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06/01/07 3:00 AM ET

Ichiro sparks Mariners past Rangers

Center fielder's hitting streak reaches 24 in 3-for-5 night

SEATTLE -- May was a hit for the Mariners.

The Mariners broke a record, Ichiro Suzuki is on the verge of breaking another and Seattle used an early seven-run lead to beat the Rangers, 9-5, on Thursday night in front of 20,137 at Safeco Field.

The Mariners' 14 hits on Thursday brought the May total to 309, breaking the old club record of 296 set in 1999. Ichiro is a game away from setting a hitting record of his own, extending his hitting streak to a career-best 24 games.

And, although a hit on Friday would eclipse Joey Cora's mark set in 1997, Ichiro wasn't even aware he had tied Cora until closer J.J. Putz told him after the game.

"I was surprised," Ichiro said through a translator. "It's always one of my goals to be ranked No. 1 in categories related to hits. Up to this point, I've had chances in the past to break or tie this record. ... So to be able to do that, it's something that makes me happy."

Ichiro, who has led off the first inning with a hit in 13 of the last 20 games, was 3-for-5 with two RBIs on Thursday night.

His hitting streaks aren't isolated, considering this streak of 24 games marks the sixth time in his career he's hit safely in 20 or more consecutive games. Over the years, he's become recognized as one of the best hitters in the game, but it doesn't seem to surprise the Mariners.

"He's a special player," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I don't think it should surprise any of us that he does what he does, because he does it over, and over, and over again."

Hargrove knows the type of grind a hitting streak encompasses, too, as he accomplished a 23-game hitting streak as a player. Just like Ichiro, Hargrove said he wasn't aware of the streak until someone else brought it to his attention.

"When you get up in the 20s [with a] hitting streak, you start thinking about it," Hargrove said. "But Ichiro has just been Ichiro. He goes out, does his job, and does it well."

Coupled with Ichiro's support, the Mariners scored nine runs and chased Texas starter Vicente Padilla after just three innings. First baseman Richie Sexson started the scoring for the Mariners, connecting on a bases-loaded two-run single in the first.

A quick 7-0 lead was all Mariners starter Cha Seung Baek needed to earn his third win of the season.

Baek allowed five runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He has also proven to be a valuable asset in Seattle, as the Mariners are 12-3 in his last 15 starts, dating back to 2004.

Seattle, which improved to 26-24, is now one game in front of third-place Oakland, and coupled with an Angels loss, is just 4 1/2 games out of first.

Ichiro, though, stole the show with another multihit game and another stolen base, his 14th of the season. He insists his consistently good performance is not tiring, instead using a different word to describe it.

"It's more than saying it's a grind. I would use the word fun," Ichiro said. "Only a few people have an opportunity to do something like this, so that's the reason I think it's fun."

And as Ichiro tries to break Cora's record Friday, thoughts of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak slowly creep to the forefront. Granted, that mark is far away, but even Ichiro dreams of catching that record someday.

Well, sort of.

"I've had dreams of not being able to hit 56," Ichiro joked. "I was glad it was only a dream."

Patrick Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.