SEATTLE -- History again came knocking for the Orioles on Monday night. And once again they were more than willing to hold open the door.
Forgettable for what they have failed to accomplish in a lost season, the Orioles played willing accomplices for Seattle Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey's surge to a second consecutive 50 home run season. Pete Smith and Jimmy Key surrendered the homers on back-to-back pitches to Griffey in the fifth and sixth innings, leaving Griffey to join Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in this season's 50-homer club.
Griffey becomes only the third player in history (joining McGwire and Babe Ruth) to mash 50 home runs in consecutive seasons. His inclusion makes 1998 the first season to produce three players with 50 home runs.
Griffey's home runs -- a two-run shot off Smith and a grand slam off Key -- pushed the Mariners to an 11-1 blowout that Orioles manager Ray Miller called "an old-fashioned tail whippin'."
Griffey, referring to McGwire's 61st home run earlier in the day, called it something else.
"Today," said Griffey, "is Mark McGwire's day."
It certainly wasn't the Orioles', who managed three hits against Mariners starter and former teammate Jamie Moyer (13-8), former Orioles reject Bill Swift and Heathcliff Slocumb. The Orioles managed only four base runners and an unearned run as their struggles deepened against left-handed pitching.
Griffey said he missed McGwire's 61st earlier in the day. He was at home with his son asleep. "We watch a lot more cartoons at home than we do baseball," said Griffey.
But it is Griffey who leads the American League in home runs. The Orioles suffered Griffey's sixth multi-homer game this season and the 35th of his career. Griffey has 344 home runs in a 10-year career. Griffey owns two of the AL's six 50-home run seasons since 1961, the year Roger Maris set the single-season standard that McGwire passed last night.
Maintaining his reluctance to discuss himself, Griffey deferred to McGwire, Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and teammate Alex Rodriguez as providing the tapestry for an inspirational season.
"There have been a lot of great things happen in baseball. McGwire hits 61. Somebody [Bonds] goes 400 [homers]-400 [stolen bases]. Roger pitches three straight shutouts. And we've got a shortstop who's going 40-40. It hasn't been just one thing. It's been a lot of great things," said Griffey.
Miller wouldn't discount Griffey making a serious run at 61 home runs himself given the Mariners' 21 remaining games. Griffey sidestepped the question.
"I don't worry about hitting home runs. The important thing is we won the game and that's a step in the right direction," Griffey said.
Griffey homered off Smith's misplaced changeup in the fifth inning to give the Mariners a 6-1 lead, then returned for No. 50 off Key's first-pitch fastball an inning later.
The Orioles doubt the conventional wisdom that says Griffey has put together the quietest 50 home runs in major-league history. Griffey finished with four home runs and 14 RBIs against the Orioles this season.
"It hasn't seemed quiet to us. Both of those home runs were pretty loud tonight," said left fielder B. J. Surhoff.
The Mariners' breakout was almost to be expected since the two teams combined for 40 home runs in their 11 games. All but one of the Mariners' runs Monday night came from their four homers, two against starter Doug Drabek (6-11), battered for seven hits and four runs in three-plus innings.
Drabek, who has one win since May, has allowed 20 home runs in 106 1/3 innings, a frightful ratio of about one per five innings. His performance was so disheartening that Miller conceded afterward that his former Cy Young Award winner had made his final start of the season and presumably his last for the Orioles.
Late O's game
Last night's Orioles-Athletics game in Oakland, Calif., did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http: //www.sunspot.net. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at 410-783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call 410-268-7736, ext. 5023).
Pub Date: 9/09/98