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MARINERS TRYING TO COPE WITH LOSS OF GRIFFEY

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It was a devastating blow to the Seattle Mariners' offense. It was an equally major jolt to the Mariners' defense.

Ken Griffey Jr., a five-time All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder at the age of 25, is lost for at least three months with a fractured left wrist.If Griffey is available again, it will be in September - when it may be too late to help the Mariners against California, Oakland and Texas in the AL West race.

Asked manager Lou Piniella Monday night before his Mariners beat the New York Yankees 8-7 in 12 innings: "What the hell can I do to replace Griffey? Where are you going to find him?"

In what may be their most important season, the Mariners must go on without their best player, perhaps the best player in baseball. When Griffey ran into the Kingdome's center-field fence with such force that he broke his left wrist Friday night against Baltimore, it may have been the worst injury in the franchise's 19-year history.

The timing couldn't have been worse.

Trying to get the public on their side to help them build a new $280 million stadium with a retractable roof, the Mariners need to win their division and get into the playoffs. Without the charismatic, electrifying Griffey, is that possible?

"It's not going to be easy," Piniella said. "But we've got to do it."

To replace Griffey in center, Seattle's third-year manager will use 26-year-old Alex Diaz, who was claimed on waivers from Milwaukee in October 1994.