SEATTLE – There’s still lightning left in the old bat.
Ken Griffey Jr., whose .216 average has drawn concern and criticism over where his career may have headed in his 21st season, delivered a flashback to his glorious past with one swing Friday night.
His two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning ignited the Mariners’ winning rally in a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Safeco Field.
“To see a man like him hit a ball like that, it was beautiful,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “When he jumped on that ball, he looked like he was 18.”
The Mariners had trailed 3-0 entering the inning in a game that was headed toward one of their most painful of the season.
They’d already lost outfielder Endy Chavez to a serious knee injury in a brutal outfield collision with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, and the offense had made nothing of seven hits off Diamondbacks starter Jon Garland.
Everything changed in the eighth.
Russell Branyan homered deep into the right-field seats off left-hander Scott Schoeneweis, making the score 3-1.
The Diamondbacks brought in right-hander Tony Pena, and Adrian Beltre grounded a single into left field.
Pena struck out Mike Sweeney and got Franklin Gutierrez on a fly to center, and Wakamatsu sent Griffey to the plate to bat for Wladimir Balentien.
With Beltre on third – he stole second and reached third after Gutierrez’s fly out – the Diamondbacks had every reason to pitch carefully, if not around Griffey with a base open. Wakamatsu, in fact, sent left-hander Mike Carp into the on-deck circle to pinch-hit for second baseman Chris Woodward.
“It’s no secret what he is trying to do there,” Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch said. “But we can make pitches to keep the ball in the ballpark. You can’t put the tying run on base.”
Pena’s first pitch was down in the strike zone but also over the middle, and Griffey squared it up. He drove it 425 feet into the right-center-field seats, his seventh home run this season and the sixth in his career as a pinch-hitter.
“I’m thinking base hit, try to move the guy closer to scoring, get him in – things like that,” Griffey said. “I got a pitch I could hit and I hit it out.”
It tied the score 3-3 and ignited the crowd of 27,319 into its biggest roar since Griffey’s return as a Mariner on opening day.
Two hitters later, the Mariners had the lead.
Carp went back to the dugout and Woodward took his at-bat, hitting a single into left field. Rob Johnson, who’d missed most of the previous week after his mother-in-law died in an auto accident, lined a triple into the left-field corner to make the score 4-3.
David Aardsma finished the Mariners’ 18th come-from-behind victory with three strikeouts in the ninth – and also yielding Eric Byrnes’ two-out single – to record his 13th save.
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