Top 5 Opening Day moments for Mariners

March 31st, 2021

Opening Day is special everywhere, but especially so in Seattle. The excitement of a new season is palpable, but the pomp, circumstance and pageantry that the Mariners put on make one of the most exciting days of the season all the more unique. 

Pearl Jam and Macklemore have become regular attendees, with pregame shows and the performance of the National Anthem. The Mariners’ red-carpet sprint from right-center field for player introductions has also become their niche.

And on the field, of course, they’ve had some memorable moments, too. Here is a look at the five very best:

1) April 6, 2009: The Kid is back
In his first game back with the Mariners after nine seasons with the Reds, picked up where he'd left off by hitting his eighth Opening Day home run -- a fifth-inning solo shot off Francisco Liriano -- to tie Frank Robinson for the most Opening Day homers in MLB history.

Griffey entered that season facing questions about his production and legacy, returning to the franchise for which he became the face after such a long absence. He considered signing with the Braves, but the appeal of returning to his roots tugged at him. He wound up being the 2009 team’s heartbeat and pulse behind the scenes, and he also put up a few more numbers on his Hall of Fame résumé, beginning with that solo jack in the Metrodome, which backed a stellar start by Felix Hernandez. The King gave up one run over eight innings as Seattle beat Minnesota, 6-1.

2) March 31, 1996: Miracle Mariners continue
In the Mariners’ first game following their historic 1995 -- capped by the hit that saved Seattle -- the team was dripping with hype entering ’96. Griffey was on the verge of a Nike campaign that went viral in an era before smartphones. The club was getting a new ballpark. Opening Day would be televised to a national audience, and in the first game in MLB history played in March, according to SABR.

When reigning Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson took the hill, it was like 1995 had rolled right into ’96 -- and the “Refuse to Lose” mantra was certainly on display. The Big Unit gave up a double to Ray Durham then a two-run homer to Frank Thomas in the first inning, but he settled down and gave up just one more hit over the rest of his seven-inning outing.

Edgar Martinez rallied a one-out, game-tying single in the ninth, but Joey Cora was thrown out trying to score the winning run, which sent the game to extras. But it was Alex Rodriguez, in the start of a runner-up MVP season as a 20-year-old, who was that day’s hero, roping in Doug Strange with 12th-inning single.

3) April 2, 2007: The King sets the stage
Hernandez’s first of 11 Opening Day starts was one of the many benchmarks on his résumé that made him the greatest pitcher in Mariners history. And while there are so many to choose from, his first opener in that line stands out most.

That afternoon in 2007, the 20-year-old Hernandez struck out 12 over eight scoreless innings as the Mariners rode a grand slam from Richie Sexson in the sixth inning to blank the A’s, 4-0. Hernandez became the second youngest pitcher with at least a dozen strikeouts in an opener, wasting away hitters with a fastball that touched 98 mph.

Hernandez passionately relished each of his Opening Day starts, leading the Mariners to nine wins while never allowing more than three earned runs and posting double-digit strikeouts three times. His 1.53 ERA ranks third among the 36 pitchers with at least eight such starts.

4) March 20, 2019: Ichiro steals the show in Tokyo
Ichiro Suzuki was the hit attraction to a sold-out crowd during his on-field homecoming in Japan, which coincided with the Mariners opening the season overseas against the A’s. Ichiro didn’t get a hit that day in his two at-bats, but he did become the second-oldest position player -- and sixth-oldest player overall -- to start on Opening Day and the first Major Leaguer to reach base safely at age 45 or older since Omar Vizquel seven seasons prior.

Mariners manager Scott Servais pulled Ichiro in the bottom of the fourth after Ichiro returned to the field in an effort to draw a crowd reaction from the 45,787 on hand at the Tokyo Dome. Ichiro left to a standing ovation, and the Mariners ran away to a 9-7 win backed by a grand slam from Domingo Santana. The following day, Ichiro again played and was pulled midgame, and he retired for good after.

5) April 8, 1986: The great Seattle slam
Jim Presley etched his name into Mariners history on that night, helping rally the Mariners from sure defeat to upset win over the Angels. Seattle entered the ninth inning trailing, 4-2, when Mr. Mariner Alvin Davis laced a leadoff double, which preceded Presley sending a game-tying homer off Donnie Moore force the game to extras.

One inning later, the Mariners started another rally after Phil Bradley reached on a one-out walk, went to third on a single from Ivan Calderon, then Gorman Thomas drew a walk to load the bases. Barry Bonnell then popped out in foul territory, which loaded the bases for Presley to face two-time All-Star Ken Forsch.

Presley rewarded those who stuck around by crushing a walk-off grand slam -- which remains one of only three in Major League history on Opening Day. It was the first big day for the eventual 1986 All-Star, who spent six seasons in Seattle and homered 115 times.

Honorable mentions

April 6, 1977: The first of them all -- Diego Segui threw the first pitches in Mariners history, which was perhaps fitting given that he played for the Seattle Pilots during their lone season in 1969. The Mariners were shutout, 7-0, by the Angels.

April 9, 1990: The Kid does it all -- Griffey had already given a glimpse to his eventual greatness during his rookie year in ’89, but he took it to another level in ’90, when he earned his first of 10 straight All-Star bids. That campaign started with a four-hit showing, including a homer, in a 7-4 win in Anaheim.

April 1, 1997: Start the MVP campaign -- Noticing a Griffey trend here? The Hall of Famer started his MVP season with the first two homers of his eventual 56 in a 4-2 win over the Yankees, whom Griffey has since let it be known he resented.

April 2, 2001: The first of 116 -- They probably didn’t know that they were on the verge of the most successful season in Major League history at the time, but the Mariners began their march to 116 wins with victory No. 1 against Oakland. John Olerud’s eighth-inning sacrifice fly pushed the Mariners to a 5-4 win, after reigning American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Kazuhiro Sasaki picked up the save.

April 4, 1984: Opening Day walk-off -- The 1984 season was headlined by Alvin Davis and Mark Langston, who would finish 1-2 in that year’s AL Rookie of the Year Award vote, but it was Phil Bradley who stole the spotlight in the opener, hitting a game-winning, walk-off single in the 10th inning.