It has long been known that Ichiro Suzuki is one of the most prolific hitters to ever play the game, but he achieved a statistical milestone on Wednesday that few others can claim as the New York Yankees outfielder collected the 4,000th hit of his illustrious professional baseball career.
The milestone hit came in the first inning against Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey as he stroked a single to left field.
It was the 2,722nd hit of his MLB career, which along with the 1,278 hits he collected while playing for the Orix BlueWave of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, gives him an even 4,000.
From Sporting News' Jesse Spector:
Mariners statement congratulating Ichiro on 4,000 hits pic.twitter.com/RvO5IqhrCx— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) August 22, 2013
Suzuki didn't make his Major League debut until the age of 27 as he signed with the Seattle Mariners in 2001. Ichiro instantly took the league by storm as he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award as well as the MVP Award in the same season.
Ichiro hasn't slowed down since then as he has 10 200-hit seasons to his credit along with a career Major League batting average approaching .320. Ichiro got his first taste of professional baseball in 1992 when he was just 18, so one can't help but think how many MLB hits he might have by now had he never played professional baseball in Japan.
Will Ichiro surpass 3,000 career MLB hits?
While 4,000 career hits is a huge accomplishment, getting 3,000 MLB hits is a milestone that truly resonates with American fans. Suzuki clearly isn't the player that he once was, but he is still capable of putting on a hit parade. Ichiro's 4,000th professional hit put him just 278 hits shy of 3,000 for his Major League career, so that mystical mark is certainly within reach.
Based on his current pace, Ichiro is expected to collect around 35 more hits this season, so he'll need just 243 hits to become the 29th member of the exclusive 3,000 hits club. Suzuki used to be capable of picking up nearly 243 hits in a single season, and while he is no longer that type of player, he should be able to surpass 3,000 hits at some point during the 2015 season.
Ichiro is already 39 years of age, so it's natural to question how much longer he can perform at an acceptable level, but he has been a very important player for the Yankees this season. New York has endured a number of injuries to key players over the course of the year, but Suzuki has always been there for manager Joe Girardi, and he has been a major contributor.
Suzuki didn't get off to a great start this season at the plate, but he hit better than .300 between June and July, and has played fantastic defense all year long.
Ichiro is signed to play for the Yankees through next season, and provided he doesn't get injured in 2014, he should be well within striking distance of 3,000 MLB hits entering the 2015 campaign. Because of that alone, there will be a team out there willing to take a chance on him. The media coverage surrounding his chase for 3,000 will be immense, but there is also little doubt that Suzuki will still be a useful player even if it's primarily as a defensive replacement or a bottom-of-the-order hitter.
With that in mind, Ichiro's baseball career is far from over. Assuming Suzuki is able to reach 3,000 career Major League hits, he will surpass another significant mark in the process. The current career hits leader in major professional baseball is Pete Rose with 4,256. Ichiro is currently at 4,000, so he stands to surpass Rose on his road to 3,000 MLB hits in 2015.
Whether or not people recognize Ichiro as the all-time hits leader should he overtake Rose is inconsequential. There is simply no doubt that he is one of the best hitter of all time, and he is a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever that time comes.
While 4,000 career hits is an incredible accomplishment, there are surely many more milestones to come before Ichiro officially hangs his cleats up.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter