SEATTLE -- A pair of left-handed pitchers take center stage at Safeco Field on Monday afternoon when the Mariners play their regular-season home opener. The ceremonial first pitch will be thrown by former Mariners star Randy Johnson, who took the first big steps toward a Hall of Fame career with Seattle, becoming the first hurler in franchise history to throw a no-hitter, become a 20-game winner and capture an American League Cy Young Award. Johnson won 130 games during his 10-year career with the Mariners and remains a crowd favorite, as evidenced by his farewell-to-Seattle start in June with the Giants.
The Big Unit pitched well that night in quest of his 299th career victory, but ran into another left-hander who pitched a gem -- Jason Vargas -- and departed to a standing ovation with the game tied at 1 with one out in the sixth inning. "What he means to the city of Seattle and all that he's done here and done for the game, it's a pretty special thing," Vargas said after the game. "Whenever you get a chance to be a part of something like that, it's pretty special. He is one of the greatest and there is a lot of respect here. This might be the last time he walks off this field." It was the last time, but Johnson, who retired at the end of the season, returns as the Mariners hope to start their home season the same way they did on the road -- beating the Athletics on Opening Night. But the remainder of the trip, three more games in Oakland and three more in Texas, did not go well for a team considered to be playoff potential after winning 85 games in 2009. Perhaps some home-field cooking can right the ship. Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith gets the start in Monday's 3:40 p.m. PT game, opposing Oakland right-hander Justin Duchscherer. "I'm really looking forward to it," Rowland-Smith said. Asked if he has ever started a season opener of any kind, the Aussie smiled and said, "This will be my sixth, I think." He quickly confessed that this will be his first one anywhere. "It's going to be cool, but I'll miss coming onto the field on the red carpet and all that," he said of the usual Opening Day hoopla. Before Johnson's first pitch, Seattle's own Death Cab for Cutie will sing a pair of songs, the national anthem will be performed by Navy Band Northwest, the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards will be presented to Ichiro Suzuki and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum "Rube" Foster American League Executive of the Year Award will be presented to general manager Jack Zduriencik. In addition, a moment of silence to remember officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Greg Richards, Sgt. Mark Renninger, deputy Kent Mundell and officer Timothy Brenton, who were police officers killed in the line of duty last year. Members of the Lakewood Police Department, Pierce County Sheriff's Office and Seattle Police Department will carry the 45-foot-by-75-foot American flag in center field. Eight-year-old Kyle Wooten of Mount Vernon, who is undergoing dialysis treatment for end-stage renal disease, will participate in the ceremonial Make-A-Wish "Run Around the Bases." Gates at Safeco Field open at 1:10 p.m. PT and a sellout crowd is expected. All fans will receive a 2010 Mariners magnetic schedule. Mariners.com will carry the pregame festivities, which begin at approximately 3 p.m. The home opener introduces Mariners fans to several new players, including the right side of the infield in Chone Figgins at second base and Casey Kotchman at first and Milton Bradley in left field. The home opener kicks off a nine-game homestand, which includes two more games against the Athletics, three games against the Tigers and three more against the Orioles. The first 30,000 fans attending Friday night's series opener against the Tigers receive a Ken Griffey Jr. "The Kid" bobblehead. Tickets for the opening homestand and all remaining Mariners home games are available without a service charge at the Safeco Field box office and at Mariners team stores in downtown Seattle, Bellevue Square, Southcenter Mall and Alderwood Mall. Tickets can also be purchased online at Mariners.com, by phone at 206-622-HITS and at Ticketmaster ticket centers.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.