On the day Ken Griffey Jr. retired, Ichiro Suzuki's walk-off RBI infield single gave the Mariners a 2-1 win in 10 innings against the Twins at Safeco Field. The hit came after an 0-for-4 start with three strikeouts -- the most Ichiro has struck out in a game since Sept. 23, 2007 -- but the winner meant much more to him than just ending a slow night at the plate.
"Junior is a very special player to myself," Ichiro said.
"I don't know how to explain it in words, but that's how much feeling I have for him. I'm sure all of our players in the clubhouse wanted to win for Junior. It was a very important game because of what happened today.
"Every moment with him is a treasure deep within my heart. I have played 19 years of professional baseball, and I could say he was one my best teammates, and my friend as well."
The winning rally began with singles by Casey Kotchman and Josh Wilson, and with two on and two out against Minnesota reliever Jose Mijares, Ichiro capped an 11-pitch at-bat with a roller up the middle to the "24" logo placed behind second base in honor of Griffey.
Twins second baseman Matt Tolbert made a diving stop and flipped to shortstop J.J. Hardy at the bag, but second-base umpire Dale Scott ruled Wilson safe, and pinch-runner Ryan Langerhans raced around third to score, which sent the crowd of 20,414 into a frenzy.
Wilson's scamper and slide into second was essentially the winning play for Seattle, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire disagreed with the call.
"Did you think he was out?" Gardenhire asked reporters after the game. "And the replay shows he's out. We don't need to talk about that any more. It's all out there. Just go watch the replays of it."
The win gave the struggling Mariners a 2-1 lead in the four-game series against the AL Central leaders and put Cliff Lee's one-run, eight-inning, eight-strikeout evening to good use. Twins starter Kevin Slowey nearly matched him, tossing seven frames and allowing one run.
Slowey's only blemish was the product of more scrappy play by the Mariners -- particularly Milton Bradley. The left fielder fouled off three pitches with two strikes before poking the ninth offering through the right side for a leadoff single, then stole second sliding and took third standing up when Slowey and Matt Tolbert (then playing at third) weren't paying attention to him.
Kotchman's sacrifice fly was just deep enough that Twins center fielder Denard Span didn't attempt a throw to the plate, and Bradley scored to make it 1-0.
Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu called Bradley a "one-man wrecking crew" for his performance in the fifth, and Bradley attributed his fleet-footedness to wanting to win one for Griffey.
"I had somebody else's legs out there today," a somber Bradley said afterward. "I was full of a lot of emotions and wanted, especially, to get a win tonight so Junior's retirement would be right.
"I hit left-handed because of Griffey. I wanted to play baseball, be an outfielder, make diving catches, style on a home run, because of Griffey. Guys like him don't come around every day. He's just as magical off the field as on it."
Bradley called Griffey shortly after the game to tell him about the win while Griffey was driving through Florida en route to his home. Bradley said he'd heard whispers a few days ago that retirement might be on the way for Griffey, but he didn't want to believe it, and added that he'll cherish his final moments with his idol as a teammate -- spent in the dugout during a night off Tuesday and a recent film session.
His run wasn't enough for the win, as Minnesota struck back in the seventh when Michael Cuddyer whacked a 1-2 pitch into the bleachers in right-center. That was the first homer given up by Lee in 50 2/3 innings this season, and the Mariners' bid to retake the lead later in the inning fell short after two singles were followed by a double play and fly-ball out in foul territory.
The biggest scare for Seattle came in the ninth. David Aardsma relieved Lee and issued a walk to Joe Mauer, who moved to third on a passed ball and groundout. With the infield in and one out, Cuddyer laced another shot, but it was right at Wilson, and he made the catch on the edge of the infield grass. The Mariners escaped the inning after a flyout to left one batter later.
A few feet either way, and the Twins would've likely spoiled the Griffey tribute and handed the Mariners their 14th one-run loss. But as that play and Wilson's slide at second base demonstrate, a bit of luck has to play a role on a winning ballclub.
"I haven't seen [the play at second on replay] to know how close it was, but heck, all calls can go either way," Wilson said. "If it's one that should have gone in the other team's favor and it went our way, we'll take it, because it seems like those haven't been going our way."
Mike McCall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less