SEATTLE – Ken Griffey Jr., the man who carried the spirit of a resurgent Seattle Mariners team that won its 85th game Sunday, rode the shoulders of his teammates on a postgame parade lap into an uncertain future.
The Mariners had just beaten the Texas Rangers 4-3 at Safeco Field, with Felix Hernandez making another Cy Young Award statement with his 19th victory and Griffey hitting a single in his final at-bat, when their emotions flowed over the shadows that stretched across Safeco Field.
The players celebrated the victory in their last game just as they had the 84 others this season, but then they lingered in front of the dugout as though they didn’t want their time together to end.
Griffey, who said he wants to play another year but realizes there is no guarantee based on the direction of the team, wiped away tears as he hugged his teammates.
“It’s because of the guys we have on our team,” Griffey said. “I don’t say my team, I say our team because it’s all of us. Everybody’s a good guy and they mean so much on and off the field to one another. There’s not one guy on this team that guys didn’t like. You can tell by how many beer showers we had.”
Don Wakamatsu, the first-year manager who guided the Mariners to a 24-victory improvement over last year’s 101-loss team, got the beer shower Sunday.
Griffey had his Saturday night; Sunday he was enveloped in the emotions of a day unlike any in his 21 major league seasons.
During each at-bat, groups of fans chanted, “One more year! One more year!” He stepped out of the batter’s box and tipped his helmet to the crowd before his first at-bat, did the same after he was removed for a pinch runner after his single in the eighth inning and again when he emerged from the dugout a minute later as the crowd continued to cheer.
After closer David Aardsma recorded the final out for his 38th save, the players stayed on the field and, urged by Wakamatsu, began a slow lap to salute the fans.
“Wak has asked us to give back to the fans all year,” Aardsma said. “After the game, he gave us another chance.”
Along the way, the Mariners high-fived fans and threw shirts, batting gloves, balls, sweat bands and other items into the stands.
Then, as they approached the third-base coach’s box, the Mariners clustered around Griffey and lifted him high. He rode the rest of the way atop the shoulders of infielder Matt Tuiasosopo, the former Woodinville High School star who grew up idolizing Griffey, and outfielder Ryan Langerhans. Supporting from behind was veteran designated hitter Mike Sweeney, himself hoping to play another season but unsure if a team will want him.
Behind the Griffey procession, burly pitcher Carlos Silva lifted right fielder Ichiro Suzuki atop his shoulders and carried him.
“It was the most emotional roller coaster I’ve ever been on,” Griffey said. “You never know if it’s going to be your last time.”
He hopes it’s not and believes he can still contribute as a player. But he also knows that his future will be determined by the wishes of the Mariners’ front office, along with his family.
Asked for reasons why he would want to come back and reasons he wouldn’t, Griffey offered this:
“I’ve got a 15, 13 and 7-year-old. They were OK with it,” Griffey said. “Reasons for not coming back? I don’t have a reason.”
The Mariners won Sunday the way they have most of the year, with solid pitching and timely hitting.
Hernandez allowed two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings and finished his season 19-5 with a 2.49 earned run average, keeping him solidly in Cy Young contention. Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, 16-8 and 2.16, is his main competition for the award, chosen by baseball writers.
Franklin Gutierrez hit an RBI single in the first inning for a 1-0 Mariners lead and added an RBI double in the Mariners’ three-run fifth. Jose Lopez followed with a two-run double, giving him 96 RBIs this season.
“People of Seattle should be proud of what we accomplished this year and look forward to spring and hopefully we can do a little better,” Griffey said.
And, if it doesn’t include him, if his career is over?
“I had a whole lot of fun,” Griffey said. “I had a chance to do something that not many people do, play baseball for a living.”
Mariners 4, Rangers 3
|Griffey Jr. dh||4||0||1||0||0||1||.214|
1-ran for Griffey Jr. in the 8th. E—Jo.Wilson (2). LOB—Texas 2, Seattle 5. 2B—Dav.Murphy (24), Kinsler (32), F.Gutierrez (24), Jo.Lopez (42). RBIs—C.Davis (59), Teagarden (24), Gentry (1), F.Gutierrez 2 (70), Jo.Lopez 2 (96). SB—Jo.Wilson (1). CS—Borbon (4). S—Teagarden, Ro.Johnson. RLSP—Texas 2 (Blalock, German); Seattle 3 (Jo.Lopez, Griffey Jr., F.Gutierrez). RMU—C.Davis, Teagarden, Gentry, Ro.Johnson.
|Feldman L, 17-8||6||6||4||4||1||4||92||4.08|
|F.Hernandez W, 19-5||6 2/3||3||3||2||1||6||107||2.49|
|Messenger H, 1||1/3||0||0||0||0||0||4||4.35|
|Batista H, 14||1||1||0||0||0||0||10||4.04|
|Aardsma S, 38-42||1||0||0||0||0||1||14||2.52|
T—2:24. A—32,260 (47,878).