A definite layer of intrigue hangs over this homestand, with the burning question: Will this be Ken Griffey Jr.’s last stand as a Mariner? Will it be the final games of his Hall of Fame career?
If Griffey knows, he’s not telling. He’s already made it clear that he doesn’t plan on having an announcement either way before the end of the season. Manager Don Wakamatsu was asked this afternoon if he thought Junior would play next year.
“He’s pretty tight lipped about it,” Wakamatsu said. “We actually went fishing yesterday, and he never brought it up. That’s Junior’s decision. That’s Jack’s (GM Jack Zduriencik) decision. All I can speak of is my experience with him this year, and it’s been an honor to have a player of that caliber, and get to know him as a person, and respect him all that much more.”
Wakamatsu was evasive when asked if he wanted Junior to come back.
“That’s a tough question. Obviously, I respect the man as much as anyone in the game. I’ll leave that up to Jack and Junior and his agent.”
He had a similar answer when asked if the Mariners could bring back Griffey and Mike Sweeney next year. “That’s Jack’s decision,” he said.
I wouldn’t read anything more into those comments, by the way, than a reluctance of Wakamatsu to address any of the numerous personnel issues facing the team at the end of the year. Simply put, he doesn’t want to speak out of school.
“We’re going to have (organizational) meetings on Monday the day after the season,” he said. “We’ll have a chance for all the coaches to talk, not only with Jack but also with the minor league coaches. We’ll formulate a plan and give our opinion at that point and come up with what’s best for the organization.”
Meanwhile, it’s looking unlikely that Russell Branyan (back) or Jack Wilson (heel) will play again this year. Branyan, who has been sidelined since Aug. 29, had hoped to play again this season but his back is still bothering him.
“With the lack of time and the ability to take ground balls yet, I don’t foresee, unless it’s the last day or two, if he’ll get an at-bat or not,” Wakamatsu said of Branyan. “We’ll just go down that road and continue to let him swing and see how it goes.”
Wilson will have a doctor examine his heel this evening. He hurt it on Sept. 15 and hasn’t played since.
“He’s still hobbling around pretty good, too,” Wakamatsu said. “The chances of him playing the rest of the season are probably not very good.”
Branyan is a free agent, and his health will no doubt be a factor in the level of the Mariners’ desire to retain him.
“I think anytime a guy misses a month at the end of the season you have to make sure that next year he’s able to play,” Wakamatsu said. “To me, a lot of the pain is gone, but we’ll leave that up to the medical staff.”
The Mariners, at 80-76, need to win one more game to ensure a .500 season, and two more to wrap up a winning season, after losing 101 last year.
“Somebody asked me at the start of the year, what number (of desired wins) did I write down and put in my desk — I didn’t,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ve had some tremendous highlights this season. We’ve had some tough losses, but I told the fans from day one, I can count on one hand where I felt we weren’t ready to play this year. That’s what I can take out of this season so far.
“Do we want to win? We want to win all six of these games, absolutely. It’s going to be a little more important where were at right now to have everybody healthy to contribute tonight.”
Finally, Wakamatsu once again endorsed tonight’s starter, Felix Hernandez, for the Cy Young.
“Absolutely, for me. There’s several different factors. No. 1, for me, the impact he’s had on this club and the turnaround of this club, being 23 years old. Statistically, there’s several different stats that support that. I think what he’s done as of late, in a situation where everyone is vying for that, he’s pitched as well as anyone in baseball.
“It’s awfully exciting to see where this guy came from early in the year, and the things that he’s learned and grown into — arguably the best pitcher in the game.
“We talked about guys getting better, the education process. I think Rick Adair is the one that doesn’t get enough credit when we talk about Felix. He’s spent a lot of time with him from Day One of spring training. I think Felix owes a lot to Rick Adair.
“They all have cases, but to look at a club that’s really had the biggest turnaround in baseball, and he’s been a huge factor in that.