Ken Griffey Jr. makes Tim Lincecum's day in Cactus League opener
Tim Lincecum worked one wobbly inning then met one of his childhood heroes, Ken Griffey Jr., in Giants' 8-7 victory over the Mariners.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — That feeling of newness and childlike anticipation that only a spring day of baseball can bring wasn't limited to the fans sprawled on picnic blankets beyond the outfield walls.
Even a reigning two-time Cy Young award winner like Tim Lincecum can have fresh, boyhood experiences on the opening day of Cactus League play. The Seattle native had just thrown an inning against the Mariners team he cheered on for years back home when a visitor interrupted his postgame clubhouse scrum with reporters.
"Lincecum, what's up? I just wanted to say hi," Ken Griffey Jr. said, extending his hand to the San Francisco Giants pitcher.
An awe-struck Lincecum seemed not to know what to say as he stared at one of his boyhood idols, returned the shake while mumbling, "It's a pleasure," and then, as quickly as the whole thing began, watched Griffey turn and exit the clubhouse.
"It was nice meeting you," Lincecum, finally gathering himself, called out to Griffey, who was already out the door and headed to the Mariners clubhouse. Lincecum paused for a moment, exhaled, and then said: "Man. Wow. He just came over. That was pretty cool."
Another pause and then, to the assembled reporters, he asked: "What were we just talking about?"
Safe to say, Lincecum won't be remembering this day for the three runs he allowed in his lone inning of work. The Mariners, too, will take away more from their spring opening than the final score of an 8-7 loss in 10 innings to the Giants in front of 6,635 on a sunsplashed Wednesday afternoon at Peoria Stadium.
This was a day of firsts for a Mariners ballclub hoping for big things in 2010.
A first chance to see Ichiro and Chone Figgins head up what's expected to be one of the best 1-2 punches atop a batting order in the majors. The chance to see Milton Bradley give it another try with his eighth big-league team. Also, an initial shot at seeing whether Jose Lopez really can play third base in an actual game.
Lopez went four innings without a sniff of a ground ball toward the hot corner.
But finally, with two out and a runner on third in the fifth, Kevin Frandsen sent a grounder Lopez's way that became a routine 5-3 out just like Adrian Beltre used to make all the time.
"That was huge for me because I made a strong throw to the first baseman," said Lopez, who went 1 for 3 at the plate with a run-scoring single. "I saw the runner going home, but I didn't care. I knew I just had to make a good throw."
In many ways, these early spring contests are as indicative of things to come as the one ground ball Lopez saw in five innings. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu knows that scoring three off a rusty-looking Lincecum in the first inning is about as likely to happen again as Griffey popping into an opposing clubhouse once the regular season starts.
Instead, it's about reinforcing the positives for now, then quietly going to work the next morning on areas that need attention.
It's why Wakamatsu was outwardly praising the baserunning by Bradley, who created a hole for Lopez's RBI single by taking the first few steps on a steal attempt and forcing the second baseman to cover his bag. Also why Wakamatsu chose not to discuss the fly ball that Bradley appeared to have a play on in left field before having it go over his head for a run-scoring double.
Wakamatsu also chose to focus on the adjustment made by starter Doug Fister in the second inning, when he kept the ball down and struck out the side. Not dwell on the first inning, when Fister was rocked for a home run, a triple and a 3-0 deficit.
"Everybody's getting the cobwebs out," Wakamatsu said. "Even Griffey looked a little edgy there in his first at-bat."
Griffey did indeed seem a little nervous, when, after the usual rousing ovation on his first plate appearance, he got jammed by Lincecum with the bases loaded and none out and lofted an easy fly ball to right — albeit deep enough for a sacrifice fly. Griffey drew a walk in the second inning, then was removed from the game and headed over to the opposing clubhouse to make Lincecum's day.
"He's a Northwest guy," Griffey said with a shrug, in explaining the gesture. "He's a good kid. He does look like an extreme sports kid, I will say that."
Lincecum was acting like somewhat of a kid as he giddily told reporters after the handshake that it's the first time he's ever spoken to Griffey.
"Just to have a great like that come over just caught me off guard," he admitted with a laugh, adding that it was a little surreal. "The first time getting to face him ... I don't really know what to say."
He didn't have to. On the first day of spring baseball, everybody gets to be a kid again.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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