Commentary

Ichiro ties Japanese hit mark with slam

Originally Published: April 16, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- As baseball marks go, it might not be as notable (or clear-cut) as, say, the most major league hits by a player of any nationality (a record still held by some American named Pete Rose), but nevertheless, it was rather memorable Wednesday night when Ichiro Suzuki tied Isao Harimoto for the most big league hits by a Japanese-born player.

Returning to the lineup after his first trip to the disabled list, Ichiro hit a grand slam in the seventh inning for his 3,085th hit between our major leagues and Japan's major leagues. Ichiro, beginning his ninth season in MLB, has 1,807 hits here after getting 1,278 in Japan.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesIchiro watches his grand slam, the 3,085th hit of his big league career.
Ichiro began the season on the disabled list due to a bleeding ulcer, and the Mariners went so far as to hang his jersey in the dugout when they opened the season without him. That seemed a little bit of a stretch -- as a flattered Ichiro told reporters earlier this week, "I'm not dead yet'' -- and we can only wonder whether they would have hung up his pants had he been out with a sore hamstring (not to mention a groin pull). He wasn't happy about being on the DL and was delighted to play again.

The Mariners lost 101 games in 2008 but went 6-2 while Ichiro was on the DL, which the outfielder joked was a little worrisome. "I felt if the team didn't win today when I got back, you guys would all write about that," he said.

No problem. Starter Jarrod Washburn pitched his second solid start of the season, Ken Griffey Jr. hit his first home run in Seattle in a Mariners uniform since 1999 and Ichiro's grand slam to right field sealed the 11-3 victory over the Angels.

"I don't know if I've ever been in a dugout that loud,'' Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.

Harimoto, who flew to the United States to watch Ichiro catch his hit record, said before the game that he once thought no one would ever match his record in Japan, where there are fewer games per season. And had Ichiro stayed in Japan, Harimoto implied, he still might not have.

"If he had gotten that many hits, the pitchers would have started walking him,'' Harimoto said. "If he gets five hits here, they still pitch to him.''

It's unclear why pitchers would walk Ichiro to avoid a 1-in-3 chance of him getting a single, but what's more impressive -- getting 3,085 hits all in Japan, or getting that many hits in the two leagues combined?

Griffey was one of Ichiro's favorite players when he was a young player in Japan, and the two of them batting in the same lineup will be one of the stories to follow this season. Asked what it meant to homer in the same game with Griffey, Ichiro said, "That was very special for me. But it was also very special that probably the two lightest guys in baseball, me and Endy Chavez, also homered in the same game.''

The home runs were the 18th of Chavez's career, the 74th of Ichiro's and the 613th of Junior's (as well as his 400th as a Mariner). The crowd of 18,516 responded to Griffey's home run with a standing ovation, and the designated hitter stepped out of the dugout to tip his helmet. Griffey also gave his son, Trey, a kiss. Asked what his son thought about that, Griffey said, "He said, 'Dad, we gotta talk about that when we get home.'"

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE