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07/30/08 12:21 AM ET
Ichiro notches career hit No. 3,000
Outfielder singles in first inning to reach milestone
By Jim Street / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki needed only one pitch in his first at-bat Tuesday night to get his 3,000th career professional hit. He dumped a single into shallow left-center field off Rangers right-hander Luis Mendoza. The hit was the 1,722nd hit of Ichiro's Major League career, which started in 2001, when he helped the Mariners win an American League record 116 games. He captured both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors that season, along with the first of his two league batting championships. On Tuesday night, he became the first player to reach the 3,000-hit mark while splitting careers between two countries. Prior to becoming the first Japanese position player to test his mettle in the Major Leagues, Ichiro accumulated 1,278 hits during a nine-year career with the Pacific League Orix Blue Wave. He recalled the first one, which came in July 1992. "I was 18 at the time, and I got called up to the Majors in July," he said. "To myself, I actually refused to get called up, because I didn't think it was my time yet. But the order came, so I had to go. "I was in the mood of not agreeing to the [promotion], but I got a hit. That's what I remember about it." The final few hits to 3,000 were difficult. "Looking back to when I got my first hit, from that point to this point, it wasn't a very long time to me," he said. "But, for some reason, the last week seemed like a long period of time." The rather small crowd of 17,618 applauded Ichiro's achievement and he tipped his cap in appreciation. "For them to respond in that fashion was very unexpected for me," he said. "I'm glad that's behind him," manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's a great accomplishment and I'm looking forward to his 2,000th hit [in the Majors]. Hopefully, they will come in wins, not what we've been coming through lately." Riggleman knew the final steps to 3,000 were beginning to affect his right fielder. "I was talking to Antony [Suzuki], Ichiro's interpreter, and he indicated to me that it has weighed on [Ichiro] and he wants to get this behind him. Ichiro realizes how few people have done it." There currently are 27 members in MLB's 3,000-hit club, the most recent being former Astros star Craig Biggio, who reached the magical number last season. Riggleman predicted that Ichiro's milestone hit would be a double into right-center field in the first inning, adding that Ichiro would advance to third base, and be driven in by left fielder Raul Ibanez. As it turned out, Ichiro advanced to third on an ensuing single by Jeremy Reed, but never scored. Catcher Kenji Johjima pretty much nailed it. He predicted before the game that the hit would be a blooper into left field, just out of the reach of an infielder. "In the short time he's been over here, to have this many hits in the states is amazing," Riggleman said. "In the history of the game, and everybody who has ever played the game, to play this many games and have this many hits and he's at the top of the list. It speaks for itself. I think that his accomplishments over here have probably exceeded what he did over there." Ichiro, an eight-time AL All-Star with at least 200 hits in each of his first seven MLB seasons, has 131 hits this season and is right on pace to join Willie Keeler (1894-1901) as the only players in MLB history to reel off eight consecutive 200-plus hit seasons. So how has he been able to be this consistently good for so long? "No. 1 is talent," Riggleman said. "You need a lot of talent. You need longevity and can't have too many injuries, causing you to miss playing time. If you are not talented, you're not going to get it, and you also need a good routine. Everyone [with 3,000 hits] has been a creature of habit, with a certain routine, and Ichiro would be at the top of that list. He has meticulous work habits."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.