. 6, 2001: Mariners tie a major-league record with their 116th win. Seattle is the center of the freaking baseball universe!

Oct. 22, 2001: Well, maybe not. Yankees pound the Mariners 12-3 in New York, winning the ALCS in five games. The Mariners haven't played in the postseason since.

Dec. 15, 2001: Mariners trade three pitchers to Colorado for third baseman Jeff Cirillo, who says, "I don't want to screw up the things that are going on in Seattle." Cirillo, a .311 hitter before the trade, hits .234 with eight home runs in two seasons before the Mariners dump him (but not the remaining years of his salary) in a deal with San Diego.

Dec. 17, 2001: Seattle's favorite Texan, Jay Buhner, retires after 14 seasons with the Mariners that featured 307 home runs, Buhner Buzz Cut Nights and clubhouse pranks we can't report here.

July 4, 2002: Mariners, in the middle of a 93-69 season that wasn't good enough to make the playoffs, sign a 16-year-old pitcher from Venezuela named Felix Hernandez.

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Oct. 14, 2002: Mariners release manager Lou Piniella from the final year of his contract. Piniella says nothing is more important than being near his family in Florida, then proves it by agreeing to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Nov. 15, 2002: Mariners hire Bob Melvin to replace Piniella. Melvin says, "I'm as lucky as a guy could get." Not lucky enough, as it will turn out.

June 8, 2003: Closer Kazu Sasaki fractures his ribs, claiming he slipped while carrying his suitcase up a flight of stairs. The explanation is met with some skepticism in the clubhouse. Sasaki misses more than two months, returns to help the Mariners finish another 93-69 season (again, not good enough to make the playoffs), then goes back to Japan and never pitches again for the Mariners.

July 31, 2003: Reliever Jeff Nelson criticizes the team's front office for "not trying" to make a trade to help the team before the deadline.

Aug. 6, 2003: The Mariners make a trade: Jeff Nelson is sent to the Yankees for Armando Benitez. Benitez, by the way, was not used as a closer by the Mariners. The next season, he saved 47 games for Florida.

Sept. 30, 2003: Pat Gillick, who had been with the Mariners since 1999, steps away from the general manager job, to become a "consultant."

Nov. 7, 2003: Mariners hire Bill Bavasi as GM. Tony Tavares, Bavasi's former boss with the Angels, says, "They got themselves a winner." Time is running out for Bavasi to prove that.

Dec. 23, 2003: Center fielder Mike Cameron signs with the Mets as a free agent.

Jan. 8, 2004: Carlos Guillen is traded to the Tigers for two bad infielders who are long gone.

May 9, 2004: Mariners fans, unaware of the 63-99 train wreck about to unfold, pack Safeco. The crowd of 46,596 that watched the Yankees beat the Mariners still is the largest in the ballpark's history.

June 27, 2004: With the Mariners 12 games under .500 and fading fast, Freddy Garcia is traded to the White Sox.

July 15, 2004: The Mariners, now 22 games under .500 at the All-Star break, release first baseman John Olerud and basically open up auditions for the 2005 season.

July 16, 2004: Mariners folk hero Bucky Jacobsen makes his debut, but there wasn't much Bucky could do to stop an 18-6 loss to Cleveland. Bucky was one of several minor-leaguers called up the second half of 2004. Anyone seen Justin Leone, Clint Nageotte or Bobby Madritsch lately?

Oct. 1, 2004: Ichiro slaps three more hits, breaking George Sisler's record of 257 set when Woodrow Wilson was president. Ichiro finishes the season with 262.

Oct. 3, 2004: There is crying in baseball, or at least there was on the final day of this season. More than 45,000 fans show up at Safeco Field to say thanks to the great Edgar Martinez.

Oct. 4, 2004: No one shows up to say thanks to Bob Melvin, fired after his second season.

Oct. 20, 2004: Mike Hargrove, who had been fired a year earlier after four straight losing seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, is hired as the Mariners' new manager.

Dec. 15 and Dec. 17, 2004: Christmas comes early for the Sexson and Beltre families. The Mariners spend a combined $114 million to sign free-agent sluggers Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre.

Jan. 4, 2005: Mariners sign free-agent shortstop Pokey Reese, the guy the Reds absolutely wouldn't give up in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade five years earlier. Pokey never plays for the Mariners, but does pocket $1.2 million.

April 4, 2005: Good news — Sexson hits two homers and drives in all the Mariners' runs in a 5-1 opening day win over the Twins at Safeco Field.

April 4, 2005: Bad news — Eight Mariners minor-leaguers are suspended for using steroids. The Mariners were just getting started on another 90-loss season, but they were No. 1 in something in 2005 — steroids suspensions. The Mariners led both the minor leagues (8) and major leagues (3).

July 11, 2005: Discovering he can no longer hit, and really isn't that good in the field, either, the Mariners trade Bret Boone to Minnesota. The Twins discover the same, and release Boone three weeks later, a sad end to an often-brilliant career.

Aug. 4, 2005: King Felix announces his presence with authority. Felix Hernandez, just 19 years old, makes his major-league debut in Detroit. He pitches well, allowing just one earned run in six innings, but the Mariners, being the Mariners, still lose.

Sept. 30, 2005: Catcher Dan Wilson, a favorite of Mariners fans (particularly the female ones) since 1994, plays his final game, catching one inning.

Jan. 4, 2006: Exactly a year after signing Pokey Reese, the Mariners pay $3.4 million for designated hitter Carl Everett, who doesn't believe in dinosaurs, moon landings or gay rights. The Mariners, perhaps not believing their DH should hit .227, release Everett in August.

Aug. 10-20, 2006: Mariners hit the road for an AL West trip still in the race, but lose 11 straight games and trade Jamie Moyer to Philadelphia. Check, please.

Sept. 13, 2006: Two coaches, Dan Rohn and Ron Hassey, are fired. Hargrove, to the surprise of many, is not.

Sept. 29, 2006: Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln says Bavasi and Hargrove will return for the 2007 season, but that both are on his "hot seat."

Feb. 20, 2007: Ichiro, the only player who has been with the Mariners continuously since 2001, shows up for spring training and says he is "very upset" about the Mariners' losing ways the past three years. Ichiro, whose contract expires after this season, says he might become a free agent and leave the Mariners.

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