Small ball lifts Mariners to victory
Bloomquist's suicide squeeze in seventh caps late rally
SEATTLE -- Mariners fans got everything they were hoping to see at Safeco Field on Sunday afternoon.Ken Griffey Jr. went deep twice, surpassing Mark McGwire for seventh place on the all-time home run list, Ichiro Suzuki extended his Major League leading hit streak to 19 games and the Mariners rallied to win a wild game, 3-2, over the Reds in front of 46,064 fans. It seemed fitting that Griffey, who received multiple ovations throughout the game, passed McGwire in Seattle, at a field affectionately known as "The House that Griffey Built." The home runs, both solo shots in the first and the fifth, put Cincinnati up 2-0, and pleased a capacity crowd that had been waiting all weekend to see their former star hit the long ball. He had not hit a home run in Seattle since Sept. 22, 1999. "I feel so glad that everybody got to see Junior go deep, hit a home run," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I'm just glad they didn't get a chance to see him hit three." Mariners pitcher Miguel Batista helped keep Seattle in it through much of the game, allowing two runs on five hits in six innings. Griffey's offense was all the Reds could muster, and Ben Broussard responded with a two-run ground-rule double in the sixth, tying the game and setting up one of the most dramatic plays in baseball. In fact, the Mariners barely had to hit the ball out of the infield to take the lead. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt led off the seventh with a double and later slid into third safely on Jamie Burke's sacrifice bunt. Hargrove then told Willie Bloomquist to lay down a suicide squeeze, a sign that often makes the Mariners' skipper uneasy. "The palm of my hands sweat profusely," Hargrove said about calling a squeeze. "My knees shake and my heart rate goes up to about 250 beats a minute. It's probably pretty much what everyone else would be feeling if they had any nerve endings." Apparently, Bloomquist and Betancourt do not, or do a good job of ignoring them. As Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo delivered the ball, Betancourt broke for home, and Bloomquist laid down the perfect squeeze, reaching first base on a high throw from Arroyo. "I was kind of expecting [the squeeze call], to be honest, in that situation," Bloomquist said. "It was a great call. I knew I had to get it done, figure out a way to get it down in fair territory, and I was fortunate to get a pitch I could handle." Betancourt was just as happy to see the call.
"I like that type of aggressive play," Betancourt said. "You just have to make sure that you don't take off a little too early and give away the squeeze."The game was a far cry from Saturday, when the Mariners hit four home runs. Sunday was a different story, with Seattle playing what is often referred to as "small ball." That's OK with Batista. "It's about scoring -- no matter how [you do it]," Batista said. "That's what offense is. ... And if we can not win with big ball, then play little ball. And if not, then try to make it middle ball, but you have to score. That's what the game is." Arroyo fell to 2-9 on the season, allowing three earned runs on 10 hits in seven innings. Reliever Eric O'Flaherty, who struck out Griffey, his favorite player when he was a child, earned his fourth win of the season by working a perfect seventh. J.J. Putz recorded the last four outs to earn his 21st save in as many chances. The Mariners have won two consecutive series, and four of their last five games, helping them finish 9-9 in Interleague Play this season. Seattle hosts the American League East-leading Red Sox in a three-game series starting Monday. The conclusion of Interleague Play may have also signified Griffey's last game in a city where he helped popularize baseball. He seemed to recognize that, as well, taking his time to exit the field that was constructed with him in mind. As he left the field for the final time, going out of his way to step on third base, the sellout crowd offered him one last standing ovation. Griffey tipped his cap, waved and disappeared into the dugout below. He finished the series 5-for-13 (.385). "I wasn't around when Griffey was here, but I never really realized what he meant to this community and everything, and the fans," Putz said. "I can't believe he was able to do what he was able to do this series." It didn't seem to surprise the fans.
Patrick Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.