MINNEAPOLIS -- The Mariners used a little small ball, some long ball, and a lot of heart Monday night to get the regular season off to a successful start. Right-hander Felix Hernandez twisted his ankle in the first inning, and hobbled at times over the next seven, but he didn't give up the ball until he had pitched eight solid frames in Seattle's 6-1 victory over the Twins before a sellout crowd of 48,514 at the Metrodome. By the time Hernandez departed, right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. had done one little thing to help produce the game's first run and something big with his 612th career home run for the second. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez cracked a two-run home run, and second baseman Jose Lopez drove in three runs, two of them in the ninth inning to secure the win.
Griffey tied Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for the most Opening Day home runs in Major League history -- eight. On this night, everything that was drilled into the team during Spring Training by manager Don Wakamatsu and his coaching staff came through with flying colors. The situational hitting was stellar in the second inning, when Adrian Beltre doubled leading off, advanced to third on a grounder to second by Griffey and scored on a Lopez sacrifice fly. "We talked about pitching and defense the keys to this ballclub and Felix set the tone in a big way," Wakamatsu said. "He pitched with passion tonight." And a sore right ankle. The bottom of the first inning was two outs old and the Twins had runners on second and third base when Jason Kubel topped a ball down the first-base line. Hernandez went after the ball and, just before fielding it, the cleats on his right shoe stuck in the artificial turf and his ankle was badly twisted. "It hurt really bad," Hernandez said, "but I was fine and I wanted to pitch." He convinced Wakamatsu and head athletic trainer Rick Griffin that he could stay in the game, and gamely proceeded to strike out Kubel to end the inning. And then in the fifth, he met another challenge, working his way out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam, surrendering a run, but not the lead. Griffey's 399th home run as a Mariner, and the 612th of his career, in the top of the fifth had given Seattle a 2-0 advantage. "His ankle is a little tender and he was a little tired at the end, so we got him out of there," Wakamatsu said. "We have talked about him not only being just a good, young picher, but one that a chance to set the tone as being the No. 1 starter on this team. "He went out and showed it. It's good to go through Spring Training and start the season off with a win like this." When his teammates walked into the clubhouse after the game, Hernandez was there to greet them. He had his right arm and shoulder wrapped in ice and an ace bandage, and the same with his right ankle. He hugged some of his teammates, shook hands with others, exchanged a few knuckle-knocks and even got a kiss on his right cheek from right-hander Carlos Silva. "I just concentrated on throwing strikes and tried not to think about it," he said of his ankle. The Mariners' journey to victory became a bit easier in the sixth inning, when Gutierrez added two runs for a 4-1 lead with a home run to left-center, just out of the reach of Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez. "I thought he caught the ball," Gutierrez said. "I stopped at first base expecting him to show the ball, but he didn't, so I started running again." Gutierrez said he was "a little nervous" before his first game with the Mariners, "but after the first at-bat, I kind of calmed down. It was great to help the team win the first game." Gutierrez is one of the players that first-year general manager Jack Zduriencik acquired in the three-team, 12-player trade with the Indians and Mets during the Winter Meetings in December. It was the second consecutive season Gutierrez hit a home run on Opening Day. He did the same thing last season with Cleveland. Right-handed closer Brandon Morrow was warmed up and ready to enter the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, but he sat down after Lopez drilled a two-out, two-run single between third base and shortstop, giving the Mariners a five-run lead. Wakamatsu switched gears and gave the final three outs of the game to veteran right-hander Miguel Batista, who retired three of the four batters he faced. Afterward, the players gave Wakamatsu a beer bath and the game ball.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.