Mariners enjoy Japan exhibition despite loss
Ichiro singles, Wells homers against Hanshin Tigers
TOKYO -- Playing in a raucous environment in a nearly sold-out Tokyo Dome, the Mariners dropped a 5-1 decision to the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League in a Sunday exhibition that kicked off their Opening Series week.
While the Mariners lost the game, they came away impressed with the enthusiasm of the 42,137 fans, who chanted and sang through every at-bat by Hanshin players.
"It was awesome," said Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders. "It felt like a European soccer game. They're extremely enthusiastic. It's good baseball, obviously, and they have a lot of passion and pride in the game. I had a really fun time."
Ichiro Suzuki, playing in Japan for the first time as a member of the Mariners, went 1-for-4 with a first-inning single from his new No. 3 spot in Seattle's lineup. Ichiro's every move was applauded loudly, and flashbulbs lit up the Tokyo Dome every time he stepped to the plate.
Mariners teammate Munenori Kawasaki also delighted the crowd with an eighth-inning double after he replaced Dustin Ackley at second base. Kawasaki, an eight-time All-Star shortstop in Japan, is attempting to win a utility infielder job as a non-roster invitee.
Hanshin left-hander Minoru Iwata held the Mariners scoreless for five innings, allowing six singles with one walk and five strikeouts before turning things over to his bullpen.
The Mariners went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and didn't cross home plate until Casper Wells crushed a leadoff home run in the ninth.
"It was an exciting atmosphere," said Seattle manager Eric Wedge. "We knew it'd be like that, but it was a great experience, particularly [for] our young players, to be a part of something like that. It had more of a big league feel out there than normal exhibition games. It's a good thing for our young kids to go through, and obviously we've got to do a better job than we did tonight."
The Tigers hurlers threw a lot of off-speed pitches and got a lot of movement. Hanshin's pitchers used the slightly softer Japanese ball, while the Mariners pitched with their normal Major League ball.
Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak said he was overanxious with his first few at-bats, perhaps caught up by the environment or just getting back to a big-time situation.
"It's good to be out there in a stadium now with actual people in the stands," he said. "It was good. Definitely a different environment, but a lot of fun."
Seattle starter Hector Noesi got in trouble in the second, giving up three runs and four hits, including Craig Brazell's double and a two-run home run by designated hitter Tomoaki Kanemoto, as well as a walk, hit batter and balk. Miguel Olivo picked off a runner at second to help get Noesi out of the inning.
Noesi, the 25-year-old right-hander acquired from the Yankees in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, shut the Tigers down the rest of the way and finished with three runs and six hits in five innings. He walked one and struck out three while throwing 76 pitches.
Rookie right-hander Erasmo Ramirez continued his impressive bid to earn a spot on the 25-man roster when the season opens, working a 1-2-3 sixth with two strikeouts. The Tigers added two runs on three hits off Tom Wilhelmsen in the seventh for a 5-0 lead.
Third baseman Chone Figgins had a nice game in his new leadoff role with a single and a walk, plus two nice defensive catches in foul territory. After the second one, an excellent sliding grab just in front of the fence, Figgins doffed his cap to an appreciative crowd coming off the field.
But Figgins and Ackley both struck out with the bases loaded in the fifth after Iwata had surrendered one-out singles to Olivo, Saunders and Brendan Ryan.
Olivo went 2-for-2 with a walk, but was stranded again at third in the seventh when Kyle Seager -- who'd replaced Figgins -- struck out.
The Mariners face the Yomiuri Giants, whose home field is the Tokyo Dome, in another exhibition Monday at 7:04 p.m. in Tokyo (3:04 a.m. PT). They'll then open regular-season play against the A's on Wednesday and Thursday.