SAN DIEGO -- Ichiro Suzuki was an 11-year-old, growing up in Japan on Sept. 11, 1985, when Pete Rose smacked a second-inning single against the Padres at Riverfront Stadium to pass Ty Cobb into first place on the all-time hits list.Nearly 31 years later, the confluence of Ichiro, Rose and
SAN DIEGO -- Ichiro Suzuki was an 11-year-old, growing up in Japan on Sept. 11, 1985, when Pete Rose smacked a second-inning single against the Padres at Riverfront Stadium to pass Ty Cobb into first place on the all-time hits list.
Nearly 31 years later, the confluence of Ichiro, Rose and the Padres came together again at Petco Park in the first and ninth innings of a game the Marlins lost, 6-3.
Ichiro legged out an infield hit on a dribbler up the first-base line against starter Luis Perdomo to lead off the game, and he hammered a double down the right-field line off closer Fernando Rodney in the ninth.
When Rose passed Cobb on that long-ago memorable night, he said that when he touched first base, he looked up at the heavens, remembering his dearly departed father. This was Ichiro's thoughts:
"The hit to tie was just a five-footer," Ichiro said through his longtime interpreter Allen Turner. "[The double] was a clean hit. I was just relieved to get a clean hit. I wasn't like, 'I'm glad I did it.' It was just relief to get a clean hit."
They were the 4,256th and 4,257th hits of Ichiro's career -- 2,979 of them for the Mariners, Yankees and Marlins in the Major Leagues, and 1,278 of them for the Orix BlueWave in Japan's Pacific League.
Ichiro is now only 21 away from becoming the first Japanese player in history to amass 3,000 hits in the Major Leagues. And that's the real figure.
"Obviously, 3,000 is a no-doubter," Ichiro said. "It's a record here, and that is a goal I want to achieve."
Rose, then the player-manager of the Reds, of course finished with 4,256 hits in 24 big league seasons. He had 427 more in the Minor Leagues.
A Cincinnati native, Rose's last big league at-bat came on Aug. 17, 1986, also against the Padres. He pinch-hit and struck out to end the eighth inning against Goose Gossage. Almost exactly three years later, Rose would be suspended for life for betting on baseball.
Asked if he could remember what he was doing in 1985 when Rose passed Cobb, Ichiro said:
"I studied a lot as an 11-year-old."
And played a lot of baseball?
"Of course," he said.
Rose, for all his warts and problems, is still Major League Baseball's all-time hit king. But what Ichiro has accomplished reveals just how far baseball has come in a little more than three decades.
"He's phenomenal," said Mark McGwire, now the Padres' bench coach. "What he's done is an awesome feat."
Fully a quarter of the players on Major League rosters are now born outside of the U.S., with nine of them hailing from Japan. And with the globalization of the sport and the qualification rounds for next year's fourth World Baseball Classic now in full swing, acknowledging what Ichiro has done is certainly appropriate.
"You can do one of two things," said Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time king with 762 homers and in his first year as the Marlins' hitting coach. "You can respect Ichiro and remember that he played in Japan 10 years longer than he should have -- he should have been here earlier. Or you can say that he hasn't been here long enough to be in Rose's category. But to me, he's still in that category."
Ichiro played nine years in Japan, batting .353, before he was posted by Orix after the 2000 season. The Mariners paid a then-record $13 million for the rights to negotiate a three-year, $14 million contract with the nimble left-handed hitter.
It proved to be money well spent. In 2001, Ichiro led the American League with a .350 batting average and 242 hits. He won both the AL Rookie of the Year Award and the AL MVP Award as the Mariners set an AL record with 116 wins before bowing out to the Yankees in a five-game AL Championship Series.
That season for Ichiro began a fantastic record run of 10 consecutive years with 200 hits or more, including the 262 in 2004 to shatter George Sisler's record. He led the AL seven times in hits and has a .314 lifetime batting average.
Rose led the National League seven times and had five seasons of 200 hits or more, topping out at 230 in 1973. Rose hit .303 lifetime.
Like Ichiro, now 42, Rose was 44 in 1985 as he slowly crept toward Cobb's hits record.
Rose tied the mark on a Sunday afternoon with two hits against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and then the Padres arrived in Cincinnati for a two-game series.
On Sept. 10, Rose went 0-for-4. But the next night against Padres right-hander Eric Show, he wasted no time, lining a second-inning single in front of the Padres left fielder Carmelo Martinez to the delight of a very partisan crowd of 47,237.
The hit set off a fireworks display and a raucous and endless standing ovation.
On Wednesday, there was no such drama. The Marlins were trailing by three when Ichiro came up in the ninth, a runner on first and two out. He went to a 2-1 count before scorching a changeup into the right-field corner for the big hit, his 347th career double.
As Ichiro stood on second, the crowd of 20,037 gave him a standing ovation. Very un-Ichiro like, he walked behind second and doffed his helmet several times to the fans.
Anyone could tell that Ichiro was genuinely touched.
"For me, it's not about the [milestone]," Ichiro said. "It was the way the fans and my teammates reacted. That meant a lot to me."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.