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NEWHAN

Griffey's Quiet Weekend Doesn't Stop All the Talk

June 16, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

SEATTLE — Baseball projections are a funny and risky business. They provide interesting fodder but seldom become reality.

Ken Griffey Jr., the Seattle Mariner center fielder, set major league records for the most home runs through April and May to touch off the earliest countdowns to the records of Roger Maris and Babe Ruth in history.

Projections were off the board. It was as if he would break Hank Aaron's lifetime record in a season.

Reality has taken hold, which is not to say Griffey won't break the Maris record of 61, but the projection isn't as clear-cut as it was.

After being held without a homer as the Mariners completed a two-game sweep of the Dodgers on Sunday, 8-2, to improve to 4-0 in interleague play, Griffey's pace projected to a still-stunning 174 runs batted in but a comparatively modest 65 homers.

Comparatively modest, that is, when measured against those earlier and unrealistic projections.

Griffey hit his 27th homer Saturday but had no other hits in 10 trips to the plate against the Dodgers, although he walked three times Sunday.

Dodger catcher Mike Piazza wasn't dissuaded.

"I think he'll hit 60 if he stays healthy, no question about it," Piazza said. "It's ridiculous the way he's locked in on every pitch. It's like he's taking batting practice."

Seattle Manager Lou Piniella refuses to speculate.

"I don't want to add more pressure or urgency," he said. "My position is, let the young man play, let his talent take him where he's going.

"The expectations are large enough already."

Paul Sorrento, Dan Wilson and Jose Cruz Jr., the 48th left fielder Griffey has played with since breaking in eight years ago, hit the fifth, sixth and seventh Seattle homers of the short series.

The Dodgers are 1-3 in interleague play, six games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, and their vaunted pitching has unraveled some, experiencing a sudden siege of wildness.

Ismael Valdes walked eight in five innings after Ramon Martinez walked five in four innings Saturday and Pedro Astacio walked three in seven innings Friday and Hideo Nomo walked five in 5 2/3 innings Thursday.

Has the inconsistency of the Dodger offense prompted the pitchers to lose their aggressiveness in an attempt to make the perfect pitch? Have they become afraid to make a mistake the offense can't overcome?

"That's possible, but it's also a subject we address with them all the time," pitching coach Dave Wallace said. "Their concern at all times should be holding the opposition to a minimum of runs no matter how we're scoring."

Valdes suggested that the smaller American League strike zone might have been a factor Sunday, although the Dodgers drew only two walks off Jamie Moyer and Scott Sanders.

"I don't blame the umpires--it was me today--but I made some very close pitches that I guess weren't good enough to be called strikes," Valdes said.

The only solace in the Dodgers' first trip to the Kingdome came from controlling Griffey, who dressed hurriedly after the game so that he could share more of Father's Day with his wife, Melissa, and their children: Trey, 3, and Taryn, 1 1/2.

There would also be a call to his father, the senior Ken Griffey, who is the Cincinnati Reds' hitting instructor and, at times, still his son's.

"He may be 3,000 miles away but he's still my hitting coach," Griffey said before Sunday's game. "He's even called during games to tell me what I'm doing wrong. It's generally the same thing always . . . 'stay back, stay back, you're too quick.' He's a father first. He wants his kid to do well."

Griffey hasn't done badly, and much of his success stems from the equipment, instruction and clubhouse exposure he received as the son of a major leaguer. Asked if he could define the three most important things his father imparted in regard to his baseball development and success, Griffey said, "Love for the game, the confidence that I could play here and approach to the game."

Approach?

"No matter what happens you can always improve," Griffey said. "No matter what happens there's always a next step.

"I mean, I always think I can improve."

Said Piniella: "The best thing Junior has going for him is temperament, and that's the most important thing a home run hitter needs. He doesn't fight himself. He can have three bad at-bats, but he still has the inner confidence that the fourth at-bat will be a good one."

Griffey has been consistently successful hitting home runs for his parents on both Mother's and Father's Day, but those three walks hurt his chances Sunday. Instead, he said he may buy dad a HumVee to use in hunting.

"But if he doesn't decide on the color soon I may get a car for mom instead," Griffey said.

The ultimate gift would be the home run record, but Griffey hasn't changed his mantra in that regard.

"The media can worry about the record," he said. "All I want to do is go out and play.

"I've always said that I'd rather win games than break records. I want to get to the World Series. My dad has three rings. I'd like my first."

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