Bid for 3,000 only adds to Ichiro's aura
Former Yankee reunites with A-Rod, next member of exclusive club
NEW YORK -- Ichiro Suzuki returned to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night wearing a Marlins uniform, well aware that he's the next active player on the all-time list, behind Alex Rodriguez, with a chance to reach the coveted 3,000-hit mark.
A-Rod hit a pair of singles in the Yankees' 2-1 win and now stands at 2,997. Ichiro added a single of his own, and at 2,885, is 115 away. A-Rod appears to be a lock to reach the mark at some point during the Yankees' current eight-game homestand. Ichiro has a chance to do it sometime next season.
"I think that's an amazing number for him," Ichiro said, referring to A-Rod before the game through his translator, Allen Turner. "You don't even have to explain how special that is. You can't even compare the two of us. He's a home run hitter. I'm a singles guy. Obviously, he's still playing every day. I still look at myself as being really far away from that number, but he's right there, so that's amazing."
To that point, 1,227 of A-Rod's hits have gone for extra bases, including 666 homers. For Ichiro, 2,349 hits have been singles.
Ichiro joined the Mariners in 2001, just as Rodriguez left Seattle as a free agent for the Rangers. Their paths have always been linked. A-Rod said he was excited to still see Ichiro playing.
"I enjoy seeing Ichiro out there all the time because he's the only guy in the league older than me," the nearly 40-year-old Rodriguez said about the 41-year-old Ichiro. "So I hope he stays and plays for a long time."
About his own pursuit of 3,000 hits, Rodriguez added: "I'm excited. I'm relaxed. I'm having fun. It'll be pretty awesome. I know my mom is excited about it. She's watching every day and counting it down. It'll be an exciting day in the Rodriguez house, that's for sure."
Ichiro's pursuit is certainly more long term. After two-plus seasons playing for the Yankees, Ichiro signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent contract with the Marlins. He hasn't had more than 500 at-bats in a season since 2013. Before signing Ichiro, the Marlins explained they wanted him as a fourth outfielder, left-handed pinch-hitter and late-innings defensive replacement.
The role was defined. Gladly filling it, Ichiro has had only 142 at-bats this season and 41 hits (.289). It should be noted that his .284 mark led the Yankees last year and his current bating average would also be pacing all active Yanks. A-Rod is the leader at .274.
"Obviously, I'm not playing every day," Ichiro said. "If I could get three hits in one at-bat, maybe I could get there quicker, but I can't, so I have to just keep chipping away."
Save for a lot more playing time and a late-season flurry, Ichiro would still finish about 50 hits away from 3,000 heading into the 2016 season.
The Marlins are so thrilled with Ichiro's contributions both on the field and in the clubhouse that they're already talking about bringing him back.
"We'll have those conversations; there have been some internal discussions already, yes," said Dan Jennings, who came down from the front office, where he was general manager, to manage the Marlins on May 18. "Ichi has been a pro. He's approached everything the way we thought he'd approach it. He's loved in our clubhouse. He's been such a presence in there."
The fact that Ichiro is even talking about this now is evidence of how important it is for him to reach that magical 3,000-hit threshold. A-Rod will be the 29th player in history to do it, and Ichiro would be the first from Japan. Adding the 1,278 hits he had while playing for the Orix BlueWave to his Major League numbers gives Ichiro a total of 4,163 hits on two continents.
It separates Ichiro from the rest of the pack and puts him on a solid track to be a first-ballot electee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame five years after he retires.
"I think you'd have to consider Ichiro as one of those [top] guys," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You think about the amount of time he's done it in. Plus, he came over here so late. You wonder if he had started here at 22 or 23 how many hits he would have today. I think what he's done is amazing. The numbers that he's put up, the runs that he's scored, the stolen bases, the outstanding defense he's played. He was a force."
Rather than re-sign Ichiro, the Yankees brought back the right-handed hitting Chris Young as their fourth outfielder. Young, though, is hitting .220.
The Yankees' loss has been Miami's gain. Ichiro said he's been having a good time playing on his third team and in the National League for the first time.
"My Yankees teammates were great," Ichiro said. "But coming over here, I'm playing with guys who could be my kids. That's an incredible thing to consider."
Incredible and re-affirming. And if those kids hang around long enough, they just might see the old man finally knock out his 3.000th hit.