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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Streaking Mariners take Ken Griffey Jr.’s advice to ‘keep fighting’ until the end

Seattle Mariners Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr. speaks during a ceremony to retire his number 24, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, at Safeco Field in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Seattle Mariners Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr. speaks during a ceremony to retire his number 24, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, at Safeco Field in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Mariners have their mantra.

It wasn’t tested or strategized for popularity or viability. It wasn’t a product of a brainstorming session. It wasn’t forced. No, it’s a product of a statement meant to inspire a team and a fan base from the best player the organization has ever produced.

It was organic and heartfelt – perhaps why it’s become something more than passing words or a hashtag. It’s become the Mariners’ inspirational rally cry as they try to push their way to the organization’s first postseason appearance since 2001 – the longest current playoff drought in the majors.

“Keep fighting.”

It’s not complicated or nuanced, but when it is recommended from Ken Griffey Jr., it carries a little more meaning.

The exact words came in Griffey’s speech during his jersey-retirement ceremony on Saturday at a packed Safeco Field. He turned to the Mariners’ dugout, where the players and the staff stood at the top step, most wearing their caps on backward in homage.

“Keep fighting, because we’re all rooting for you.”

It drew raucous cheers from the sold-out crowd and tips of those backward caps, nods and gestures from the Mariners’ players and coaching staff.

“It was awesome,” Shawn O’Malley said that evening. “That’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game, telling you to keep fighting. He’s done and he doesn’t have to be a part of it, and he still is. He told the fans to have our back. It just shows you the kind of person he really is.”

It resonated with the team.

“It meant a lot to our guys, and I know it did to me,” manager Scott Servais said that night after his team pulled off a come-from-behind 8-6 win over the Angels – the second victory of what is now a six-game win streak.

Mentions of “keep fighting” began to become prevalent on player’s tweets and postgame comments. And the Mariners’ marketing and public relations have also picked up on it with the #KeepFighting hashtag.

“It was everything,” Nelson Cruz said. “You could feel the energy all weekend.”

It’s grown with each win.

“It’s a belief in our team,” Servais said. “I really think the Griffey thing the other night was huge. I really do. It energized our ballclub. It energized the feeling around the organization, and really in the city. It’s up to us to continue it on.”

But words and rally cries only carry a team so far. Beyond the inspiration, the Mariners have simply played better baseball with a roster that is improved in health and talent.

During the six-game winning streak, Seattle got four starts of seven innings or more, while the bullpen allowed just one run over the six games and a total of 21 innings, despite some considerable usage in two of the games. Seattle’s pitchers over the six games produced a 2.40 ERA while striking out 48 batters and walking 17.

After an anemic showing at the plate in the four-game series split against the Red Sox, Seattle’s offense also showed a pulse. The Mariners scored 29 runs in the six games and banged out 69 hits, including 15 extra-base hits (seven home runs). They hit .296 with a .353 on-base percentage. But as always, some of the situational hitting was sub-optimal.

At 60-53, they are a half-game behind the Tigers in the wild-card standings and one game out of the second wild-card spot. They head to Oakland on Friday to start a seven-game American League West trip against the A’s and Angels.

Of their next 17 games, 14 are against teams with sub-.500 records. The three other games are against an overhauled Yankees team that is hovering at .500.

It’s important to remember that sayings, catchphrases or whatever the label are products of success. The “keep fighting” theme may be inspirational, but will it lead to something more than a hot streak or coming close to a playoff spot? The Mariners believe so. Still, something like this is only lasting with real success. And in this case, a postseason appearance must be the endgame.

“We are playing loose and when you play tight and you are afraid to lose … we have nothing to lose,” Servais said. “I’ve said it for the last couple of weeks – that’s how we need to play, and that’s how we are going to go about it. Just have fun.”

Just have fun, and …

“Keep fighting,” said Felix Hernandez.

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