Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mr. 4,000

Last night, Ichiro Suzuki did something that only two men in baseball history (Pete Rose and Ty Cobb) have done before him: he notched the 4,000th hit of his professional career.

With the Toronto Blue Jays in town and more than 36,000 on hand at Yankee Stadium, the great Ichrio dug in against reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Both have struggled this year, with Dickey failing to replicate his magical 2012 and Suzuki batting nearly 50 points below his career average.

That didn't seem to phase either combatant last night, for Dickey delivered a strong start and Suzuki made history--in his first at-bat of the evening, no less. Dickey was off to a good start, having just struck out Brett Gardner looking sharp as Ichiro performed his signature pre-batting ritual. The crowd trained its phones and cameras on Suzuki, hoping to witness something nobody had seen since Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Thankfully, Suzuki didn't make them wait long. On the third pitch he saw, Ichrio reached out, flicked his wrists and lined a bullet past third baseman Brett Lawrie, who lunged towards the smash but couldn't come up with it. Kevin Pillar scooped it up in left as Suzuki motored around first, his knock official. Play was stopped, and the Yankees dugout emptied--not to fight, as they had on Sunday, but to celebrate--as Ichiro was swarmed by congratulatory teammates.

The swing (pictured above), and the hit that followed, was classic Ichiro. Suzuki used his quick hands, masterful bat control, and blazing speed to slap and poke his way to a career unlike any other. From 2001--the year he won both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards (something only Fred Lynn has ever done)--through 2010, he batted above .300, rapped out more than 200 hits, won the Gold Glove and made the All-Star team every freaking year. His average season produced 105 runs, 224 hits, 38 steals, and a .331/.376/.430 batting line. He was like Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, and Rod Carew all rolled into one.

Since then, age (combined with the wear and tear of playing everyday) has deteriorated Suzuki into a merely average player. The two-time batting champ is a .276 hitter (with no power) over the past three years. His arm is still as powerful as ever, but he's lost a step in the field and so his overall defensive value has diminished. He can run, just not as often.

But Ichiro is fit and trim--he takes excellent care of himself--as he prepares to celebrate his 40th birthday this October. He still has another year with the Yankees and will likely play beyond that, if he so chooses. The baseball legend should have no problem finding a job as he closes in 3,000 big league hits (he has 278 to go). Someone will pay him to wear their uniform when he achieves the milestone.

It was easy to take the first couple thousand for granted. Ichiro made it look so easy, as if he could place the ball exactly where he wanted. He was an artist. He was a machine. It was beautiful to watch.

So now, with a great player approaching the end of a storied career, let's appreciate every drag bunt, seeing-eye single, and screaming line drive. Because there's never been a baseball player like Ichiro before. And there might never be another.

1 comment:

  1. 3 men with 4,000? Not to sound smart or anything, but I think if Ichiro's Japanese days count, then I would think that Julio Franco's Dominican and Mexican games would count, too.