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Bright spots amid rough year for Mariners

Bright spots amid rough year for Mariners

SEATTLE -- There's no getting around the fact that 2010 was a year the Mariners are eager to put behind them, from the disappointment of 101 losses and the frustration of an historically poor offense to the franchise-shaking news of Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus' death in November.

But as always in the year-long saga of a baseball season, there were moments of great delight as well. The opportunity to watch Cliff Lee pitch for three spectacular months was a treat, as were a few more Ken Griffey Jr. moments before he retired in June.

Ichiro Suzuki cranked out another supreme season, capping off a decade of dominance in Seattle with his 10th straight All-Star election, 10th straight 200-hit season and 10th straight Rawlings Gold Glove Award. He finished with 214 hits, a .315 batting average and 42 stolen bases, joining Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Tris Speaker as the only players since 1901 to record 10 consecutive seasons of hitting .300 and stealing 25 bases.

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Young pitchers Jason Vargas and Doug Fister showed signs of excellence in their first year as full-time starters, and Franklin Gutierrez went the entire way without committing an error in center field. And Felix Hernandez? Well, the King truly ascended to royalty status with a Cy Young season that defied the odds.

And don't forget the triple play turned in during interim manager Daren Brown's first game on Aug. 9 against the A's, Felix's four-strikeout inning against the Twins on June 3, Russell Branyan becoming the first player to homer into the fourth deck at the new Yankee Stadium on Aug. 21 and Jose Lopez's three-homer game in Toronto on Sept. 22.

Year in Review
Looking back at 2010
MLB Year in Review
Game prospering
Final standings
Statistical leaders

Here are the five biggest Mariners storylines of 2010:

5. Wakamatsu out; Wedge in
With the Mariners struggling to meet expectations on the field, Wakamatsu was dismissed on Aug. 9 and replaced by interim manager Daren Brown. General manager Jack Zduriencik then led a postseason search process that resulted in the hiring of Wedge on Oct. 18. The former Indians skipper promises to bring a renewed intensity to the club, as well as a history of working well with young players in Cleveland. The Indians came within one game of the World Series in '07 when Wedge was named American League Manager of the Year.

4. Ichiro makes history
For 10 years, nobody has done it better than Ichiro when it comes to knocking out hits and getting on base. On Sept. 23 at Toronto, Ichiro recorded his 200th hit of the season, extending his Major League record for consecutive 200-hit seasons to 10 and tying Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons in a career. For a little perspective, the Mariners have had just three other 200-hit seasons in their history (two by Alex Rodriguez and one by Bret Boone). And since Ichiro began his streak in '01, nine Major League teams -- the White Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins, Astros, Rays, D-backs, Braves and Reds -- have yielded no 200-hit players.

3. Junior calls it a career
On June 2, exactly 23 years to the day after being selected as the first overall pick of the '87 Draft by the Mariners, the best player in franchise history called it quits. Much like the rest of the team, Griffey didn't have the season he expected, but he, too, had his moments, including a dramatic walk-off single on May 20 against the Blue Jays to cap a three-run comeback in the ninth inning at Safeco Field. He ended his career ranked fifth on MLB's all-time list in home runs (630), sixth in extra-base hits (1,192), 14th in RBIs (1,836) and 31st in runs scored (1,662).

2. Cy Young for King Felix
Great players rise above the circumstances surrounding them, and that certainly was the case with Felix Hernandez, who posted one of the best pitching performances in franchise history for a team that scored the fewest runs per game of any Major League team since 1973. Hernandez was so impressive that Baseball Writers' Association of America voters elected him as the AL Cy Young Award winner, despite his modest 13-12 win-loss record. Hernandez set a club record for ERA (2.27) and the most strikeouts by a right-hander (232), leading the AL in both categories as well as innings pitched (249 2/3), quality starts (30) and opponent's batting average (.212). And, yeah, all that at age 24.

1. The Voice falls silent
For 34 years, Dave Niehaus served as the Mariners' play-by-play announcer, calling nearly every game since the team's inception in 1977. Players, managers and ownership groups came and went, but Niehaus was the constant for Mariners fans. When Griffey scored on Edgar Martinez's double to beat the Yankees in the '95 playoffs, it was Niehaus who recorded the electric moment. When Safeco Field opened in '99, he threw out the first pitch. When baseball inducted him into the Hall of Fame in '08, Niehaus said no one would ever be more appreciative. And when he passed away of a heart attack on Nov. 10, the entire Mariners Nation mourned. The team held two public memorials at Safeco Field, both poignant reminders of his impact on the entire region. As Griffey noted, "It will never be the same, because there's nobody better."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohns1 as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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