MINNEAPOLIS – The cheers and laughs were loud in Seattle’s clubhouse, and manager Don Wakamatsu was doused in beer. The Mariners started this season with plenty to celebrate.
Ken Griffey Jr. celebrated his second stint with Seattle by hitting an opening-night home run to back Felix Hernandez in a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday.
“That was unbelievable,” said Wakamatsu, baseball’s first Asian-American manager. “Griffey and the boys … just kind of congratulated me and then gave me a little shower. Pretty special to go through spring training and then start the year off with a win like this.”
Franklin Gutierrez had a two-run homer against Francisco Liriano as the Mariners – with five new faces in their lineup – took the first step toward forgetting the futility of last year. Hernandez threw 97 pitches in eight innings, making his manager proud.
“That’s what we wanted out of him … to come out and pitch with some heart,” Wakamatsu said.
With Ichiro Suzuki’s No. 51 jersey hanging in the dugout as a sign of togetherness, a trait sorely lacking during a 61-101 season in 2008, Seattle spoiled the final of 28 openers in the Metrodome’s history. The Twins move to open-air Target Field next spring.
“The chemistry on this team is unbelievable,” Gutierrez said.
Sunshine illuminated a cloudless sky outside, but with the wind blowing and the first-pitch temperature a nippy 41 degrees, the Teflon roof served a purpose. The Twins wore replicas of their uniforms from 1982, the Dome’s first season, with the red caps and cursive lettering on their chests. They also had a special patch to honor late owner Carl Pohlad.
Griffey’s 41 homers against Minnesota are his most against any opponent, a remarkable number given his nine years in the National League. His eighth opening-day home run matched a major league record and gave him 612 for his career.
“He can still hit,” Liriano said.
Hernandez (1-0) retired the last 10 batters he faced and struck out six, yielding one run, five hits and three walks. The Twins left five runners in scoring position, going 2 for 10 in that situation after leading the majors with a .305 average last year.
“To go out there and watch him throw like that in this place, it was pretty fun,” Griffey said.
Michael Cuddyer struck out three times, though his RBI single in the fifth was the only damage for Minnesota. Hernandez hobbled around the mound, twice turning his right ankle while hustling into fielding position, but his stuff was much sharper than his gait in his second career opening-day start. The pain increased as the game wore on.
“But I’m fine,” Hernandez said. “I’m ready for the next one.”
He spotted his fastball effectively, creating the opportunity to mix in his frequently nasty breaking pitches. Justin Morneau followed Cuddyer’s big hit with an inning-ending double-play grounder. Earlier in the fifth, with the bases already full and nobody out, Alexi Casilla swung at a neck-high pitch and popped out.
“He made great pitches,” Morneau said. “He’s a No. 1 for a reason.”
Mike Redmond, the former Gonzaga University catcher playing behind the plate for the Twins for injured All-Star Joe Mauer, led off that inning with a double after getting hit by an errant bat shard. That, however, was their only extra-base hit.
Mauer’s defense of his second batting title began in Florida with another day of hitting off a tee, playing catch and exercising in the pool. He could be back later this month, but the Twins are being particularly cautious.
Liriano (0-1) allowed four runs and only four baserunners without a walk, but he left a few hittable balls up in the strike zone.
Adrian Beltre doubled and scored on Jose Lopez’s second-inning sacrifice fly. Griffey led off the fifth with his homer. Then Gutierrez followed Endy Chavez’s one-out single in the sixth with his shot in an inning with two other long flyouts.
The Mariners added to the lead in the ninth on a two-run single by Jose Lopez, after Jesse Crain and Craig Breslow issued walks.
“It’s just one game,” Griffey said, adding: “Hopefully we can put all that stuff behind us and play good baseball from here out.”
Suzuki’s bloodwork will be back Wednesday, and if it’s clear the Mariners will consider a schedule for him to play in some minor league games. On the DL because of a bleeding ulcer, he’s eligible to be activated April 15. “He wants to play in a game, like yesterday,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re slowing him down. … Until that point, we want him just to keep working out.” … The start of bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek’s 29th season with the Twins was delayed by sickness. He felt groggy and was taken to a hospital as a precaution. … Wakamatsu took several calls from friends before the game, including former boss Buck Showalter, who managed the Texas Rangers from 2003-06 while Wakamatsu was bench coach. “He said, ‘Do not stumble on the turf,’ ” Wakamatsu said, sharing Showalter’s advice.
Mariners 6, Twins 1
|Griffey Jr. rf||3||1||1||1||1||0||.333|
a-grounded out for Redmond in the 9th. 1-ran for Griffey Jr. in the 9th.
LOB—Seattle 1, Minnesota 7. 2B—Beltre (1), Redmond (1). HR—Gutierrez (1), off Liriano; Griffey Jr. (1), off Liriano. RBIs—Gutierrez 2 (2), Griffey Jr. (1), Lopez 3 (3), Cuddyer (1). S—Span. SF—Lopez. GIDP—Betancourt, Morneau. Runners left in scoring position—Minnesota 4 (Cuddyer, Kubel 2, Gomez). Runners moved up—Griffey Jr., Casilla, Morneau, Crede. DP—Seattle 1 (Lopez, Betancourt and Branyan); Minnesota 1 (Casilla, Punto and Morneau).
|Hernandez W, 1-0||8||5||1||1||3||6||97||1.13|
|Liriano L, 0-1||7||4||4||4||0||3||93||5.14|
Breslow pitched to 1 batter in the 9th.
Inherited runners-scored—Breslow 1-0, Guerrier 2-2. PB—Redmond. T—2:21. A—48,514 (46,632).