April 2, 1997 in Sports

Griffey Greets ‘97 With Bang Junior’s 2 Hrs Spark M’S In Opener

By The Spokesman-Review
 

For three innings Tuesday night, Ken Griffey Jr. was on a 550-home run pace.

Now you could say he’s in a slump: oh-for-his-last-2.

Just the highs and the lows of an entire major league baseball season wrapped up into a single game, though not even homers in his first two at-bats or Seattle’s 4-2 victory over the New York Yankees in their opener at the Kingdome did much to knock Griffey off his maddeningly even keel.

What would?

“Doing what the Yankees did last year,” he said.

That would be winning a World Championship - a feat that can’t be accomplished until October, but which starts with baby steps like the one the Mariners took Tuesday night.

Griffey’s two home runs - and another by Russ Davis - gave the M’s the lead, starting pitcher Jeff Fassero gave a terrific account of himself and the Mariners gave themselves a jump on all the hype nipping at their heels.

“This is what they’re expecting,” said Fassero, acknowledging the fans and publications that have made the Mariners the favorites to win the American League pennant this season.

“And I think this team can deliver. It’s a long season and who knows what can happen along the way, but I think it helps to have the World Champions in the clubhouse across the way as an inspiration of what can be accomplished.”

A crowd of 57,586 - third-largest in Kingdome history behind the home opener of 1994 and the franchise debut in 1977 took its inspiration from the M’s.

Twice they fell behind - 1-0 and 2-1 - only to get even on Griffey’s first at-bat homer in the first inning and Russ Davis’ line drive over the left-field wall in the third.

Then Griffey followed moments later with his second home run - an “800-foot high” two-run shot just fair and just over the wall in right - that would take care of the scoring for the evening.

It was Griffey’s 22nd multiple homer day of his eight-year career - although Fassero joked that “watching him on ESPN, it’s like a daily occurrence.”

Fassero has had to rely on cable for his glimpses of Griffey over the years, having toiled exclusively in the National League with Montreal. His adjustment to the A.L. was rapid - exactly what the Mariners were hoping for when they acquired him over the winter as something of a backup ace to Randy Johnson.

And when Johnson’s recovery from back surgery was slowed during spring training, Fassero became the obvious choice to start the opener. He’d started the last three in Montreal.

A single by Wade Boggs, a double by Bernie Williams and Cecil Fielder’s sacrifice fly produced a Yankees run in the first, and Mariano Duncan’s double and Joe Girardi’s single got another one across in the second.

But then Fassero picked Girardi off first base, and after that retired 15 of the last 17 batters he faced.

“It took me a while to find myself,” said Fassero, who threw 105 pitches in his seven innings and gave up just five hits, striking out six. “For two innings, I felt like I was all over the place, but after that all I could see was (catcher) Danny Wilson’s glove.”

Bobby Ayala pitched a scoreless eighth and retired Fielder to start the ninth. Then, closer Norm Charlton made things interesting by giving up sharp singles to Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill before Darryl Strawberry grounded into a double-play.

“Seems like that’s been happening all spring,” said Charlton, who had a team-low 1.38 earned run average in Arizona. “You check back and I think these guys made a double play behind almost every inning.”

This, however, was no spring training game, by a long shot, as Griffey showed Yankees starter David Cone, who gave up just seven hits - but three of them left the yard.

“Some games you get up for and some games you don’t,” Griffey said with a shrug. “It’s Opening Day. If you can’t get up for this one, you can’t get up at all.”

But what excited M’s manager Lou Piniella was the routineness of it all.

“This was a well-played game for Opening Day,” he said. “The pitching, the power - it was like a midseason game.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON DECK Scott Sanders makes his Mariners debut on the mound tonight. Andy Pettitte gets the start for the Yankees. Game time is 7:35 p.m. on Fox Sports Northwest.

This sidebar appeared with the story: ON DECK Scott Sanders makes his Mariners debut on the mound tonight. Andy Pettitte gets the start for the Yankees. Game time is 7:35 p.m. on Fox Sports Northwest.


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