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Odds Favor Junior’s Bid For 62 Taters

Ken Griffey Jr. doesn’t mean any disrespect toward the late Roger Maris. He’d just rather not hear Maris’ home run record mentioned to him.

“I could care less about the record,” the Seattle Mariners slugger said. “All I want to do is win a ring. That’s it.”

Like it or not, Griffey is a prime candidate in his prime - at age 28 - to break Maris’ mark of 61 homers set for the New York Yankees in 1961, eight years before Griffey was born.

The Mariners’ center fielder was a unanimous selection for the American League MVP last season after chasing Maris’ record with 56 homers. His 56 home runs were the seventh-most in history and the third-most since ‘61.

Mark McGwire hit 58 for Oakland and St. Louis last season.

“Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments mean more to me than individual awards,” Griffey said. “That’s what I’m about. It’s not, ‘I did this or I did that.’ I want to be able to say we won a World Series.”

Facts are facts, though.

Because Griffey is six years younger than McGwire and because he’s a left-handed hitter, he may have the best chance to become the third major-league player to hit 60 home runs - and break Maris’ record. That’s especially true with pitching thinned out by expansion.

In a lineup that produced a major-league record 264 homers last season, Griffey is hard to pitch around, although he led the league with 23 intentional walks.

Unlike Maris, who struggled with the pressure of chasing Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs, Griffey easily deflects it with a smile or a joke.

“If anybody is going to break Maris’ record, I think Ken will,” new hitting coach Jesse Barfield said. “Not to take anything away from Mark McGwire, but it’s to Ken’s advantage that he’s a left-handed hitter facing all the right-handed pitching.”

Rodriguez connects

Alex Rodriguez homered twice and drove in five runs Thursday, leading the Mariners over the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-4.

Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Jeff Suppan. He hit his fourth spring homer, a three-run shot, in the third.


Manager Lou Piniella has decided to give Jeff Fassero an extra spring start before plugging him into the rotation. So, instead of pitching the third game of the season against Boston on April 3, Fassero won’t start until the seventh game, against the Yankees… . Seattle’s first night game comes this evening against the Colorado Rockies with Felipe Lira probably pitching for the lone bullpen opening in long relief, where he and former Community Colleges of Spokane right-hander Bob Wells are the only candidates.