- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

SEATTLE (AP) - Now Ken Griffey Jr. truly is back. And so is Ichiro Suzuki.

Griffey hit career home run No. 613 and his 400th as a Mariner on Wednesday night in his second home game of his return season in Seattle, the surprising Mariners’ 11-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

Suzuki had two hits in his season debut following his first career stint on the disabled list, including his first grand slam in six years during a seven-run seventh inning, to tie Isao Harimoto’s Japanese record with hit No. 3,085.

Griffey’s fifth-inning homer off starter Jered Weaver, his first as a Mariner in Seattle in 10 years, broke a 2-2 tie. Then Suzuki, who was out due to a bleeding ulcer, golfed a full-count pitch from Jason Bulger into the right-field bleachers.

The eight-time All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder trying the record is a big deal in Japan, so big a television network there flew Harimoto to Seattle so he could see it happen.

Jarrod Washburn allowed two runs in six steady innings against his former team for yet another strong start by a supposedly failed starter, as a team remade since losing 101 games in 2008 won its sixth straight. Seattle (7-2) is off to its best start since 2001, its last playoff season.

Griffey, baseball’s 39-year-old active home run leader returning triumphantly to the team that spawned his superstardom as a teen in 1989, turned sharply on a 2-1 fastball from Weaver in the fifth inning for his second home run of the year.

Griffey gave his vintage, no-doubt reaction to the solo shot: a dropped bat at his feet and long stare. He watched the ball land three rows into the bleachers beyond right-center field to give Seattle a 3-2 lead, three pitches after Endy Chavez had tied the game with a solo home run.

Weaver (1-1) allowed 10 hits and four runs in five-plus innings. He walked two and struck out two.

Giddy fans scrambled for the souvenir ball from Griffey’s home run.

The crowd of about 18,516 at Safeco Field _ dubbed the house that Junior built after Griffey’s MVP heroics in the mid-1990s largely saved baseball in Seattle _ roared as he rounded the bases. The fans kept roaring, prompting Griffey’s first curtain call since returning. He emerged from the dugout to tip his batting helmet to the fans, many of whom were wearing his No. 24 jersey in either blue or white.

Back inside the dugout, his teammates mobbed him.

Griffey’s previous home run as a Mariner in Seattle came on Sept. 22, 1999, off Kansas City’s Jay Witasick in what was his 48th and final home run of that season. A few months later, the Mariners granted his wish and traded him to Cincinnati.

Griffey also singled in the eighth off Kevin Jepsen, before Suzuki tied Harimoto’s record.

Torii Hunter hit a two-run homer in the fifth off Washburn (2-0), who allowed four hits and two runs in six innings against his former team. Hunter’s homer gave Los Angeles a brief 2-1 lead in the fifth. It was Hunter’s third home run in six at-bats.

Then came the heroics from Seattle’s twin superstars.

Griffey was one of 12 major leaguers to wear specially designed, Dodger-blue-and-silver cleats Wednesday that featured an engraving of Robinson sliding into home plate. Robinson’s uniform No. 42 was stitched on each heel.

Hunter was also wearing the shoes.

Griffey was believed to be the first major leaguer to wear 42 to honor Robinson in a game, 12 years ago with the Mariners. He just went up to the Mariners’ equipment man weeks before the game and said he wanted to do it _ he didn’t think to ask for the league’s permission because no one had done it.

The league granted permission for others to honor Robinson after that.

“I knew the family. It was just my way of saying thank you. I had no idea it would become something like this,” Griffey said before the game of all players wearing 42 on Jackie Robinson Day in the majors. “There’s a lot of people who wouldn’t be here (in the majors) if it wasn’t for him.”

Note:@ RHP Rafael Rodriguez, selected from Triple-A Salt Lake late Tuesday, allowed one hit in one inning in his major league debut.

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