Ichiro Suzuki retired following the Seattle Mariners' 5-4 extra-inning win over the Oakland Athletics at the Tokyo Dome on Thursday.
According to ESPN, Kyodo News was the first to report prior to the game that it would be Ichiro's final contest as a big-league player. Later it was said during the ESPN telecast that Ichiro informed the Mariners of his decision.
Suzuki got the start in right field for the second day in a row and batted ninth in front of his native fans, going 0-for-4. After grounding out in the top of the eighth inning with the score tied 4-4, Ichiro was allowed to take the field for the bottom of the eighth before exiting amid thunderous applause from the crowd:
The rest of his Mariners teammates left the field, which allowed Ichiro to soak in the special moment:
When Ichiro reached the dugout, he embraced his teammates and coaches, as well as fellow Mariners legend Ken Griffey Jr., who met him with a hug:
Following Thursday's game, Ichiro released a statement, saying he "achieved so many of my dreams in baseball, both in my career in Japan and, since 2001, in Major League Baseball." He then added that he was "honored to end my big league career where it started, with Seattle, and think it is fitting that my last games as a professional were played in my home country of Japan.
“I want to thank not only the Mariners, but the Yankees and Marlins, for the opportunity to play in MLB, and I want to thank the fans in both the U.S. and Japan for all the support they have always given me.”
Ichiro also started Wednesday in Seattle's 9-7 win over Oakland, finishing 0-for-1 with a walk. In order to ensure he would get a standing ovation from the crowd, Mariners manager Scott Servais lifted Suzuki from the game in the fourth inning and allowed him to trot off the field:
The 45-year-old Ichiro is the greatest Japanese player in MLB history and a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible. He is set to retire as a 10-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, one-time American League MVP and a member of the 3,000-hit club.
Former A's pitcher Dallas Braden pointed out the significance of Thursday's game, with Ichiro playing for the final time and Japanese countryman Yusei Kikuchi making his MLB regular-season debut on the mound for Seattle at the Tokyo Dome:
Dallas Braden @DALLASBRADEN209
News sources have confirmed the retirement of Ichiro following the game today. I’m glad baseball lends itself to storybook moments such as these. A young Japanese ace makes his MLB debut in his home country while fellow countryman Ichiro is celebrated by fans home & abroad.
Fittingly, Ichiro and Kikuchi shared a special moment when Suzuki came off the field for the final time:
Ichiro could not muster a hit over his final two MLB games, but his legacy was already established long ago over the course of his 19-year MLB career with the Mariners, New York Yankees and Miami Marlins.
Suzuki appeared in just 15 games for the Mariners last season before becoming a special assistant in the team's front office. Ichiro announced his comeback by signing a minor league deal with the Mariners in January, which gave him the opportunity to go out on ideal terms in his home country.
Ichiro owns a career batting average of .311 with 117 home runs, 780 RBI, 1,420 runs scored and 509 stolen bases. In addition to his 3,089 career hits in Major League Baseball, Suzuki had 1,278 hits in nine Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball league seasons, making him the most prolific hitter in major professional baseball history.
His 4,367 career hits across MLB and NPB are 111 more than MLB hits king Pete Rose had during his career.
MLB.com's Jon Morosi was among the many to reflect on Ichiro's importance to the sport of baseball:
Ichiro is an all-time great player, and he has also long been one of baseball's best ambassadors due to his approach to the game and passion for it.
With Suzuki stepping away from baseball for good as a player, it opens up a world of options for him in terms of working in the Mariners' front office again or becoming a liaison of sorts between Major League Baseball and Japan.
Whatever the case, Ichiro had a special career, and the manner in which he ended it is something baseball fans will likely remember for a long time to come.