Griffey takes curtain call, Hernandez wins 19th
SEATTLE (AP)—Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) thrilled his fans one last time, taking a curtain call after singling in his final at-bat. He wiped away tears that fell from behind sunglasses he had put on in a futile attempt to hide his emotions.
He looked like a bellhop, tipping his cap so many times to so many people during this joyous season finale. More than 32,000 Seattleites kept chanting “One more year!”
Then four of his teammates carried Griffey on their shoulders from left field to the first-base side. Griffey beamed and waved his cap some more, looking like a 39-year-old king being paraded in a makeshift chariot.
What a way to go out. That is, if baseball’s active home run king is indeed going out for good.
The Northwest icon finished his one-year contract with the Mariners by going 1 for 4 and getting a standing ovation during each at-bat. Griffey admitted the day was unlike any other in his 21-year career.
“Probably the most nervous and emotional roller coaster I’ve ever been through,” he said, his eyes red while standing in front of his locker. “You never know. If this is going to be the last one, it’s tough.”
Friday, general manager Jack Zduriencik ducked a question on whether Griffey is in Seattle’s plans for 2010, saying assessments will begin Monday. Griffey has said he would be interested in playing another season if the team wants him.
“I don’t know if I’ve been, in all my years in this game, as emotional as I was when Griffey came out,” said Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu, who has been in professional baseball since 1985.
Playing as a designated hitter on a surgically repaired knee that was drained this season, Griffey hit three home runs in his final five games. He finished with 19 home runs this season and 630 in his career. Asked why he might not return, he smiled and thought of home in Orlando, Fla.
“I’ve got a 15-, 13- and 7-year old,” he said. “Other than that, I have no reason not to.”
Ian Kinsler(notes) doubled and scored two runs for Texas, which finished 8-15 after reaching a season-high 19 games over .500. A surprising run for the AL West title ended with elimination Monday at the division-champion Los Angeles Angels — months after most thought it would. It was Texas’ latest elimination from postseason contention since 2004, its last winning season.
The Rangers (87-75) finished with the fourth-best record in the AL. This is the first time they have finished second or better in consecutive seasons since they won the division in 1998 and ’99.
“We certainly put our name out there,” manager Ron Washington said. “We proved we can pitch in Texas. … Now, we just have to get more consistent.”
Vendors outside the park yelled they had special commemorative Griffey game programs for sale before the game. A fan behind the Mariners’ dugout held a sign that said “Come back JR.” Griffey posed for pictures on the field just before the first pitch with nostalgic teammates and with longtime team trainer Rick Griffin, who was with the Mariners in 1989 when Griffey debuted as a grinning, gifted teenager.
After his liner into center field off C.J. Wilson(notes), Griffey was replaced by pinch-runner Michael Saunders(notes). He tipped his batting helmet, waved it around the park and flashed a hand salute, drawing more roars.
The fans didn’t stop until after Griffey emerged from the dugout. The slugger was biting his lower lip as he tipped his helmet one more time.
He finished with a 2.49 ERA, second in the AL to the 2.16 of Kansas City’s Zack Greinke(notes), among his competitors in the Cy Young Award race. Hernandez’s .792 winning percentage was the AL’s best, ahead of Josh Beckett’s(notes) .739 (17-6).
Hernandez went 15-2 with a 1.98 ERA after Wakamatsu called him out for not stepping up during a sloppy loss to the Angels on May 19.
Franklin Gutierrez(notes) doubled home Josh Wilson(notes) for the second time in as many at bats off Scott Feldman(notes) (17-7) to put Seattle up 2-1 in the fifth. Jose Lopez(notes) then doubled home Suzuki and Gutierrez to make it 4-1.
Suzuki, who came out of his clubhouse shell with Griffey’s unending pranks, thinks Junior is coming back.
“To play together with that hero of mine, in the same uniform and on top of that in Seattle? That time we got, even now, seems like a dream,” Suzuki said through an interpreter.
“I believe that time with him will continue.”
NOTE: Seattle became the 13th team since 1901 to finish with a winning record the season after losing 100 games. Of those other dozen turnaround teams, only the 1989 Baltimore Orioles and the 1967 Chicago Cubs had more than Seattle’s 85 victories this season. Those Orioles and Cubs had 87 wins.