Griffey powers Mariners past Yankees
Slugger belts 627th career homer as Seattle rolls in finale
SEATTLE -- Before most games, either the manager or one of the coaches take the lineup card to home plate. But for Sunday's series finale against the Yankees, the team's elder statesman did it.That was just the beginning of another crowd-pleasing afternoon for Ken Griffey Jr. The 39-year-old old designated hitter drilled a run-scoring double in the first inning and smacked a three-run home run in the second, powering the Mariners and right-hander Ian Snell to a 7-1 victory over the Yankees before 35,885 at Safeco Field. "We did a little research and every time Griff takes the lineup card up, he hits a home run and double," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "That started the day off right, and it was a great series win." The skipper added, "We just thought it was befitting for him to take out the lineup. It was his turn." Not until the 151st game of the season? "It took a while," Wakamatsu smiled. The Mariners delayed for at least two more days their own mathematical elimination from the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, and also prevented the Yankees from clinching a postseason berth. With the Rangers losing to the Angels earlier on Sunday, the Yankees could have guaranteed no worse than a Wild Card spot in the postseason with a win in the rubber game of the series. But Seattle (78-72) moved another big step closer to finishing the season with a winning record, a major accomplishment, considering the Mariners lost 101 games last season. After getting whipped by nine runs the previous night, the Mariners made a complete turnabout on Sunday, jumping out to a big lead in the first two innings and coasting to their 43rd home win of the season. Griffey led the barrage. He drilled a double to right-center in the first inning, scoring Jose Lopez who reached on a two-out double, and capped the five-run second with another one of his smooth swings. "When he hits a ball like he did today, you don't see age," Wakamatsu said. "You see a beautiful swing. You watch his batting practice, and he has tremendous leverage. He still gives you a great at-bat." Not as often as he did in his prime, but there are moments when he looks like "The Kid." Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain became the 405th pitcher to serve up a home run Griffey, who has used his home run trot 627 times during his career. Junior's 16th long ball of the season capped the Mariners' five-run outburst in the second inning, giving Snell and three relievers room to spare as Seattle won the series two games to one. Griffey's majestic blast sailed halfway up in the right-field bleachers, scoring Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez. The uprising started with Mike Carp's leadoff single to right field. Catcher Adam Moore dumped a single into right-center for his first Major League hit, and both runners advanced on Josh Wilson's sacrifice bunt. Chamberlain issued an intentional walk to Ichiro, loading the bases, and Gutierrez coaxed an unintentional free pass to force home a run. Lopez drove in Moore with a sacrifice fly to center field, and Griffey scored everyone else with his homer. A seven-run lead was plenty for the four pitchers Wakamatsu used to subdue the Yankees. What a difference five weeks can make. Back on Aug. 13 at Safeco Field, Snell was hit hard by the American League East leaders, allowing nine hits and eight earned runs in six innings. He seemed to be intimidated by the Bronx Bombers. Not this time. "It's a great stepping stone for him to believe that if he makes his pitches he can beat some awfully good offenses, and that's what I saw today," Wakamatsu said. "He did a nice job getting out of some damage situations. I thought he kept the ball down in the zone, and his whole tempo was much better. It was a great outing for him." Though he actually pitched one-third of an inning less than he did the first time, Snell was not the same pitcher. "My approach mentally was the same, but my approach pitching-wise was different," said Snell, who is 5-2 with the Mariners. "I threw a lot more offspeed pitches and basically tried to screw with their heads, and it obviously worked. There were a lot of ground balls and popups." Snell held the Yanks without a run until the sixth inning. He didn't allow a run until the sixth inning in the rematch. After wiggling out of a first-and-second, no-out predicament in the first inning, the right-hander zipped through five innings, allowing only one runner to reach scoring position. He walked four, but was around the strike zone enough that the Seattle defense maintained its focus. Shortstop Josh Wilson contributed the web gem of the game, diving to his left to snag a line drive hit by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada in the fourth. The best at-bat of the game might have been the one Gutierrez had in the third inning. The intentional pass to Ichiro -- his team-leading 15th of the season -- put the pressure on Chamberlain to throw strikes, and on Gutierrez to make the Yankees' strategy backfire. Gutierrez laid off a close full-count pitch for the run-producing walk. Chamberlain lasted three innings and was saddled with the loss. "It's not easy," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a young starter and is one of the guys who have gotten us to this point. We're going to stick with him." The Mariners improved to 17-5 in games that decided which team won a three-game series, including 16 of their past 19. Left-hander Garrett Olson bailed the Mariners out of a jam in the sixth inning, when the Yankees threatened to get back into the game. They had scored a run and had runners on second and third bases when Olson replaced Snell, struck out Robinson Cano and retired Melky Cabrera on a chopper to Adrian Beltre at third. "Stranding those two runners really [took] the steam out of their offense," Wakamatsu said. As for the next Mariners' lineup card presenter? "I have been known to do that and run a streak of eight in a row," Griffey said, smiling.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.