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M's honor 2001's 116-win team

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners welcomed more than 20 members from their 2001 team to Safeco Field on Saturday night to honor the 10th anniversary of their record-setting run to the AL West crown.

The Mariners won 116 games in 2001, matching the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most wins in major league history.

General manager Pat Gillick, manager Lou Piniella, bench coach John McLaren and 18 players from the Mariners' record-setting team returned to Safeco Field for the celebration of the best team to ever play in Seattle.

The tight-knit squad formed a special bond together in racing out to a 20-5 record in April and didn't look back.

"That was one of the things that made our team so special. We didn't have cliques," Mark McLemore said. "Everyone got along with everybody. Everybody spent time with everybody. It was just a lot of fun."

After the attacks of Sept. 11 put the season on hiatus for a week, Seattle managed to close out the regular season with a 12-6 record in their final 18 games to match the Cubs' record on the next-to-last day of the season. But the Mariners were fighting some bumps and bruises down the stretch, including their only losing streak of three or more games all season.

The Cleveland Indians took the Mariners to five games in the AL Division Series, forcing Piniella to throw ace Freddy Garcia and 20-game winner Jamie Moyer in the final two games of the series.

The New York Yankees, rallying behind the nation's outpouring of support with Ground Zero still smoldering in Lower Manhattan, brought a surprising end to the Mariners' season with a 4-1 victory in the ALCS to advance to the World Series.

"I think we didn't play well," second baseman Bret Boone said. "I didn't think they played well. They played a little bit better than us and we didn't have too many series, playoffs or regular season, that year where we didn't play well."

"Maybe it was a letdown because there was so much emphasis on are you going to set the record," Boone said. "'Are you going to set the record?' And then all of the sudden we do, and OK now let's relax, well now we have to go to the postseason and play for what really matters, the ring."

All five starting pitchers earned at least 10 victories on the year with Moyer leading the rotation with a 20-6 record. The team sent a team record eight players to the All-Star Game and clinched the division title on Sept. 19 with a 5-0 win over the Anaheim Angels.

The Oakland A's won the wild card out of the West with 102 wins on the year and finished 14 games behind the record-setting Mariners.

"You win 92 games and you've had a really good season," Piniella said. "You win over 95 and it's a special season. You win over a 100, my gosh, you're burning it up pretty good. But 116? It's only happened one time, so that tells you, and the parity I see in baseball today I don't see it happening in the near future, I can tell you that."

The Mariners had seen Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez leave the team in consecutive seasons, Griffey being traded to Cincinnati and Rodriguez signing an unprecedented free-agent contract with the Texas Rangers.

Seattle signed Japanese sensation Ichiro Suzuki over the offseason and signed Boone to fill the hole in the infield left by Rodriguez's departure.

"We had about a 14-run lead against Cleveland on a Sunday night in Ohio, at their ballpark, I happened to start managing the ballgame and we got beat 15-14," Piniella said. "And I walked back to the hotel and I'm wondering how the team was going to respond the next day."

Seattle beat the Indians 8-6 the following day and that's when Piniella knew they might have something really special.

"I told my coaches, 'Let's just stay out of their way, these guys can play' and they're confident and everything is going to be pretty darn good here this year."