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Griffey Goes Babe Ruth Just One Better

June 23, 1994|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — By now the scene must seem so familiar, so predictable. After all, it's been played out almost nightly at stadiums around the American League this season.

There is Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. standing at home plate. Here comes a pitch. It might even be a good one, one another hitter might flail at. But Griffey doesn't, sending it over the fence for yet another home run.

It happened again Wednesday night at Anaheim Stadium.

After four homerless days, one of his longest droughts this season, Griffey slammed No. 31, becoming the first to hit that many before the end of June. Babe Ruth had hit 30 twice--in 1928 and 1930--but never 31 before July 1.

At this rate, Griffey will hit 70 by season's end. That assumes there's not a prolonged strike to disrupt his relentless march to top Roger Maris' major league record of 61 in 1961.

"I'm just trying to hit the ball," Griffey said after Seattle's 12-3 victory over the Angels. "I'm just letting things come. If it (homers) happens, it happens."

Others are more impressed.

"The things he's doing right now are amazing," said first baseman Mike Blowers, who homered and drove in four runs. "Personally, I think it's great. He's the best player in the game right now."

Said Seattle Manager Lou Piniella: "I never saw Babe Ruth hit, but we're possibly seeing another one in the making. Let's just enjoy it one day at a time and see what happens."

Angel starter Brian Anderson, a rookie, had the dubious distinction of giving up Griffey's 404-foot, sixth-inning homer, which landed deep in the visitor's bullpen.

"I'll tell you what, it wouldn't have been bad to be part of history like that if we had won the game," Anderson said. "But losing this game kind of chaps you."

In the past two games, the Angels had walked Griffey intentionally and heard the wrath of their fans, who booed long and loud. They struck him out, forced him to fly out and watched him rap out singles and doubles.

Until the sixth inning Wednesday, the Angels handled Griffey about as well as possible. It was only the third time this season that he had gone more than three games without a home run.

His last homer came Friday off Kansas City's David Cone, tying Ruth's record of 30 homers by the end of June.

But the Royals and Angels somehow managed to quiet Griffey until there was one out in the sixth.

Griffey dug into the batter's box with the Mariners trailing, 3-1, and Anderson working on a three-hitter.

It was left-hander versus left-hander, and until that point, it had been a draw. Anderson got Griffey to pop up for the final out in a 1-2-3 first inning. In the fourth, Griffey countered with a run-scoring double over the first-base bag.

As with all his at-bats in this three-game series, there was a keen sense of anticipation from the crowd as Griffey waited for the first pitch in the sixth.

The 22,305 fans didn't have to wait long to see the result of this confrontation. Anderson threw and Griffey swung.

The ball arched high into the night sky, carrying far over the gate to the Mariner bullpen in right field.

Griffey circled the bases to a standing ovation.

"This kid can beat you with so many different facets, but people come to see him hit," Piniella said.

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