Safeco Field fell into something of a time warp Friday, transporting Ken Griffey Jr. back about 20 years and pushing the Seattle Mariners to an improbable victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Down three runs heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Mariners got a solo home run from Russell Branyan, a pinch-hit, two-run homer from Junior and an RBI triple from Rob Johnson to put up all their runs in a 4-3 win.
And as he has done in 21 of his last 22 appearances, closer David Aardsma – the man with the American League’s lowest earned run average (1.67) among relievers – shut out Arizona in the ninth inning.
In the clubhouse afterward, the talk was of tenacity, victory and the amazing continuing tall tale that is George Kenneth Griffey Jr.
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“When he hit that ball, I don’t know who was more excited – me or the crowd,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “All he’s done in this game, all he’s done for this team, he took that swing and looked 18 again.”
Jarrod Washburn, the hard-luck starter who didn’t see a run scored behind him in seven solid innings, was in the clubhouse when Branyan led off the eighth inning with his 16th home run.
“You could hear the crowd noise coming up the tunnels, and then Adrian (Beltre) singled and they got louder,” Washburn said. “When Junior came up, it got real, real loud.”
For Washburn, what happened next was surreal.
“I’ve got the television on and there’s that two-second delay,” he said. “So I’m watching Ken at the plate waiting for the first pitch, and the crowd goes nuts before the ball is thrown. I was just hoping something good had happened.”
Griffey, 39, came off the bench to bat for Wladimir Balentien – who in turn was in the game after outfielder Endy Chavez was hurt on a fifth-inning collision with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
Someone asked Griffey where he was when Wakamatsu called upon him to hit.
“I was sleeping up in the clubhouse,” he deadpanned. “I was in the dugout, where do you think?”
Johnson, in the dugout when Griffey walked to the plate, had goose bumps.
“This place wasn’t even full and that’s the loudest I’ve ever heard it,” Johnson said. “It was a blast how into it the crowd got.”
Right-handed reliever Tony Peña went into the stretch and threw Griffey a first-pitch fastball. Junior hit it over the fence in left-center field – his seventh home run this season, the 618th of his career.
“I was jumping all over the place in here,” Washburn said.
He wasn’t alone. A crowd of 27,319 wouldn’t stop screaming until Junior came out of the dugout and tipped his hat.
With the game tied, Chris Woodward singled, his second hit of the night, and stole second base without a throw. Johnson then lined a ball into the left-field corner for his 10th RBI of the year.
“Any time you’re up and the crowd is that into it, you’re pumped,” Johnson acknowledged.
The victory came with a price: Chavez.
The left-handed-hitting outfielder, hitting .273, appeared to injure his right knee on a play where Betancourt made a sliding catch and Chavez was taken off the field on a cart.
“It doesn’t look good,” Wakamatsu said. “They’ll do tests (today), but they’re thinking ligament damage.”
It was also a stereotypical Washburn game.
The 34-year-old came out of his last start in Colorado with a stiff back, and between last week and this hadn’t thrown much. That left the Mariners with some question about his command and durability for this one.
Command was an occasional issue – he walked three Diamondbacks and went deep into counts on a handful of others. Still, anyone who’s ever had a back spasm can appreciate the fact that Washburn, still tender, was able to give the Mariners seven innings.
Naturally, while he was in the game, the Mariners’ offense did what it always does behind him. Nothing.
Over his last five games, Washburn has allowed nine runs in 32 innings – that’s a 2.53 earned run average – and gone 0-2. Twice he’s allowed one run and either lost or had no decision. Once he didn’t allow a run and got no decision.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say it: Jarrod should have won this game,” Wakamatsu said.
This time he not only didn’t get any runs, but a bad call by plate umpire Andy Fletcher also helped the Diamondbacks in the third inning, when they scored twice.
Still, by any measure, the Mariners would have trailed in the eighth inning. That’s when Branyan and Johnson – both just back from bereavement leaves – turned up the drama.
And for all that, the biggest cheers went to the guy who walked to the plate carrying a signature black bat and a .216 batting average. His only swing of the night raised that average to .220, pushed his RBI total to 22 and seemed to change a 39-year-old legend into that 18-year-old kid of the ’80s.
“I have good days and bad days,” Griffey said, laughing.
“Not bad,” he said, flashing that megawatt smile.