A look above as Miguel Batista mops up the ninth inning for the Mariners.
We talked about it all night long. But that early bit of small ball from Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Lopez really did set the tone in this affair.
So did Felix Hernandez, of course. But Hernandez, as I mentioned earlier, deserved to win a number of times in 2008 but did not come away with a victory. Tonight he did, largely because his teammates picked him up.
The Mariners had only six hits. But they scored six runs. They did some little things right.
“I came up as a second hitter, so those are the things that I had to do,” Griffey said of how he moved the runner to third base with that grounder to the right side in the second inning. “My dad was a second hitter, so I just learned by example.
“You’re going to get your base-hits, but the key is to be able to get the guy 90 feet closer. I know what I’m supposed to do when I go up there. I don’t need a third base coach, a hitting coach, or a manager. My job is to get him over and I was able to do that. The next guy made it easy.”
So, how special did it feel hitting that home run? It was No. 612 in Griffey’s career and his first for the M’s in nine years. Also the eighth home run he’s hit on Opening Day, tying him with Frank Robinson — godfather to Griffey’s son, Tevin — for first place on baseball’s all-time list.
“It was one of those things that was bound to happen sometime,” Griffey said of that first M’s homer for him since 1999. “But it was definitely fun. I really enjoyed it, running around the bases.”
On tying Robinson: “It’s quite an honor to be mentioned in that. Now I can call him and get all over him. Or, he’ll call me.”
The clubhouse was quite the lively place afterwards. Lots of cheering, shouting and laughter from behind closed doors as the team gave rookie manager Don Wakamatsu and GM Jack Zduriencik a beer shower. They also presented each with the gift of a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, signed by the entire squad. Griffey was asked about the clubhouse mood, which he and Mike Sweeney worked hard to improve this spring.
“It’s just one game. But to have a first-time GM and a first-time manager get off to their first win, that’s pretty big and we’re excited for them. Being able to put this team together after some of the things that happened last year…hopefully we can put that stuff behind us and play good baseball from here on.”
Yes, was in a ton of pain after twisting his right ankle — not the same one he hurt last year.
“I could push (off the mound) like I used to,” he said. “I just pushed hard.”
There were some plays where he had to field the ball, or cover the bag at first base, where the ankle twinged. Hernandez said he blocked out the pain and focused on throwing strikes.
“For me, I just want to win every game,” he said. “It’s not going to happen, but I’ve got to do my job. I’ve got to throw strikes.”
I asked Hernandez about some of the little things his teammates did tonight.
“They scored the runs and they played unbelievable defense,” he said.
Jose Lopez displayed some of that defense, initiating a critical 4-6-3 double-play in the fifth inning that helped Hernandez escape a bases-loaded none out jam with only one run allowed and a 2-1 lead intact.
Lopez led the team in sacrifice flies last year and knew what he had to do after Griffey moved that runner over to third base in the second inning.
“Griffey did the job today and I did mine,” Lopez said. “If Griffey moves the runner over, I’ve got to get him in no matter what.”
Lopez got the job done with that sac fly to left. It’s a theme Lopez said the team has been stressing all spring long.
“We had meetings every day,” he said. “When we’d go stretch, everybody would say ‘Do the little things to win today, guys. No matter what, even if it’s by one run. Do the little things.’ And that’s what we did today.”
That they did. One down, 161 to go.
April 6, 2009 at 9:26 PM