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Managerial change, 1st triple play in 15 years, rare, efficient win on wild Mariners day

Don Wakamatsu, the major leagues' first Japanese-American manager, got fired by the Seattle Mariners hours before they hosted a Japanese heritage day celebration on their field.

As some of Seattle's more fed-up fans would say: Only the wayward Mariners.

A Monday that began with the last-place team canning Wakamatsu after one great season and about one half of a terrible one also included Seattle's first triple play in 15 years. That was in an oddly efficient, 3-1 win over playoff-contending Oakland.

Then 43-year-old interim manager Daren Brown, dazed from a lack of sleep following a short Sunday night managing Triple-A Tacoma and then a flight from Omaha, climbed into a laundry bin in Seattle and got rolled down a hallway by closer David Aardsma and into his first major-league beer shower.

Brown looked like an oversized baby in a stroller, smiling with his feet dangling over the front edge and arms over the sides.

He celebrated like a man who had finally made it to the big leagues after 1,485 games managing in the minors — and won.

"If I was going to sit down and draw it up, that's how I would have done it," Brown said in his Oklahoman drawl.

It's the first time something has gone according to plan in this wacky Mariners season, which has featured:

— Wakamatsu benching storied slugger Ken Griffey Jr. because he was hitting .200 without a home run, and then the franchise icon angrily driving away to Florida — but not informing the Mariners he was retiring until he was hours into his drive, almost out of the state.

— Outfielder Eric Byrnes inexplicably pulling his bat back on a suicide squeeze play to get a runner thrown out at home. A few minutes after that 2-0 loss in 12 innings to Texas, Byrnes drove out the clubhouse door on a beach cruiser bicycle and did a 90-degree left turn in a tunnel around startled general manager Jack Zduriencik. Byrnes was cut a few days later.

— Wakamatsu taking mercurial slugger Milton Bradley out of a May game and sending him into the clubhouse because Bradley was irate for striking out. Bradley left the stadium during the game, and then got pulled over by a traffic cop for speeding on his way home. He came in the next day to ask Wakamatsu and Zduriencik for help with emotional issues. Bradley spent two weeks in counseling and on the restricted list.

— Ace Cliff Lee, the prized winter acquisition and presumed piece that would get Seattle to its first postseason since 2001, missing the first month of the season following an unsuccessful attempt to heal his strained abdomen with unproven blood-spinning treatment. Lee returned to dominate, only to be traded to division-rival Texas last month when the Mariners fell so far out of the AL West race.

Chone Figgins, whom Zduriencik signed to a $36-million, free-agent contract last winter, repeatedly clashing with Wakamatsu. The last time resulted in an in-game dugout fracas. There was shouting, pushing, players trying to jump over others to fight, and infielder Jose Lopez getting his shirt pulled over his back — all in front of half the home stadium and a national television audience. Figgins never apologized.

Monday, when approached following Wakamatsu's firing, Figgins smiled, shook his head and politely said, "I'm not going to talk about it, man."

— First baseman Russell Branyan, the lone consistent threat to hit a home run on the worst offensive team in baseball, injured his foot recently when a table in his hotel room fell on it as he was trying to close curtains.

— And starting shortstop Jack Wilson slipped in his bathroom early Sunday and broke his right hand. He's headed to surgery Wednesday and is likely out for the season.

So of course Seattle would turn its first triple play since July 13, 1995, against Toronto, on the day they fired Wakamatsu. Lopez took a chopper by Oakland's Mark Ellis in the fourth inning Monday and immediately stepped on third base for a forceout. Lopez then threw to second base for a forceout there, and Figgins' throw to first baseman Casey Kotchman appeared to arrive at the same time as Ellis' foot hit the bag, but first base umpire Cory Blaser called Ellis out.

The 5-4-3 play was the 10th triple putout for the Mariners, who began play in 1977.

Brown got the game ball from center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who caught the final out. It will be the first souvenir for Brown's new office. That room was empty after Wakamatsu was forced to clear it out.

Brown became the 10th of Seattle's 17 managers to win their first game. Only one of the other 16 finished their Mariners tenure with a winning record: Lou Piniella.

Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle's perennial All-Star and cornerstone, called Wakamatsu's firing "frustrating."

"It's not just his responsibility (that we're losing). It's the whole team's responsibility," Suzuki said through his interpreter. "I don't think it's fair to say the manager's responsible to take the blame, because he's not."

Suzuki sees his Mariners back at square one, less than 12 months after Wakamatsu finished a revitalizing, 85-win season.

"That's the only way we can look at it," Suzuki said.

Zduriencik disagreed.

"I don't think we are back to square zero," the GM said, fittingly going even lower. "However, this season presented an opportunity for us. In that opportunity, a lot of things had to fall into place — with the acquisition of Cliff Lee, with the addition of Chone Figgins, and players I thought had to have good seasons.

"To look around and see so many players having sub-par seasons is very disturbing."