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Homing in


Homing in
In mid-February, when a tortured Ken Griffey Jr. was deciding whether to go to the Atlanta Braves or come home to the Mariners , he often fielded calls from his good friend and former Mariners second baseman Harold Reynolds.

Reynolds played prophet to Griffey's emotional wreck. Reynolds was the wise counselor, Junior the conflicted free agent. Reynolds was arguing for Griffey to return to Seattle. Griffey was asking why in the name of Chipper Jones he shouldn't go to Atlanta.

Finally the debate came down to a simple statement from Reynolds, who told Griffey he should come back to Safeco Field for days like Tuesday's opening day. For days when the hunger of the Seattle sports fan was as obvious as the blue skies that kissed this day. Days when the love can pour down from the upper deck and the hope can hang like a cumulus cloud.

Reynolds told Griffey to come back to Seattle because, despite what almost every other pundit would have him believe, the Mariners could be competitive in the American League West this season.

And, Reynolds guaranteed him, the Mariners , under new manager Don Wakamatsu, would play Baseball the right way.

"I told him, `They've got a chance,' when we were haggling over whether he should come back," said Reynolds, a studio analyst for the new MLB Network. "I told him this club has a chance to finish second in the division. Now that the Sonics have left town, Husky football has been terrible and the Seahawks have been struggling, this is perfect time for the Mariners to capitalize."

A sold-out house came to Safeco on Tuesday, hoping for some magic, hoping to see the story line that started in Minnesota last week and gained momentum in Oakland continue.

This city that wants a winner so badly, that wants to erase every miserable memory from the nightmare of 2008, is itching to embrace this team. It is ready to believe that Wakamatsu's smart, aggressive, small way to play the game can work.

And on this cold, sun-kissed opener that felt as much like October as it did April, the Mariners played the way they must play to win, beating the Los Angeles Angels, 3-2 in 10 innings. They won their fifth game in a row and sent a hum of electricity through the park.

With Ichiro expected back tonight, the Mariners are 6-2 and leading the AL West.

They are playing the game correctly and they are playing the game together and, after last season's 101-loss death march, where the players often acted as if Baseball was as much fun as coal mining, they are bringing joy back to the park.

That's all you can ask from this team, this early.

Starter Carlos Silva, who Seattle fans rightfully were this close to booing out of town after losing 16 of his past 17 decisions, gave them seven four-hit innings.

This was the Silva the Mariners paid $48 million for a season ago. The pitcher with guts, not the pitcher with a gut.

"What we talked to him about, more than anything else, was staying in the now," Wakamatsu said of Silva before the game. "Not worrying about what happened in the past or future. Just make his pitches. His stuff is there."

Patiently, the Mariners picked at the Angels. They played a surgically correct game. They were aggressive.

This is fast-break Baseball. Wak-ball. Post-steroid-era Baseball.

They beat the Angels with only seven hits. And the ultimate game winner was Yuniesky Betancourt's textbook 10th-inning bunt.

Want a sign this season is different from last? Betancourt, a pet project of Wakamatsu's this spring, is bunting.

"I like their combination of speed and defense," said Reynolds, who threw out the first pitch. "You saw that at the end of this game and that can be an every-night occurrence. They catch the ball and they're exciting."

It's a long way to October. Too long to think that far ahead. But listen to Wakamatsu. Pay attention to what he told Silva. Stay in the now.

And enjoy the way this team plays the game.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Today

LA Angels @ Mariners , 7:10 p.m., FSN


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 16, 2009

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