Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu was ejected in the bottom of the eighth, so he missed the Mariners' three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to beat Toronto, 4-3.
This wasn’t the first time the Mariners have seen a game end with Ken Griffey Jr. getting his bat on a ball.
But it was the first occasion in recent memory in which the Mariners began a winning rally because their manager flapped both his gums and arms with equal vehemence. History will note that manager Don Wakamatsu received his first major-league ejection an inning before his team rallied for three runs in the ninth for a stunning 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Wakamatsu getting tossed, on the day of his 100th career victory, seemed to ignite a Seattle lineup that had spent much of the previous eight frames looking poised to lose for the sixth consecutive time.
“In hindsight, it sparked us,” said Mike Sweeney, who opened the ninth with a single off Toronto closer Kevin Gregg. “Wak is our captain, our leader. We told him after the game he was going to get a beer shower for getting tossed for the first time in his career.”
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A crowd of 20,452 at Safeco Field, which seemed to consist mostly of Blue Jays fans for the first eight innings, roared to life in the at-bats that followed. Jose Lopez added a single to right after Sweeney, followed by a huge walk to Milton Bradley with the count full that loaded the bases.
Casey Kotchman hit a ball grand-slam distance but pulled it several feet wide of the right-field foul pole. But he laid off some tough pitches and worked a walk that got the Mariners within a run.
Josh Bard then tied it with a sacrifice fly to left, and Griffey, pinch-hitting for Josh Wilson, roped a 2-1 pitch down the right-field line for the game-winning single.
It was an emotional moment for Griffey, batting just .183 when he came up and dogged by questions about whether he’ll retire in-season. The Griffey saga has taken on a life of its own and dominated all talk surrounding a last-place team that had lost 15 of 18 coming in.
“We’re probably not going to go through a two-week period like this again,” Sweeney said. “Considering how hard it’s been and yet we’ve stayed so close together.”
The walkoff win was the first by the Mariners all season. They had 13 such victories last year.
Griffey declined to comment and didn’t stick around long after the game.
“The last couple of weeks have probably been the two toughest weeks of his career,” Sweeney said. “He knew he had the backing of every guy in that clubhouse. It’s no different than when he went up there in the ninth inning this afternoon. He had every single person in this clubhouse cheering for him. And I’m sure he had every single person in this city cheering for him.”
The cheers were fairly muted early on. A two-run homer to left field by Jose Bautista in the fifth, off Seattle starter Jason Vargas, turned a 1-0 lead into a one-run deficit for the home side. Edwin Encarnacion then hit a sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-1 in the seventh to end the day for Vargas, and things looked bleak indeed.
But after Ichiro was caught stealing to end the eighth on a play where he looked to be safe, Wakamatsu left the dugout. His argument with second-base umpire Andy Fletcher wasn’t all that dramatic, but it kept going until Wakamatsu finally got the thumb he appeared to be looking for.
Seems like that was all his team had been looking for as well.
“As a team, we’ve been talking about the fact that good teams make their own breaks,” said Bard, who had two of Seattle’s four hits before the ninth — a single and a double — along with the tying sacrifice fly. “We’ve been kind of sitting around here waiting for something to happen.”
Not this time.
“Now, they’re saying I’ve got to go every eighth or ninth inning,” Wakamatsu joked afterward. “Obviously, you see how they reacted to it.”
Wakamatsu had been tossed numerous times during his minor-league career, but never in the majors. That fact had caused consternation among some fans, who believed he could be doing more to visibly stand up for — and even ignite — his players.
“It’s a play where, you look at the reaction of Ichiro and you go out and defend him,” Wakamatsu said. “The big thing that I was arguing about was that even though the ball beat him, I still thought he got his foot in there.”
Instead, it was the Mariners who wound up getting their foot in the door just before another game slammed shut on them. They’ll need a whole lot more, from Wakamatsu, Griffey and others, to erase the damage the past two weeks have caused to their season.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org