Quick Note: I forgot to hit the "publish" button on my postgame post last night. So here it is about 12 hours late.
Over the last 10 days, there have been few reasons to smile and even fewer meaningful hits for Ken Griffey Jr.
Caught up in a controversy that was labeled “napgate” in some media circles and even being the punch-line of jokes from around baseball, the most popular player in Seattle Mariners history has faced criticism that he hasn’t experienced often in his hall of fame baseball career.
But for at least a few moments on Thursday afternoon at Safeco Field, all the controversy, accusations, hurt feelings and losing that has surrounded Griffey and the Seattle Mariners over the last nine games – seven of them losses - were overshadowed with one swing of the bat.
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Called on to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth of tie ball game with one out and the bases loaded, Griffey ripped a much-needed run-scoring single off of Blue Jays closer Kevin Gregg to right field to give the Mariners and even more-needed 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The win snapped a frustrating five-game losing streak for a free-falling Mariners team that still remains in slight danger of playing itself out playoff contention before June after losing 14 of 17 games in May.
But none of that seemed to matter as Mariners players mobbed Griffey after he rounded first base and flashed that signature smile that Mariners fans have embedded in their mind.
“That’s the greatest player in Mariners history coming through,” said teammate Mike Sweeney. “I know it meant a lot to Griff. The last two weeks have probably been the toughest in his career.”
Griffey had little to say about the 10th walk-off hit of his career. He was dressed and preparing to head when the media was allowed in the clubhouse.
Interview requests from a slew of media, including local television affiliates, was met with a “not a chance” comment.
But his teammates had plenty to say for him.
“If we're talking about a spark, it’s coming from that guy right over there,” said Thursday’s starter pitcher Jason Vargas, motioning toward Griffey’s locker. “That's what we're looking for. He's been the face of Seattle for a long time. To have that happen is pretty awesome."
Even players who have recently joined the Mariners, like Josh Bard, backed Griffey.
“You look at (Griffey’s) career and what he’s accomplished, I know from just the short time in spring training how many times that guy gets his knee drained and plays hurt,” Bard said. “We’re behind him. It’s unfortunate when you get off to a bad start and the finger kind of gets pointed at one guy.”
A few thoughts ...
I was happy to see Griffey get the big hit. I was happy to see the Mariners win. Obviously we don't root for the team. But it certainly makes my job and life easier when things are going well for the team I help cover. I covered 101 games in 2008 and I think the Mariners won like 28 of them. It was an absolutely miserable experience and that group of players was largely unenjoyable to be around even on their best of days.
This season it started feel that way with the losing and the sloppy play and then there became a contentious atmosphere in the clubbhouse for reasons that haven't been discussed ad nauseum.
So to go in there and deal with happy baseball players today was easily the best part of an otherwise frustrating day.
Manager Don Wakamatsu won his 100th game of his major league managerial career. But he wasn't around to shake hands and celebrate it, having been ejected for the first time in his career by second base umpire Andy Fletcher. Wakamatsu was arguing Fletcher's out call on Ichiro Suzuki's attempted steal of second in the eighth.
I don't know if Wakamatsu went out with the intent to get ejected. But I think once he got to arguing with Fletcher, he just kept going and going. It's understandable considering the losing and the bad baseball Wakamatsu has had to swallow this season.
I know I wanted to get ejected from the game in the sixth inning.
"Just to be able to watch that in my office was special," Wakamatsu said.
Right now, Josh Bard should probably get the share of the catching duties. It wasn't just that Bard drove in the game tying run. It was that he's had solid at-bats of late and has hit the ball hard on most of outs.
The two at-bats by Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman were the two most important at-bats of the entire comeback.