Baseball’s big picture is never bigger - or grainier - than it is on Opening Day, or Opening Night as the case may be.
Or, in the case of the Kingdome, Opening Gray.
October seems more distant than Hale-Bopp, and for the sake of the Northwest’s collective mental health should remain so. There is no rush. A dusty fifth of fine 12-year-old scotch will last you all summer, if moderation is your master.
But who are we kidding? Moderation?
How do you preach moderation when Ken Griffey Jr. steps to the plate for the first time in 1997 and sends a cannonball into the bleachers in right-center? And sends a roman candle into the seats just inside the right-field foul pole his second time up?
How do you preach moderation when the good guys get seven innings out of their starting pitcher the first night out - and his name isn’t Randy Johnson?
How do you preach moderation when Bobby Ayala gets out alive - and with an ovation, no less?
Moderation? This is baseball.
This is romance.
Yes, the Seattle Mariners poured a finger for the house Tuesday night and quickly tried to lock the bottle back in the cabinet, lest the 57,586 who bellied up in person spill it all over themselves.
“One down,” cautioned Russ Davis after the M’s had dispatched the defending World Champs, the New York Yankees, 4-2. “A hundred sixty-one to go.”
This is prudent, pragmatic thinking and will be mostly ignored, given its propensity for getting in the way of a good time. At this point - 20 years into a baseball venture that’s been 5 percent rapture and 95 percent ruin - nothing will get in the way of a Mariner fan’s good time until the first sign of the bullpen imploding.
Which, hey, could be any day.
So that may be why the celebration was so throaty Tuesday after Darryl Strawberry produced the wished-for double-play grounder that delivered us from Norm Charlton and certain slidercide.
Charlton had arrived with one out in the ninth and the bases empty, and promptly gave up hard singles to Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill - left-handed bats who, theoretically, are easy pickin’s for The Sheriff. He then went to 2-2 on Strawberry, the potential winning run.
“Hey, if people come to the stadium, they can expect to see me pitching with somebody on base,” said an amused Charlton, his humor not at all tempered by the fact that he put them there.
“I’m going to make it interesting. I’ll have those coaches who quit smoking, smoking again. The manager, too.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the American League will try to get Griffey to quit smoking.
David Cone couldn’t. Not with the forkball he threw Griffey in the first inning, nor with the piece of junk in the third that he left well outside the strike zone. That one Griffey reached and muscled high among the speakers and ceiling tiles until O’Neill ran out of room to make a play. It was enough to make the cool stoic of the M’s clap his hands as he rounded first base.
“When I got back to the dugout,” Griffey reported, “Jay (Buhner) told me, ‘Nice wedge.”’
The scary thing is, it might be a wedge for par.
“Junior is amazing,” said M’s manager Lou Piniella. “There isn’t anything he can’t do with a bat when he swings at strikes.”
Or even sometimes when he doesn’t.
Piniella, in his first game back in uniform after rectal surgery eight days ago, said he got through the evening with virtually no discomfort. Apprently, there’s no medicine quite as effective as winning one by the book.
Was it ever this easy a year ago? The power was on - Davis had a solo homer off Cone moments before Junior’s second. Jeff Fassero, who came in a trade with Montreal as an insurance policy for Johnson’s finicky back, settled down after two rocky innings to retire 15 of the last 17 batters he faced. Ayala and Charlton closed it out, albeit with a couple unwanted thrills.
“This is the way we’d like to get it done all year,” Piniella said, knowing full well the ride will be fraught with more potholes than the drive up Monroe.
There will be nights that Bob Wolcott is at the wheel instead of Fassero, and there may already be minor concern over the slumps that Joey Cora and Buhner have carried over from the spring.
“Just remember, though,” said shortstop Alex Rodriguez, “if all else fails, there’s Junior.”
The visiting press from New York did their best to try to get Griffey to say that, given a full season without injury in contrast to the past two years, he could erase Roger Maris and his asterisk from baseball’s record book.
Junior wouldn’t budge. They should have talked to Davis.
“He can hit more than 62 if he stays healthy,” Davis said, without a hint of hyperbole.
“He is our franchise player, without a doubt,” said Charlton. “With him, you sit back and enjoy the ride.”
The ride to where?
Only April’s fools start clearing their calendars for the World Series now - though in the last couple of years it has become fashionable in the American League to pass yourselves off as the reincarnation of the 1927 Yankees, even without portfolio. At least the Mariners remain suspicious of national adoration, while nurturing it locally.
“I’d rather have all the pressure on us to win,” insisted Cora, “than to have people not expect anything. Expectations are what get people excited.”
Excited? Opening night seats were being scalped in the want-ads for 40 bucks and probably more on the street. That made it the second-hottest ticket in town, next to David Helfgott.
He’s on the “Shine” tour. The M’s, too. Only 161 dates to go.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review
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