From an opposing hitter’s perspective, the Seattle Mariners started off the 1995 major-league season the same way they finished last year - with an overpowering performance by pitcher Randy Johnson.
From an opposing pitcher’s perspective, it was another familiar story line - Ken Griffey’s homerun swing.
Johnson combined with two other pitchers on a three-hitter and Griffey hit a three-run homer off the facade of the third deck in right field as Seattle beat Detroit 3-0 Thursday night.
Johnson threw the final pitch of last year’s major-league season - late on the night of August 11, 1994 - striking out Oakland’s Ernie Young to finish off a four-hit complete game. His 15 strikeouts were a league-high for the season.
This time, Johnson struck out eight in six innings, then watched Bill Risley and Bobby Ayala pitch the final three innings without allowing a hit.
The paid attendance of 34,656 was Seattle’s lowest for a home opener since 1981, and it was the first baseball game at the Kingdome since last July 18 - the day before several ceiling tiles fell into the stands and forced the closure of the building until December.
“It was great to finally play at home again,” Johnson said. “I think if this team remains intact and remains exciting the crowds will come back and support us.”
Johnson gave up a double to Chad Curtis to open the game, but stranded him at second base and overpowered the Tigers from that point. Only one other batter reached second base against the three-time defending strikeout champion.
“Randy pitched real well considering it was a short spring,” Griffey said. “He did what he had to do - keep it close.”
“We weren’t going to score off Johnson tonight,” Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said. “He had everything going tonight - hard slider, fastball, all of it. He was really good.”
Johnson (1-0) gave up all three Detroit hits and walked two in six innings. He struck out at least one batter in every inning he pitched. Risley pitched two innings and struck out three, and Ayala pitched a perfect ninth.
“I could have pitched a little more, but I’m not sure how well I would have bounced back my next time out,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our bullpen, so there’s no sense in pushing it.”
Detroit’s Sean Bergman (0-1), making his first opening-day start and only his 10th major-league start, pitched well for the first four innings. But fielding lapses set up Griffey’s decisive two-out homer in the fifth, his first of the season.
“He’s a superstar,” Seattle manager Lou Piniella said of Griffey. “He’s our bread-and-butter guy. He sure knows how to provide heroics.”
Dan Wilson singled to open the fifth and Felix Fermin followed with a bouncer back to Bergman, whose low and wide throw to shortstop retired Wilson but prevented a double play. Shortstop Chris Gomez then booted a ground ball by Darren Bragg, and both runners were safe.
After Joey Cora’s flyout, Griffey hit a 1-1 pitch over the wall for the game’s only runs.
“I can’t control if Ken Griffey hits a home run,” Bergman said. “It really bothered me to make that bad throw to second base and put myself in that situation.”
Detroit’s other hits were a second-inning single by Danny Bautista and an infield single in the fourth by Rudy Pemberton.
Opening Day, part II
This was the second Northwest opening night for two Mariners - Ron Villone and Lee Guetterman, each of whom was with the Tacoma Rainiers for that team’s opener.
The difference had nothing to do with minor- vs. major-league parks.
“In Tacoma, I nearly froze to death,” Guetterman said.
“I had to start warming up in the seventh inning to pitch the ninth,” Villone joked. “It was chilly.”
Greg Pirkl, who batted .440 this spring, has continued to look impressive in batting practice, but doesn’t have a place to play - the Mariners want to stay with Tino Martinez at first base and Edgar Martinez as the designated hitter. Pirkl will probably spell Tino against left-handed pitchers, but not if Martinez starts hot. “He’s in a tough spot,” Piniella admitted. “We’d like to use him but we hope we don’t have to, because that means somebody else is struggling.”
Thursday’s opener broke a streak of five consecutive openingnight sellouts.
Promotion Alert: Tonight the Mariners will give away free travel packages, one per inning. On Saturday, fans will get a Griffey . trading card and a Johnson action poster, and on Sunday, the first 20,000 fans get a 1995 schedule poster.
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