Mariners send Hargrove out a winner

Mariners send Hargrove out a winner

SEATTLE -- Mike Hargrove's resignation was an unconventional start to Sunday's Mariners game. Their win, though, was a familiar finish.

Jose Guillen hit a home run and an RBI single, knocking in both of Seattle's runs in an emotional 2-1 walk-off win over the Blue Jays in front of 38,778 fans at Safeco Field on Sunday. It was the Mariners' eighth straight win, second consecutive series sweep, and a fitting way to send their skipper into the sunset.

Down 1-0 in the eighth, Guillen led off with a game-tying home run. An inning later he struck again, this time knocking Adrian Beltre in from second with a single, sending jubilant players rushing onto the field in celebration, not just for themselves, but for their manager.

And that's just the way they wanted to end it.

"I really wanted to get this win for him, so badly," Guillen said. "I'm just happy for him that he can just leave with a win and go home happy, and we can go to Kansas City and take care of business."

Easier said than done, considering how shocked the clubhouse was after learning about Hargrove's departure. Most of the team expected Sunday's pregame meeting to be about the upcoming All-Star Game in San Francisco, not about the manager's resignation.

Needless to say, for the first time in a long while, one word was continually used in the locker room after Sunday's game, and it wasn't "win."

"It's a shock, I think everyone's still in shock here," Raul Ibanez said. "Nobody was prepared for it, or anything like this."

Hargrove announced his resignation prior to Sunday's series finale against the Blue Jays, stunning news for the team that was on the longest winning streak of its season. He informed the players of his decision prior to holding a press conference at 11:30 a.m. PT.

He repeatedly told reporters that it was becoming increasingly difficult to conjure up the passion that it takes to manage a team, often asking players to give everything they have, when, in fact, he couldn't return that sentiment.

It was tough for nearly anyone to understand, considering the decision came in the midst of the Mariners' longest winning streak since 2003. Even Hargrove himself was a bit confused.

"I don't expect everyone to understand it, I really don't, because there are times I don't understand it," he said after the game. "But I ask everybody to respect it, and everybody seems to have done that."

Some of the players are a bit puzzled by the timing as well.

"That's what gets to my heart, you know, why now?" Guillen said. "Again, we don't know what it is, what the deal was, but we have to respect him for the decision he made. I'm still shocked, and I don't know what's going on."

Hargrove's final win as a Mariner gave him 192 with Seattle, a team he started with on Oct. 20, 2004.

Since then, the Mariners have steadily improved, and are 12 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2003 season when they finished 93-69. Seattle has not finished above .500 since that season.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of the job we've done, all of us, in getting this thing pointed in the right direction," Hargrove said. "And doing it in three years in remarkable."

It was somewhat fitting that Jeff Weaver, a pitcher who struggled through much of the first half of this season, tossed a gem in Hargrove's final game at the helm. Despite starting the season 0-6, Hargrove was often a voice of support for the 30-year-old righty.

Weaver allowed just one earned run Sunday -- Frank Thomas's 501st home run -- on seven hits in eight innings.

"He's been great to me because of [his support]," Weaver said. "When you have guys behind you that believe in you, it keeps your head high and keeps you focused on the things that we're trying to do."

Closer J.J. Putz, who will make his first-ever All-Star appearance next week, earned the win for the Mariners in his typical fashion, striking out Thomas and Adam Lind in his perfect ninth inning.

"I think there's still a little bit of shock, but like I said, once you realize exactly what his reasons were for it, you respect it and you wish him all the best," Putz said. "It was just a shock to every single person in the room."

Life in the baseball world moves on, though, and although the entire Mariners organization made it perfectly clear how much Hargrove will be missed, bench coach John McLaren takes over the reins starting in Kansas City on Monday.

It's quick turnover and an obvious distraction, but Hargrove remained confident that the players he's groomed over the last few seasons will respond well.

So did the team.

"We just [want to make] sure it doesn't become a distraction here," Guillen said. "We all know what we need to do, we just have to go and take care of business."

Easier said than done? Maybe. But the Mariners still have plenty of things going for them.

They have their winning streak, are second in the American League West and in contention for the Wild Card.

They have a pitching rotation that's come to life as of late, and a bullpen that has been nearly unhittable all season.

They have two All-Stars, Putz and center fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who will be making his seventh straight appearance in the Midsummer Classic.

And they have their fans, who have witnessed some magical baseball over the last eight games. Whether they can keep the momentum going remains to be seen, but Seattle's newest fan is pretty confident in that.

"This will continue; there's a good thing going here," Hargrove said. "Seattle fans, me included now, are in for a good ride, and everybody connected deserves that."

Patrick Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.