Seattle Mariners: Top 10 Moments of Ichiro's Career
Prior to 2001, only Japanese pitchers had made the journey stateside to play in the MLB. When Ichiro Suzuki arrived, many experts as well as fans were skeptical whether or not he would make much of an impact.
Over a decade later, I think it's safe to say that Ichiro has done that and more. In fact, Ichiro has played so well over this time that, for many, a season in which he hit only .272 with 184 hits as he approaches an age where most ball players are retired was considered a disappointment.
It's with that sentiment in mind that I thought it might be fun to look back and review some of the most special moments and achievements of Ichiro's career since coming stateside in 2001.
2001: "The Throw"
I suppose it's only fair to start at the beginning...
Before "The Throw," Ichiro Suzuki was a curiosity to only a select few American baseball fans.
Afterwards, Ichiro got the attention of fans everywhere.
It was the type of play you remember where you were the first time you saw it, whether it was live or on replay. I happened to be waking up on my grandmother's couch at the time and got goosebumps all the way on the other side of the country.
It still has that effect. Just watch.
The only shame with this video is that it's not Dave Niehaus's original call, because to this day, it's still one of my favorite calls.
At any rate, what would happen next was certainly no fluke.
2001: Rookie of the Year and MVP
What happened next was almost unprecedented in winning both the Rookie of the Year and MVP Award in the same year—except that Fred Lynn had been the only person to do it before, in 1975.
In 2001, Ichiro was a force of nature for the Mariners, as the team won an MLB-record 116 games that season. He he compiled a ridiculous stat line of a .350 batting average with a rookie-record 242 hits.
After the team lost Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro gave Mariners fans hope that Seattle would not only survive but also thrive for years to come.
2004: Breaking George Sisler's Single-Season Hits Record
Unfortunately, the Mariners' fortunes didn't improve over the course of Ichiro's career. But that hasn't stopped him from racking up several amazing achievements.
Next on our list in 2004, Ichiro broke George Sisler's single-season hits record with 262.
2006: 1st WBC Championship
A few years later in 2006, the World Baseball Classic played its inaugural tournament to see which country could claim to be the best in the world.
Ichiro helped team Japan work its way through the tourney, with a solid performance that included 12 hits—one of which was a home run—seven runs scored and four stolen bases.
2007: All-Star Game Inside-the-Park Home Run
During the 2007 All-Star Game, when Ichiro came to bat and made contact with a shot to the gap in right-centerfield, it initially appeared to be a double. But soon, it looked more like a triple, before Ichiro worked his way around the bases for the first ever inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history.
All told, his three=hit effort earned him the All-Star MVP Award, as the American League went on to win the game 5-4.
2008: Youngest Player to Amass 3,000 Professional Hits
As each year passed, Ichiro kept racking up the hits.
By the end of July 2008, Ichiro closed in on the magic number 3,000 as a professional (1,278 in Japan plus 1,722 in the U.S.), joining an elite club of players and becoming the fastest of all time to do so.
2009: 2nd WBC Championship
The second time around for the WBC was perhaps just as sweet for Ichiro as the first time, given how much he struggled throughout the tourney.
I still remember working in Tokyo at the time, as everyone both young and old, male and female watched the championship game on the office TV, living and dying with every pitch.
Finally, when the team needed a big hit with runners at the corners and the game tied in the 10th inning, Ichiro delivered with a shot up the middle that gave Team Japan a 5-3 lead that pitcher Yu Darvish helped close out in the bottom half of the inning.
2009: Walk-off Home Run Against Mariano Rivera
The 2009 Mariners were probably the most entertaining third-place ball club I've ever watched. With Ken Griffey, Jr. back in Seattle, Ichiro suddenly had someone to look up to or at the very least stand alongside.
The two really seemed to enjoy each other's company, and the joy was infectious for the better part of the season, as the Mariners managed to scratch and claw their way game after game.
There were many bright moments that season, but perhaps none was as enjoyable as watching Ichiro hit a first-pitch walk-off homer against the New Yew Yankees' Mariano Rivera with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, while trailing 2-1.
2010: 10 Consecutive 200-Hit Seasons
In late September 2010, Ichiro got his 200th hit of the season, against the Toronto Blue Jays, to extend his streak to a full decade of reaching that mark. The previous record-holder, Wee Willie Keeler, did it for eight straight years.
Sadly, this past season, he just narrowly missed an 11th straight year of 200 hits by 16.
2012: What Will He Do for an Encore?
Crazy to think this could be it for Ichiro after this season.
Is there a chance we could see some more magic with Ichiro now hitting in the No. 3 spot?
Time will tell, but I have a hard feeling that Ichiro will go quietly. While it certainly seems the Mariners will be making the transition to a younger lineup, here's hoping that Ichiro for at least one more year can help lead the way.