THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: 2001 M’s, and other all-time ‘bottlers’

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The British have a quaint term for an unpleasant result.

This phrase is especially popular if the losing team was a big favorite…

“They bottled it.”

That dismissive language came back to me courtesy of reader John Austin, who emailed to point out that the Tampa Bay Lightning are now tagged with a distinction unsurpassed in the National Hockey League.

This year’s Bolts tied for most wins in a regular season (62) and their 128 points entitled them to something called the President’s Trophy.

Then the playoffs, in which Tampa Bay was certainly considered the top choice, began swimmingly when they romped off to a quick 3-0 lead over Columbus in Game 1.

That’s Columbus, remember, which had never won a playoff series in its history.

Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it was all downhill from there, as the Bolts gave up four unanswered goals in that game, lost it…

And never won another one.

They became the first President’s Cup winner to be swept during the first round of the playoffs.

THE BOLTS bottled it.

There’s an unfortunate local angle to Tampa Bay’s demise, as well.

Center Tyler Johnson, the 5-foot-8 dynamo who grew up in Spokane and does a lot of his off-season work at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d’Alene, caught a lot of the pundits’ heat for that sweep.

After a 29-goal regular season, Johnson managed just one assist and only four unsuccessful shots on goal during that four-game nightmare against Columbus.

It was out of character, too.

In 64 previous playoff games, Johnson had rung up 24 goals and 26 assists.

At any rate, our pal John Austin noted in his message that Tampa Bay now has given us a whole set of “bottlers” in America’s four biggest pro sports.

He mentioned the New England Patriots, who went 16-0 in the 2007 regular season, won two more playoff games — and then lost the Super Bowl 17-14 when they gave up a late TD drive to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Then you have the lovable Dubs, the Golden State Warriors of three seasons past.

Perhaps the best of the Warriors teams in this current run of brilliance, they won an NBA-record 73 games in the regular season — then saw a 3-1 series lead somehow overturned by Cleveland in the finals.

AND YES, you surely know the team that rounds out Austin’s gang of big-time bottlers.


Just down the road.

The 2001 Mariners won an American League record 116 games (the Cubs did it in 1906), beat Cleveland in the AL Division Series — but then went down in five stomach-turning games to the Yankees in the ALCS, including their only two at home.

Just to inflict more insult to Mariners fans everywhere, the Yankees went on to lose the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks (an expansion team in just its fourth season of existence).

You’re no doubt aware that magnificent Mariners team represented Seattle’s last hurrah to date on MLB’s postseason stage.

The M’s now own the longest non-playoffs streak among the four major sports.

Everything had set up so perfectly for Seattle in the franchise’s 25th year.

The Mariners blew out to a 49-12 start in 2001, boasted eight players in the All-Star Game at Safeco Field, lost more than two in a row just once, and thrilled to the almost-impossible first year of Ichiro’s incredible run in the United States — as he won the batting title, plus rookie of the year and MVP awards, and grabbed the stolen base title for good measure.

THOSE M’s won games by four or more runs 59 times, a feat which has never been done before or since.

They scored the most runs in the majors, and allowed the least.

That team should have been bulletproof…

But it wasn’t.

In case some tears are welling up at this point, we’ll toss you a trivia item that ought to earn you a cold one at some favorite saloon.

The Mariners won 10 of their last 12 that season, right on cue, but one of those losses came at home on the final day of the regular season.

They fell 4-3 to Texas, and the Rangers’ winning pitcher that night was a journeyman named Pat Mahomes.

It turns out Pat’s kid has a pretty good arm, too.

You’re still not smiling, I see.

Rightly so.

Alas, I’m afraid we have to concede that the 2001 Mariners were postseason bottlers.

Please thank John Austin for all those memories.

I’m just the typist here.

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Steve also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball once monthly during the offseason.


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