Sunday, July 19, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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M's Provide Glimpse Of Ideal Future

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

In a classic prank set up by Ken Griffey Jr., the Mariners staged a fake car giveaway in the fifth inning of the game against the Royals last night - of the 1996 Ford Explorer owned by rookie outfielder Shane Monahan.

That and futuristic maroon and black Seattle uniforms were all in the antics of a Turn The Clock Ahead promotion for 42,633 in the Kingdome.

Unfortunately, it appeared for a while the Mariners were also giving away too many opportunities to tighten down on their sixth straight win. Through six innings, they were 0 for 5 with the bases loaded, 3 for 14 with men in scoring position and had left 13 runners on base.

But while reliever Bobby Ayala held Kansas City with his best outing of the year and Rico Rossy chipped in a career-high four hits and three runs scored, Alex Rodriguez turned it all around with his 29th home run, a three-run moonshot that turned a 4-4 tie in the seventh into an 8-5 victory.

Before Mike Timlin was able to close the game in the ninth, the future - the game was supposedly played in the Mariners' 50th anniversary year of 2027 - looked scarily like the past. Kansas City loaded the bases with one away before going down on two grounders.

The outcome combined with Oakland's 4-3 loss to Minnesota to leave the Mariners just a game behind the Athletics in the AL West.

"Another win," said Manager Lou Piniella, who has been typically understated while his club has won eight of 10 games to chop seven games off Anaheim's lead. "All we can do is win as often as we can and let other clubs worry about their own situations. First, we have to get past Oakland. Then, we have to get to .500. Then . . . we'll see."

As with most surges, it's a different star in the galaxy almost every night. While Rodriguez did cap it with his homer and Griffey helped out with his legs instead of his power, Rossy and Ayala took care of the little things.

"It was Bobby's best game since he was closing for us back in May," Piniella said of Ayala's three innings, in which he allowed one hit and struck out five.

Rossy is much better known for his defense, errorless play in 13 starts at third that somehow has spread steadiness around the entire infield.

"Alex gives us third-base power and offense at short," Piniella said. "So we can afford to have Rossy at third with a shortstop's usual offense."

Rossy called the outburst against his former team "a sweet taste."

He was willing to credit the 21st century uniform look, too, in which the club for one night went from Seattle Blues to Mariner Maroon.

"I know we don't wear them any more, but I'm going to cut a piece off mine and keep it in my pocket from now on," said Rossy, whose first three hits sparked Seattle rallies in the third and fourth innings as well as the game-winning flareup in the seventh.

When he heard that Monahan claimed he wasn't fooled by the joke about his car, Rossy smiled. "I saw his face. He didn't know it was a joke, or why was he looking to see who had won his car?" The winners in Section 111 were part of the setup.

In the early innings, Griffey showed he still has a running game that is usually overshadowed by his home-run power of recent seasons.

In the second, he saved a run for Seattle starter Ken Cloude by running down Larry Sutton's two-out fly ball to the wall in left-center with Jeff Conine running from first. In the third, he beat out an infield hit that brought Rossy in with the first run of the game. Then Griffey scored from first on Edgar Martinez's double to make it 2-0.

The Mariners missed a chance at more when Dan Wilson fouled out, leaving three runners stranded (or, given the Mariner colors for this game, marooned).

Cloude held the Royals hitless for the first 3 2/3 innings. But, with two away in the fourth, he made a first-pitch mistake to Dean Palmer, who hit it out for his 18th homer and a 2-2 tie.

Despite missing two more bases-loaded opportunities, Seattle held a 4-2 lead in the sixth when Kansas City scored twice, on Jose Offerman's single and on a sacrifice fly to second base - a short fly that Cora took out of position to make a strong throw home. ------------------------------- Chasing Maris

Charting major-league baseball's top home run hitter chasing Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in 1961:

Through team's 96th game Mark McGwire 42 homers . Sammy Sosa 36 homers . Roger Maris 40 homers.

Through team's 98th game . Ken Griffey Jr. 39 homers . Roger Maris 40 homers.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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