Good thing the baseball strike was settled when it was.
Another couple of days and the Seattle Mariners wouldn’t have had the Detroit Tigers to kick around to start the season.
The M’s made it three straight to open the strike-delayed 1995 season, cruising past the Tigers 11-1 Saturday at the Kingdome. And however ambivalent Seattle fans proclaimed themselves to be in the wake of the labor bummer, they’re getting over it.
Home runs by Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr. and newcomer Alex Diaz and a 14-hit attack injected some animation into the crowd of 27,264 - all of whom, presumably, will be sure to tell a friend.
And just what will they say?
That the M’s continue to pick it, pitch it and pummel it like the real deal - though, of course, with only the Tigers having served as punching bags so far, conclusions are premature.
“It was a short spring and it’s a long season, but we wanted to get off to a good start and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said manager Lou Piniella, whose M’s have actually won a club- record nine straight - having closed the aborted 1994 season with six victories.
“We’ve got a long road trip coming up, so you like to take advantage of these homestands whenever you can.”
Today’s 5 p.m. getaway game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, with onetime Spokane Falls right-hander Bob Wells starting for Seattle. And after that, the M’s play 16 of their next 19 games on the road.
But it’s not as if this formula won’t work away from the Kingdome, too.
The Mariners have rapped out 35 hits and scored 23 runs in these three games, support far in excess of what any of their starting pitchers have needed.
The beneficiary Saturday was Dave Fleming - who, while not as sharp as Randy Johnson and Chris Bosio in the first two games, scrambled and battled to obvious effect.
Indeed, it was Detroit starter David Wells - a noted Mariner nemesis - who appeared to be getting the best of it, throwing 60 of his 75 pitches for strikes. But when Fleming left the game after five innings and 90 pitches (47 strikes), he was the one with a 3-1 lead - and it became 4-1 after Griffey reached the third deck in right field for the eighth time in his career with a blast off Wells in the sixth measured at 462 feet.
That was Griffey’s second RBI of the night. In the first, he blooped a double to left field after fouling off six Wells offerings to score Felix Fermin to even the game at 1-1.
“If there’s a better player in the game,” said Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, “I haven’t seen him. He’s one of those guys that has no limits.”
Well, some limits. When Chad Curtis led off the game with a rip to deep center, Griffey gave chase - but saw the ball bounce off the top of the fence for a home run.
“When I hit the wall, it jolted me and I lost it,” said Griffey. “With all the smoke in here (from pre-game fireworks honoring the Mario Children’s Corner), I could hardly see. I got a bad jump - not a bad jump, but I didn’t see it well.”
A leadoff homer was hardly the kind of omen Fleming was hoping for, but the fourth-year lefty said he “managed to keep it in perspective.
“It looks bad, but it is only one run and the last thing you want to do is let it turn into a big inning. When (Rudy) Pemberton hit a double after that, it had the makings of trouble, but to get out of it with just that one run and the runner at third base was kind of a moral victory.”
Fleming threw 50 pitches in the first two innings, but gave up just three hits - and Jim Converse had one of his most encouraging Mariner outings with four innings of four-hit relief for his first career save.
“That’s the most impressive thing from our pitchers,” said Piniella. “So far everyone we’ve thrown out there has made the other team put the ball in play. They’re throwing strikes.”
The M’s are putting the ball in play, too - only where the Tigers can’t catch it.
Edgar Martinez put Seattle ahead with his first 1995 homer, a 411-foot line drive to left-center in the fourth inning. Tino Martinez, who went 3 for 3 to run his average to .778, doubled and scored on Rich Amaral’s double in the fifth.
But the second wave of fireworks came in the seventh, when the Mariners sent 12 batters to the plate. Diaz - who replaced Amaral in left for defensive purposes - crushed a three-run home run to highlight the inning, but Jay Buhner broke out of a 1-for-11 slump with a double and Mike Blowers got his first hit after opening the season 0-for-10.
“Everybody got their work done in the spring,” said Griffey. “We were scattered all over the place, on two fields. Everybody had to get as much hitting in as we could. The coaches were throwing every day in the cage, live hitting, on the field after live hitting. So far it’s paying off.”