During the 1997 season, the Seattle Mariners mashed 264 home runs, setting a stunning single-season major league record that stood for more than two decades.
Last season, the New York Yankees, with whom Seattle resumes a four-game series Wednesday, snapped that record, recording 267 fence-clearing shots.
The Bronx Bombers, as the Yankees are affectionately known to many, have established a reputation as a power club throughout the years. New York has led the majors in home runs the past two seasons, including knocking another 241 in 2017.
Seattle is much less recognized as a team with such offensive authority. But, this year’s Mariners team has made an early case to change that.
Entering Tuesday night’s outing in New York, the Mariners had crushed an MLB-leading 70 homers in 37 games.
The club already made history in April, becoming the first team to hit a homer in each of its first 20 games of the season — well beyond the previous record (14 games) set by the 2002 Cleveland Indians.
And, the Mariners are on a convincing pace to eclipse another record — the same one the Yankees swiped last season.
“We don’t focus on home runs necessarily as a team, we just happen to have the hitter profiles that lead to that,” Mariners slugger Jay Bruce said. “We’re just going to keep on doing it.”
As of Tuesday, Seattle is on pace to hit more than 306 home runs this season and could become the first MLB team to clear 300 in a single season.
The Mariners have 18 multi-homer games — only the Milwaukee Brewers have matched that — including two games with five long balls, four games with four, and six games each with three and two.
In 14 more games, they’ve blasted one homer, and have just five games this season — all losses — without a dinger.
Earlier this season, manager Scott Servais said he thought this team had a power profile. But, to the extent the club has displayed so far? Few could have predicted that.
“We do have power in this club,” Servais said, “and we’ve got guys who are working their way into good hitting counts, and they’re not missing their pitch.”
The power has been the most overwhelming piece during the early stages of the season.
Bruce, who hit a grand slam in the first inning Sunday against Cleveland, leads the team with 11 homers, and is tied for second in the American League with that mark.
Edwin Encarnacion launched his 10th homer of the season that same game, making the Mariners one of just three teams in the majors (Yankees, Dodgers) who have a pair of players with double-digit home runs.
Six Mariners, including Bruce, Encarnacion, Daniel Vogelbach (nine homers), Mitch Haniger (eight), Tim Beckham (seven) and Domingo Santana (seven) rank among the top 30 players in the AL in homers so far.
Ryon Healy (five), Omar Narvaez (five), Dee Gordon (three), Dylan Moore (two), Tom Murphy (two) and Mallex Smith (one) have also added to Seattle’s 70-homer tally.
“I think we’ve built that reputation (as a power team) so far just because of the results,” Bruce said. “But, I think what we want to continue to do is not to define ourselves with it. I think we want to be a team that can just hit.
“We’ve seen some ups and downs, and that’s just part of the baseball season. … We get to do what we did in April five more times. We’re going to keep chipping away at it, and keep working and preparing the way we have been, and see what happens.”
The Mariners do tend to fare better when the ball clears the fence. Their record in games with multiple long balls is 12-6, compared to a 7-12 record in games where they hit one homer or less.
“It gives you a lot of confidence as a pitcher, knowing your guys are starting to swing the bat,” Mariners ace Marco Gonzales said after one start this season.
“That’s just something that fires me up, and gives me a lot of confidence going into the next inning, and kind of shifts my focus to being more aggressive and attacking the zone more.”
Since beginning their East Coast road trip, the Mariners had homered in each of their four games entering Tuesday, including three multi-homer games. Seattle is 1-3 during that stretch, but, the long ball has, at the very least, given the club consistent chances to win throughout the season.
This season, 107 of the Mariners’ MLB-leading 207 runs — or, 51.7 percent of their runs — have been a product of the homer.
And, though the home runs are exciting, Bruce contends the Mariners have to find more than one way to boost their win total.
“We have to be well-rounded hitters and be able to beat people in different ways as well,” he said.
To that point, Seattle also continues to lead the majors in RBIs with 203, and is batting .286 with runners in scoring position — second in the majors only to AL West rival Texas (.294).
Seattle is 13-2 this when registering at least three hits with runners in scoring position, compared to 6-16 when the bats are quiet with runners on base.
“We’ve got some different looks throughout our lineup,” Servais said earlier this season. “We’re pretty balanced with right-left, power and speed. You have to go about guys differently.”