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Bill Conlin: Griffey in the right place at the right time

BABE RUTH hit home run No. 600 against the dreadful St. Louis Browns on a steamy afternoon. It was Aug. 21, 1931 and Ruth's homer probably was not much of a headline.

BABE RUTH hit home run No. 600 against the dreadful St. Louis Browns on a steamy afternoon. It was Aug. 21, 1931 and Ruth's homer probably was not much of a headline.

At least not enough to knock failing banks off the front pages.

The most famous athlete in American history was, after all, the first slugger to reach 30 homers in a season, also the first to 40, 50 and 60. His only competition had been himself for so many years that 600 was just an oasis between 500 and his eventual total of 714.

But it was a big deal when Willie Mays hit No. 600 on Sept. 22, 1969 in San Diego Stadium. That was a moment to remember in the forgettable first season of the expansion Padres.

It was a big deal when Henry Aaron got 600 Club membership April 27, 1971, in the Atlanta Braves' Fulton County Stadium "Launching Pad."

Ditto Barry Bonds in his home Pac Bell Park on Aug. 9, 2002 and for his fellow suspected "juicer," Sammy Sosa. On June 20, 2007, Sosa wrote his name as club member No. 5 with the same Rangers who traded him to the White Sox in 1989, when George W. Bush was the Texas owner.

The royal robes are back from the cleaners, a blank plaque is ready for the engraver and it soon will bear the name Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds.

And lucky, lucky us. This thrilling, seminal, occasion could very well be brought to fruition against the Phillies in a four-game series against the Reds that begins tonight and concludes Thursday afternoon.

Junior, you've come to the right place. Have about 16 at-bats on us. Maybe Chase Utley will rent you a slice of the CeeU Triangle, the jutting section of the lower deck in deepest right-center, where the - dare I say great? - second baseman powered No. 20 yesterday.

We will ignore for now a second consecutive outing by ace lefthander Cole Hamels Saturday night that was easily as bad as anything produced by Brett Myers to date. And it was Young King Cole's second clunker in a row. Yesterday, Jamie Moyer spotted the Marlins a 5-1 lead, then resourcefully got the Phillies to the back end of the bullpen while Charlie Manuel's Pinball Wizards pounded the flippers for a 7-5 victory.

But Utley, earliest to 20 homers in Phillies history, will have to share top billing this week with the man on the cusp of becoming the sixth player to reach 600 homers.

Manuel was in Cleveland when Eddie Murray reached 500. "Never saw anybody hit No. 600," Charlie said after his offense regained first place from the Marlins.

What does that number represent to him?

"Longevity," he began.

Longevity was the appropriate word. It is more than a number; it is a body of work representing many seasons, a staggering number of pitchers vanquished.

When Ken Griffey Sr. played his first game for the Reds on Aug. 25, 1973, I was nearing the end of my eighth season as a Phillies beat writer. Thirty-five years later, the son who was once his teammate with the Reds is a grizzled 38-year-old veteran who appeared to be headed for "greatest of all time" status. Junior has not played as many as 145 games in a season since 2000.

We all expected more in his glory days when nobody was better than the Mariners' five-tooler. It was not a reach to suggest his achievable number was not Hank Aaron's 755, but somewhere in the 800s.

"You definitely thought when he was healthy and in his prime years of him maybe going past 700," Manuel said.

This is a dazzling event in the history of The Bank, a team in first place hosting one that pounds the long ball almost as relentlessly as the Phils do. With Jay Bruce, the 2007 Minor League Player of the Year, off to one of the hottest starts in baseball history and a first-ballot Hall of Famer seeking to join the game's most exclusive offensive club, does it get any better?

Nobody has ever hit a No. 600 here. In fact, the only player to hit a No. 500 in Philly was A's icon Jimmie Foxx. But Old Double X did it in a Red Sox uniform in Shibe Park on Sept. 24, 1940, pounding a homer that was lost in an avalanche of 23 hits against the woeful Mackmen.

Griffey, who hit No. 599 Saturday, doubled and singled yesterday. He was pulled for defense in the Reds' victory over the Braves.

If you're looking to handicap Phillies pitching against Griffey - hey, somebody is going to get a special line in the record book out of this - one candidate stands out like diamond earrings on Kimbo Slice.

Junior has 389 pitchers in his book. He has taken David Wells deep nine times. The runners-up are familiar names: Griffey has both Tom Gordon and Roger Clemens in his Longball Rolodex six times. The rest of the current Phillies staff has fared well, however, either by pitching well against Junior or hardly at all. He has Adam Eaton twice, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Ryan Madson once each.

Tonight's honors will go to sinkerballing Kyle Kendrick, then Eaton, Myers and Hamels. Griffey has not homered in Philly since May 2005.

The Phillies are averaging just under 10 runs a game on this 5-1 homestand. The Reds are averaging just over six runs in the same span.

Bring hard hats, camcorders and prepare to see a vibrant page of baseball history written. And wouldn't it be something if tomorrow night, you got Dollar Dogs and No. 600, as well? *

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