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Baseball

Short of 500, long on memories

By Associated Press
Published June 18, 2004

CINCINNATI - Junior is taking his quest for No. 500 back on the road, still aglow over three memorable days in his hometown.

Ken Griffey failed to get his milestone homer Thursday in front of another capacity crowd, but the Reds pulled off another late rally for a 4-3 victory and three-game sweep of the Rangers.

Sean Casey had two hits and a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the seventh, a consolation prize for a raucous crowd that saw Griffey go 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly.

The Reds headed for St. Louis, where Griffey will resume his attempt to become the 20th player with 500 homers. He wanted to get it in his hometown, which gave him three days of ovations.

"You always want to try to hit that home run," he said. "I just didn't do it this time. A lot of people will be watching in Cincinnati in the next week. I'll still be thinking about the response I've had the last three days."

He hadn't been so warmly received in his hometown since he arrived in a February 2000 trade with Seattle, and he made sure fans knew how much he appreciated it.

When Griffey caught Eric Young's fly in centerfield to end the game, he pointed to fans in leftfield, then the ones in right, before running off the field.

"They've been real supportive through this whole thing," Griffey said. "It was just my way of saying thank you."

The 40,383 fans stood and screamed encouragement in each of his at-bats. A city that watched him grow up wanted to share one of his greatest moments.

Instead, he grounded out, flied out and had a routine sacrifice fly off right-hander Ryan Drese. Down to his last chance, he was way ahead on his final swing, striking out on a 76 mph pitch from left-hander Brian Shouse in the seventh.

Drese had to rely on his sinker because nothing else was working. He considered himself fortunate to get Griffey out.

"I threw him a cookie in his first at-bat, and he hit a ground ball to second," Drese said. "I don't know if he didn't expect me to pitch him there or what."

Griffey's desire to reward the fans had a lot to do with it.

"To me, he looked like he was pressing at least twice today," said his father, Ken Griffey Sr., who was arranging to drive to St. Louis after the game. "The biggest reason was that he wanted to do it here, and he put a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself. I told him, "You've got all year to hit that one home run.' "

Griffey Jr. was in a jovial mood before the game, joking about how travel-weary relatives were upset with him for prolonging the drama. He then went out and tried too hard to end it.

"He put a lot of pressure on himself," said closer Danny Graves, who pitched the ninth for his 27th save in 33 chances. "I think he was a little out of his game. Even though he didn't hit 500, he did what he had to do to win the game.

"It'll come. It'll come when people least expect it."

Griffey's failure to hit one out was the Reds' only disappointment in the series. They returned home 5 a.m. Tuesday from an 0-7 road trip that knocked them out of first in the NL Central.

[Last modified June 18, 2004, 01:13:22]


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