Once upon a time, Ichiro Suzuki was a run-scoring, hit-producing machine at the top of the order for the Seattle Mariners.
Ichiro scored at least 100 runs in his first eight seasons in the major leagues after coming to the Mariners from the Japanese League in 2001 and recorded at least 200 hits a season for 10 straight years (2001-10).
At one point during Suzuki’s run of excellence in Seattle, Raul Ibanez was in the middle of the Mariners order, driving in Suzuki and others while racking up three straight 100-plus RBI seasons for Seattle from 2006-08.
Suzuki was already an established star when he came to the U.S. at the age of 27. Now a little less than a month shy of his 39th birthday, Ichiro has found a fountain of youth since coming to the New York Yankees in a trade from the Mariners in late July.
He was named the American League’s Player of the Week for last week after hitting .600 (15-for-25) with two home runs, five RBI, seven runs scored and six stolen bases while the Yankees went 5-1.
With a single in Tuesday night’s loss at Minnesota, Ichiro is riding a nine-game hitting streak and is hitting .326 in 190 at-bats for New York after managing just a .261 mark in 402 at-bats for the Mariners this season.
Ibanez didn’t have quite the same fanfare when he made it to the major leagues. A 36th-round draft choice by the Mariners in 1992, the 40-year-old Ibanez didn’t crack an everyday lineup in the majors until the season during which he turned 30, when he hit .294 with 24 homers and 103 RBI for the Kansas City Royals in 2002.
After spending parts of five unremarkable seasons with the Mariners from 1996-2000, never getting more than 209 at-bats in a season and never hitting higher than .258, Ibanez left the organization to sign a free-agent deal with the Royals for the 2001 season.
After an 18-homer, 90-RBI season with Kansas City in 2003, Ibanez was again a free agent and returned to the Mariners.
Over the next five seasons for Seattle, with Suzuki at the top of the order, Ibanez hit .291 with 113 home runs and 489 RBI, peaking in 2006 with then-career bests of 33 home runs and 123 RBI. He later blasted 34 bombs in 2009, his first year after signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.
After struggling through much of his first season in the Bronx this year, Ibanez found a little life in his bat over the weekend. He belted two home runs in the Yankees’ wild 10-9, 14-inning victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday after not having been in the lineup since the first game of a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Ibanez added a solo homer Monday night in the seventh inning of New York’s 6-3 win at Minnesota.
Even with the recent surge (Ibanez is 7-for-14 since Saturday with three homers and five RBI), it’s been a disappointing year. He’s hitting just .233 with 18 home runs and 58 RBI in part-time duty.
But if Ichiro and Ibanez can keep partying like it’s 2004, the Yankees might just be able to get enough of a push to hold off the Baltimore Orioles for the American League East title and, with any luck, still run down the Texas Rangers for the best record in the AL.