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Ichiro's 3K quest among best '16 moments

Suzuki smashes triple off wall in Colorado for milestone hit
MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- History was on hold for about a week in late July and early August before Ichiro Suzuki achieved what many believed was an unreachable milestone.

No one ever disputed Ichiro's ability to hit a baseball -- and amass gaudy hit totals. It was just considered unfathomable that someone who played his first MLB game at age 27 could become a member of the 3,000-hit club.

MIAMI -- History was on hold for about a week in late July and early August before Ichiro Suzuki achieved what many believed was an unreachable milestone.

No one ever disputed Ichiro's ability to hit a baseball -- and amass gaudy hit totals. It was just considered unfathomable that someone who played his first MLB game at age 27 could become a member of the 3,000-hit club.

If history has taught us anything about the iconic outfielder from Japan, it's to never doubt.

For Ichiro, as significant as it was to attain No. 3,000, he also wanted to leave no doubt about the legitimacy of the hit. In the age of technology, Ichiro didn't want the memorable moment decided by the interpretation of replay officials.

It never came to that.

On Aug. 7 at Coors Field, Ichiro uncorked a drive that clanked off the wall in right field for a standup triple.

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"I think it was appropriate that it was a triple," said Rich Waltz, the Marlins' TV play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports Florida. "His career is all about speed."

Waltz has a long history working with Ichiro. He was part of the broadcast team in Seattle in 2001 when the outfielder took the big leagues by storm.

"Personally, to see him get to 3,000 hits was incredible," Waltz said. "I was in Seattle when he arrived at Spring Training. There were a lot of questions as to whether his swing and his game would translate to success at the Major League level."

A 10-time All-Star, Ichiro had a resurgence at age 42 with the Marlins in 2016, posting a slash line of .291/.354/.376. He entered the season 65 hits shy of 3,000, and based on his disappointing 2015, batting .229, many wondered if his career was staggering to an end.

When playing time presented itself in 2016, he quickly pushed toward that milestone.

"For Ichiro, it was always a number he talked about privately and he held very, very high on lists of accomplishments," Waltz said. "Early in his career, every year he got to 200 hits, he'd always take that bat out of play, because to him, that was a big milestone."

By midseason and after the All-Star break, his quest for 3,000 hits became one of MLB's most followed storylines. A large contingent of Japanese media -- often more than 50 reporters -- followed the club.

The normally collected Ichiro might have been distracted by the fanfare, as his numbers began to slip. He was stuck on 2,998 from July 28 to Aug. 6, going 0-for-11 over seven games.

Once he was one hit shy, manager Don Mattingly gave Ichiro a start on Aug. 7. In his third at-bat, off left-hander Chris Rusin, Ichiro drove a 2-0 pitch off the wall in right. Gerardo Parra made a leaping attempt. After the ball clanked off the wall, Ichiro easily had a three-base hit -- and the distinction as the first Japanese-born player to reach 3,000 hits in the big leagues.

Video: Must C Classic: Ichiro notches 3,000th MLB hit

Immediately, his teammates mobbed him as play was halted.

"More than the number 3,000 itself," Ichiro said through an interpreter that day, "when I saw the teammates come out and how happy they were and how warm the fans were, it's not about just the 3,000 and what I did, it's about my teammates and my fans."

So much of his game is about meticulously slapping the baseball where defenders aren't. But No. 3,000 was a reminder that Ichiro can still turn on a pitch and drive it deep.

According to Statcast™, the triple, which came on an 86.76 mph cut fastball, was projected to travel 364 feet from home plate. The exit velocity was 92.6 mph.

For the season, the average distance of balls Ichiro put in play was 196.08 feet, well below the MLB average of 218.07.

With history at stake, Ichiro added some power to his swing.

"He has more power than people think," Waltz said. "It worked out great because the Marlins' bench was right in front of third base. The team spilled out."

Congratulations came in from across the baseball world.

"Anybody who gets 3,000 hits is a great hitter," said Pete Rose, MLB's all-time hits king. "Ichiro is a tremendous hitter. What 3,000 hits does is automatically put him into the Hall of Fame."

Added Hank Aaron: "I've been very impressed with his performance throughout his career. To get to 3,000 hits, few can say they have ever done it. We talk about 500 home runs and other great milestones. But for him to get to 3,000 hits, it shows you how very consistent he's been both in Japan and the United States."

After collecting the milestone hit, Ichiro gave the uniform, cleats, batting gloves, wrist bands and elbow guard to the Hall of Fame.

Ichiro, who ended the season with 3,030 hits, is just the fourth player not born in the United States to reach 3,000 hits. He joins Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico), Rod Carew (Panama) and Rafael Palmeiro (Cuba).

Now 43, Ichiro is showing no signs of stopping. The Marlins picked up his club option for 2017 and added an option for '18.

"Let's dump the age and all of that kind of talk, because in 'Ich' you get a guy who plays all three outfield positions," Mattingly said. "Plays them well. Still throws well. Still runs well. Is productive off the bench. Always prepared."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Miami Marlins, Ichiro Suzuki