He’s still unable to blog, but was able to e-mail his gamer for tomorrow’s paper:
BY LARRY LARUE; Staff writer
TORONTO – Much as he tried to avoid doing so, Ichiro Suzuki couldn’t help but think of the 2008 season as he reached another historic hits milestone Thursday.
The Seattle Mariners that year lost 101 games, and when Felix Hernandez pitched a two-hitter Thursday – and lost 1-0 on Jose Bautista’s 50th home run – the 2010 Mariners had 94 losses and 10 games to play.
As relentless a hitting machine as ever put on a uniform, Ichiro added two more against the Blue Jays, reached the 200 hit mark for the 10th consecutive year and then glanced to his own dugout.
He wasn’t sure what he’d see there.
“This year was tough because of the season we’ve had, and I couldn’t help remembering 2008,” Ichiro said. “The team is not the same, the results are. When I looked over to the dugout and saw my teammates were happy for me, it was a great relief.”
Those teammates – from rookies like Matt Mangini to veterans like Jose Lopez and Chone Figgins – stood on the top step of the dugout and applauded Ichiro matching Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons in big-league history (10).
That it came on a day when the Mariners offense was it’s usual stymied self was frustrating not just to Ichiro but to Hernandez, whose complete-game two-hit effort left him with a loss, a 12-12 record and a 2.31 earned run average.
On a first-inning, 2-1 pitch, Bautista homered to become the 26th man in big-league history to hit as many as 50 in a season.
“One pitch, one home run, that was it,” Felix said. “I fell behind him, he fouled off a couple of good pitches. He’s locked in – 50 home runs? After that, I can’t do much more.”
Third baseman Lopez, who has watched Hernandez put up a 0.93 ERA in his last nine starts and still go 5-3, told his pitcher the truth.
“I told him, you pitch your game, you can’t do more than you did,” Lopez said. “You can’t do better than that.”
“It’s true,” Felix said quietly, after throwing 110 pitches in his 33rd start, his sixth complete game of the year. Then he looked across the clubhouse at his slight right fielder. “I’m happy for Ichiro. He’s fun to watch.”
Now 36, Ichiro was a rookie Japanese outfielder about whom Mariners fans – and the rest of baseball – knew relatively little in 2001. That season he collected 242 hits, batted .350 and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Asked to compare that year to this one, Ichiro laughed.
“In 2001, no one expected 200 hits from me,” he said. “If I’d had 168 hits, they’d have said ‘Good job.’ Now, in my shoes, it’s expected each year.
“I’m very happy to have made people feel that way.”
Has it gotten easier with experience?
“I’ve never experienced an easy hit, never taken one for granted,” Ichiro said.
Someone asked if he was proud to have matched the record previously held by Rose.
“I don’t know Pete Rose, I have never seen him play, never met him,” Ichiro said. “I don’t know him, I guess I don’t care.”
Would he like to play until age 50?
“Maybe 55, if I’m still alive,” he said.
And, for one season, would he trade 200 hits for Bautista’s 50 home runs?
“Not 50 home runs, 50 saves,” he deadpanned.
Though he has seen Ichiro play only 40 times this season, manager Brown said it doesn’t take much more than a knowledge of the game to appreciate what he’s accomplished.
“Put it this way, name one guy who’s done it 10 years in a row – there isn’t anyone else,” Brown said. “Nobody’s ever done it but Ichiro. He’s unique. It’s a tough season, but guys like Felix and Ichiro still go about their business and do what they do. It speaks to their character.
“You know you’re getting their best every time they take the field.”
After the first inning, the Blue Jays couldn’t break through against Hernandez, who at one point retired 13 in a row before getting double plays in the sixth and seventh inning.
Matched against Shan Hill and the Toronto bullpen, the Mariners had seven hits – five more than the Blue Jays – and four times put a runner in scoring position.
Seattle’s lineup, however, was short of production and experience. Two regulars, Franklin Gutierrez and Russell Branyan, didn’t start (flu) and rookies Michael Saunders, Adam Moore, Justin Smoak, Matt Mangini and Greg Halman did.
Combined, those rookies went 4-for-15. They just couldn’t deliver the big hit, something their veteran teammates couldn’t do, either.
“You get Felix one, two runs you can win a game,” Saunders said. “He can’t win without a run and we didn’t get him one.”
“You give up a run in the first inning on one swing, you don’t expect that to beat you but it did,” Brown said. “We couldn’t get much going, and when we had the chances we didn’t take advantage.”