The Seattle Mariners had the same success chasing history Sunday as they’d had trying to catch the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles - none.
On the final day of the 1996 season, a weariness bordering on exhaustion seemed to hang over the field as the Oakland Athletics scored two unearned runs en route to a 3-1 victory in which Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez were denied personal milestones.
“They’ve had great seasons, and I wanted to give them the chance to make them a little greater,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. “But I think we’re all tired. I know I am. I need a personal trainer.”
Rodriguez began the day tied with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks with 379 total bases this season, the most ever by a major league shortstop. Rodriguez went 0-for-4 and won the American League batting championship despite dropping from .360 to .358.
“I’m roasted,” Rodriguez said, smiling. “I’ve got what, 590 at-bats? That’s more than I ever had in my life. People asked if I was tired this last month, and I didn’t want to say ‘Yes,’ because we were all tired. All tired and fighting nagging injuries. But we had something to play for.”
As for Griffey, he’d already set the franchise record for home runs (49) and RBI (140) in a season. But he, the team and Piniella all wanted to see him hit a 50th home run, so Junior batted leadoff for the second time in his big-league career.
Griffey went 0-for-4, getting the ball out of the infield just once, on a routine fly ball to center field.
“I didn’t get many pitches and I swung at some bad ones,” he admitted. “I wanted 50, sure. I wanted to play shortstop, too, but Lou wouldn’t let me. Remember that rainout in Cleveland? I think they ought to count those stats!”
He was joking - the three-inning game lost to rain at Jacobs Field also wiped out a Griffey home run that would have left him with 50.
“The back of my bubble-gum card will say ‘49,”’ Griffey said.
Back in his office, Piniella once again talked with pride about the team that won a franchise record 85 games - and about the fatigue factor that left him bone-and-brain weary.
“I’ll watch the World Series, but not the playoffs,” Piniella said. “I’ve had enough baseball for right now. The one thing I would like to do is personally thank the fans in Seattle. It’s a baseball town now, and we have a chance to be one of the premiere franchises in baseball.”
Griffey hit on the same theme.
“When I first got here, people laughed when they had three-game series with the Mariners because it was like a three-day vacation,” Griffey said. “It’s different now. If we do the right things this team will just get better, and nobody wants to see the organization take a step back.”