SEATTLE — Ken Griffey Jr. awakened the slumping Mariners with a game-winning, pinch-hit single to cap Seattle’s three-run rally off AL saves leader Kevin Gregg in the ninth with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday.
Seattle snapped a five-game skid and Griffey’s teammates mobbed him between first and second base. Nine days ago the Mariners rallied to his defense following a report he was unavailable to pinch-hit in an earlier loss because he was sleeping in the clubhouse.
Ichiro Suzuki and Mike Sweeney gave him big, extended hugs in the dugout.
It was the 10th game-ending hit of the 40-year-old Griffey’s career. And it was the first game-ending hit of Seattle’s disappointing season.
Gregg (0-1) had 12 saves in 13 chances before he allowed singles to Mike Sweeney and Jose Lopez then walked Milton Bradley to begin the ninth. Then he walked Casey Kotchman on a full-count pitch to make it 3-2.
Josh Bard tied the game with a sacrifice fly that scored Lopez before Griffey emerged, to the delight of 20,452 roaring fans.
The part-timer lined a 2-1 pitch into right field that scored Bradley easily from second base.
The Mariners and their fans partied like it was 1995 — and Griffey was in his prime instead of a fading Seattle star.
Shawn Kelley (2-0) pitched the top of the ninth for Seattle, which had been a season-low 12 games under .500 following a 3-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday night.
Don Wakamatsu, Seattle’s usually composed second-year manager, got his first career ejection for arguing Ichiro’s caught-stealing call that ended the eighth. The tirade looked to be a ploy to fire-up his players. Replays showed Ichiro was indeed out and his players were either warming up in the field around him or in the dugout as Wakamatsu gestured and ranted between innings before second-base umpire Andy Fletcher tossed him.
Maybe it worked.
Jason Vargas allowed just five hits in 6 2/3 innings and allowed three or fewer runs for the seventh consecutive start.
It look like Jose Bautista’s two-run homer in the fifth plus a sacrifice fly in the seventh by Edwin Encarnacion would Vargas to his second loss since April 9.
Bautista’s liner was his 12th homer and the Jays’ 66th, tops in the majors.
It tied Bautista for second in the AL with Baltimore’s Ty Wigginton and two behind Paul Konerko of the White Sox entering Thursday night’s games.
Ricky Romero followed his first career shutout on Saturday in Toronto against Texas by allowing just four hits and a run in 6 2-3 innings.
Yet Griffey’s heroics turned Romero’s day moot.
Griffey was batting .183 with no home runs and just six RBIs in 30 games before his biggest hit of the season.