SEATTLE – Another strong outing by Jarrod Washburn. A rare homer by Endy Chavez. A great piece of clutch relief by rookie Shawn Kelley. An eventful fill-in job by catcher Rob Johnson after Kenji Johjima had to leave with hamstring tightness. Another sensational catch by Franklin Gutierrez.
Another day, another victory, another varied crew of heroes for the surging Mariners.
But in the end, this one, as so many before, belonged to the Mariners’ twin icons, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro.
Griffey blasted his 400th homer as a Mariner in the fifth inning, giving Seattle the lead to stay in an 11-3 romp over the Los Angeles Angels.
Ichiro, playing his first game of the season after a stint on the 15-day disabled list for a bleeding ulcer, managed to upstage even the sainted Junior.
He drilled a single in the third, then capped the Seattle scoring with a grand slam in the seventh inning off Angels’ reliever Jason Bulger.
Just for added dramatic impact, the salami was Ichiro’s 3,085th career hit between Japan and Seattle, tying him with Japan hit king Isao Harimoto – a living legend of Japanese baseball who just happened to be in attendance at Safeco Field.
“It’s pretty special to see those milestones and be a part of that,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
It’s early, and it may not last, but the Mariners are rapidly becoming the talk of baseball. Coming off a season of 101 losses, they have won six in a row to improve to 7-2, playing an aggressive brand of baseball that is becoming their trademark. With Baltimore losing to fall to 6-3, the M’s own the best record in the American League.
Also significant is the fact they have twice taken it to the Angels, who have made the kind of mistakes more common to the Mariners in recent matchups.
The Mariners were 5-14 against the Angels last year and had lost 35 of their last 49 in the series, dating back to July 3, 2006.
But this is a new year.
Just ask the rejuvenated Washburn, who had worked eight scoreless innings against Minnesota in his 2009 debut, and tacked on four more zeros.
And those zeros extended to the hit column, as Washburn retired the first 12 Angels hitters he faced.
But any dreams of immortality ended swiftly, and decisively, in the fifth. Leadoff man Vladimir Guerrero delivered a clean single to end the no-no, and Torii Hunter, who had crushed a homer off Carlos Silva on Tuesday, hit another blast, this one to left-center, to stake the Angels to a 2-1 lead.
But it was short-lived. Leading off the bottom of the fifth against Weaver, Chavez belted a 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall – just the 18th homer of his career in 2,111 at-bats. He had just one in each of the two previous seasons for the Mets.
Up stepped Griffey, whose home-run numbers are a bit more prolific. But Griffey, fifth on the all-time list, was lugging a .150 batting average to the plate, having been retired twice previously by Weaver – including a strikeout with two aboard in the third.
However, on a 2-1 pitch, Griffey stepped into a fat Weaver offering and sent it on a familiar arc over the right-field wall.
It was his 613th career homer – two during his second Seattle stint to add to the 398 he collected in his first go-round.
As he crossed the plate to a huge ovation, Griffey pointed toward his family in a suite, and when the crowd continued to roar, he came out of the dugout for a curtain call.
The Mariners had scored first, aided by a fielding miscue by Gold Glover Hunter in the fourth.
Russell Branyan lofted an apparent easy fly to center, but Hunter lost it in the lights, and it fell in front of him as Branyan lumbered into second.
Branyan moved to third on Jose Lopez’s sacrifice, and scored on Johjima’s single to center.
Johjima hurt his right hamstring on the play, and was replaced by Johnson, who would make his mark in the game.
Johnson led off the sixth with a double to right-center, aggressively taking the extra base and sliding in just ahead of the throw. Betancourt singled, moving Johnson to third.
Franklin Gutierrez dropped a bunt toward the pitcher – a safety squeeze – that Weaver fielded. He looked like he had enough time to throw out Johnson charging to the plate, but the ball slipped out of his hand as he started his throw, and everyone was safe, Johnson scoring.
Johnson delivered a two-run single in the seventh, overshadowed by Ichiro’s slam later in the inning.
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