The 39-year-old Junior turned a scheduled day off into the most memorable night so far of his rollicking return season, hitting a pinch-hit, two-run homer to tie the Arizona Diamondbacks in the eighth inning.
“Today was special,” Griffey said, grinning over his 618th career home run, the hugs he got from nearly every giddy teammate and then the fans’ curtain call he answered by emerging from the dugout and tipping his batting helmet.
“Just a little chance of giving back, appreciating all the things they’ve done for me over the years,” Griffey said of the people who have loved him since he was a 19-year-old rookie star here two decades ago.
Johnson thinks Griffey is special, too. His locker neighbor shared heartfelt condolences with him Friday, after Johnson returned from being gone five days to Texas following the death of his mother-in-law. Griffey told the young catcher how he got through losing loved ones—including his best friend, Frank King, who died 13 months ago at the age of 38 of cancer.
Johnson called his wife, who is still in Houston with their son, before he took batting practice. Hours later he watched Griffey’s heroic moment in awe— and then became a hero himself.
“I couldn’t think of a better situation. So many of us wouldn’t be here in this stadium if it wasn’t for him,” Johnson said of Griffey.
Griffey led the 1995 Mariners to a late-season rally into their first postseason, when the team was thinking of leaving town. The momentum from that season led to special state legislation that built Safeco Field—thus: “The House that Junior Built.”
Jon Garland(notes) pitched seven scoreless innings against the major leagues’ lowest-scoring team, and appeared on his way to his first win in a month—until the Mariners scored four times off two relievers in their four-run eighth inning.
Miguel Batista(notes) (4-2) pitched a scoreless eighth for Seattle, and David Aardsma(notes) struck out the side in the ninth for his 13th save in 14 chances. He set down Miguel Montero(notes) for the final out with Eric Byrnes(notes) at second base.
Scott Schoeneweis(notes) replaced Garland in the eighth and allowed a solo homer to Russell Branyan, who had returned after attending the funeral of his grandfather in Georgia. Pena (5-3) entered and allowed a single to Adrian Beltre(notes), who reached third before Griffey came to plate to thrill the crowd of 27,319.
The fans roared even more when Griffey hit Pena’s first pitch into the right-center bleachers for his sixth career pinch-hit home run and first since Sept. 25, 2006, when he was with his hometown Cincinnati Reds.
“He’s done it to so many pitchers—not so much off the bench all the time,” Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said. “That is why he is a future Hall of Famer.”
Pena became the 399th pitcher to allow a home run to Griffey. All seven of his home runs this season have come off a first-time victim.
“What he means to this team, to this city, that was so special,” Johnson said.
Woodward followed with his second hit of the night—his first two since Sept. 27, 2007, when he was with Atlanta. Then Johnson lined a pitch from Pena into the left-field corner to score the go-ahead run.
Montero made it 3-0 in the fourth, driving a fastball from Washburn off the yellow line atop the right-center field wall for his third home run.
The Mariners lost left fielder Endy Chavez(notes) to an apparently serious right knee injury in the fifth when he flipped hard to the turf in a collision with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) on a pop fly. Chavez appeared to call for it but Betancourt caught it, and Chavez was carted from the field shaking his head with a trainer at this side.
“All indications are not good,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. ^Notes: Seattle is already without Jose Lopez(notes), its RBI leader, who is in Venezuela indefinitely to be with his seriously ill sister. … Arizona 1B Tony Clark(notes) went hitless in his first game off the DL. The 37-year-old missed 41 games with a sprained ligament in his right hand. … INF Chad Tracy(notes), on the DL since May 30 with a strained oblique, began a rehab assignment for Triple-A Reno at Tacoma.