Thirty or so Japanese media members gathered around the locker of New York Yankees’ pitcher Masahiro Tanaka at Marlins Park Monday night. I could understand just one word while listening in, a word that kept coming up in their questions.
It’s always been this way for Ichiro Suzuki, who is a storyline no matter who the opposing pitcher might be or where the game is played. In this case, Tanaka was talking about the two singles Ichiro got off him in a 2-1 Miami victory. One of them was an infield hit that the 41-year-old wonder beat out with a burst to first.
“Just got to kind of tip your hat to him,” said Tanaka, who was Ichiro’s teammate on the Yankees last season and had never pitched against him. “Just have to tip your hat to his good batting.”
That quote came through an interpreter for the benefit of American reporters. No doubt the other, longer interview conducted in Japanese included more personal thoughts about Japan’s amazing hit man, who got a rare start in center field on Monday night.
To be fair, Tanaka also struck Ichiro out looking in the fifth. They’ll be talking about that in Japan, too, wondering how in the world that happened. Ichiro always gets a bat on the ball.
It really is astounding what this man continues to do, pushing his batting average up to .288 and giving Marlins manager Dan Jennings complete freedom to rest one of his young outfielders any night of the week.
That’s the story for 2015, anyway. The bigger picture shows Ichiro with 2,884 career hits through Monday’s game, which tied him with Zack Wheat for 38th overall. Wheat, a Hall of Famer, finished up in 1927 after 19 major-league seasons. Ichiro has played only 15 seasons in our version of the bigs.
What would we be talking about if he hadn’t spent his first nine pro seasons playing in Japan? As it is, Ichiro is sneaking up on Barry Bonds (2,935) and Alex Rodriguez (2,995) and so many other great stars of the American pastime.
Had he come to the U.S. as a teenager and not waited until he was 27, Ichiro might be after Pete Rose (4,256), too.
A tip of the cap, for sure, and a deep bow of respect.