Ichiro just made a final MLB cameo in Tokyo with the Seattle Mariners, but New York Yankees fans also have reasons to reminisce.
The 2019 New York Yankees are built for record-crushing power. However, before their chase for 300 homers begins, it’s time to remember the pinstripe connection to one of the most scintillating non-power hitters the game has ever seen—the great Ichiro Suzuki.
Even though his Bombers career lasted a mere 2.5 years, Ichiro left his mark on the game’s most successful franchise.
He stayed on in the Bronx through the end of the 2014 season.
After a three-year stint with the Miami Marlins, he returned to the Mariners for 15 games in 2018. Seattle activated him again for their two-game set against the Oakland Athletics to open the 2019 season in Tokyo on Wednesday and Thursday.
While the sight of Ichiro back on the field probably makes most baseball fans remember his MVP/ROY season in Seattle or his 3,000th hit in Miami, Bombers faithful have a few Yankees-specific moments to think back on as well.
The worst moment
Before getting to the good stuff, I must tip my interlocking-NY cap to what might be the worst moment of Ichiro’s career from a Yankees fan’s perspective.
On Sept. 18, 2009, Ichiro delivered a walk-off dinger against none other than Bombers closer Mariano Rivera:
According to Baseball Reference, Suzuki’s two-run shot to give Seattle a 3-2 win is one of only five walk-off homers Rivera gave up in his Hall of Fame career.
Ichiro had also capped off Seattle’s contest the night before against Detroit with a game-ending RBI single.
It was devastating (for Yankees fans) in the moment; however, New York, of course, went on to win the World Series that year, and Mo went on to become the only unanimous HOF selection in history, so no real harm was done.
The best moments
First Yankees at-bat
The Yankees dealt for Ichiro right before starting a three-game series at Seattle’s Safeco Field (now known as T-Mobile Park).
In what must have been an awkward moment for the then 38-year-old and his Seattle fans, Ichiro stepped up and smacked a single in his first at-bat against his old squad. He then promptly stole second base.
That first hit in pinstripes triggered a 12-game hitting streak—albeit a weak one. He rattled off 12-straight one-hit games, amassing 10 singles, one double, and one homer. However, it wouldn’t be long before he had his next big moment as a Bomber.
Two-HR game versus Boston
The legend that is Ichiro put together just one multi-homer game for the Yankees. However, the feat possessed some extra significance because it came against the Boston Red Sox in an ESPN Sunday night game:
Sure, the Red Sox were buried in fourth place in the East at the time (Aug. 19, 2012), but any time a Yankee puts on a show against the team’s despised rivals, it’s a big deal.
He finished that game 3-for-4 and New York won 4-1.
Walk-off bomb against the Texas Rangers
Ichiro made amends for his walk-off homer against Mariano and the Yankees by hitting another game-deciding blow while in pinstripes.
On June 25, 2013, he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the score tied against the Texas Rangers. He drilled a 1-2 fastball from Tanner Scheppers into the seats in right field to end the contest:
The homer kept the Yankees just one game behind the division-leading Red Sox in the loss column. Also, this blast gave Mariano Rivera, who had pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, a win.
Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the long ball, though, was that it stole the spotlight in a highly anticipated matchup of Japanese starting pitchers—Texas’s Yu Darvish and New York’s Hiroki Kuroda.
The 4,000th professional hit
Although he didn’t get his 3,000th MLB hit until 2016, Ichiro celebrated his 4,000th professional base knock as a member of the New York Yankees:
Ichiro collected 1,278 hits in nine years playing in Japan’s NPB. He recorded 3,089 in the MLB, which brings his professional total to a whopping 4,367. That’s 111 more knocks than all-time MLB hit leader Pete Rose.
Of course, the NPB hits don’t carry quite the same weight, so Rose can keep his title. Were I Rose, though, I wouldn’t be against Ichiro surpassing him in an alternate reality where the Japanese sensation plays all of his professional ball in the MLB.
The end of an era
Now 45 years old, Ichiro’s two games in Japan are his swan song:
— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) March 21, 2019
Watching him finish up in his home country is a poignant reminder of how baseball brings different cultures together—especially when Yusei Kikuchi, the latest Japanese import, took the mound for his MLB debut on Thursday.
He’ll undoubtedly enter Cooperstown with a Mariners hat, as he should. However, I don’t think he’ll forget his time in New York.
In 2012, he told the New York Post’s Kevin Kernan as much:
“When I am an old man I will look back and say, ‘What an experience that was to be on this team.’ Before I die, I think I will remember this time and what a special time this is. That is what I envision what it will be like when I get close to dying.’’
Yankees fans should feel lucky to hold a small piece of Ichiro’s storied career in the Bronx.