Mariners outfielder collects record-setting hit on an infield single as Mariners split a doubleheader
ARLINGTON, Texas — That the suds stinging Ichiro’s eyes came from beer instead of soap mattered little.
Rarely had a postgame shower felt so cleansing for the record-setting Mariners leadoff hitter. More to his mind than the aching body he’d pushed through a ninth consecutive 200-hit season, capped here Sunday night in his team’s 5-0 win over the Texas Rangers.
Ichiro had carried the hopes and expectations of his Japanese homeland on his shoulders, and he admitted the weight never leaves him satisfied with any accomplishment. But once this epic milestone was reached, teammate Ken Griffey Jr. hoisted Ichiro like a flour sack over his shoulder and delivered him to the showers for a team-wide dousing like few he’s seen this side of the Pacific.
“It’s impossible that we’re going to have the exact same team members as this year next year,” Ichiro said through an interpreter. “So, to get to enjoy this moment now with them … makes me very joyful.”
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Ichiro singled out Griffey as the driving force of this celebration and of a seasonlong coming together between him and the 24 others in the clubhouse. In a trying year for Ichiro physically, from a bleeding ulcer in April to his calf injury last month, he needed any chance to smile he could get.
And being showered with beer and an entire container of icy spring water certainly brought out the smiles, as well as some shrieks.
The Mariners had only salvaged a split of their oft-delayed doubleheader, dropping the first game 7-2. But you’d never have known from the postgame party after the second contest, staged hurriedly so the Mariners could catch a flight home after a three-city trip and a 12-hour day at the ballpark.
The muggy, wet day was capped by seven innings of shutout ball from Felix Hernandez, who got his career-high 15th win and lowered his earned-run average to 2.52 as he stakes his claim to the Cy Young Award.
Hernandez was one of those in the shower pouring beer over Ichiro.
“That was fun,” Hernandez said. “He got a beer shower. It was great.”
It had gotten a little more fun for Ichiro with each additional hit as he’d closed in on No. 200. After a 1-for-18 series last week, he’d settled down here with two hits Saturday, then a double off Rangers starter Tommy Hunter in the third inning of Sunday’s opener.
“Of course, you can’t get that No. 200 hit until you build up 199 hits,” Ichiro said. “So, the process to get there was important.”
Hunter limited the Mariners to six hits in his first complete game, and Ichiro had to wait for the nightcap to come through. He delivered in the second inning against Texas starter Derek Holland, grounding a ball toward charging shortstop Elvis Andrus. The sure-gloved Andrus snagged the ball, but wisely held onto it.
For the 453rd time in his career, Ichiro was safe on an infield single. For the first time in 108 years, somebody had achieved more than eight consecutive 200-hit seasons.
The sparse crowd at Rangers Ballpark stood and cheered. So did players and coaches in the visitors’ dugout.
“We were taking odds over there and sure enough, it was an infield single,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “To be able to run at his age and be able to do what he can do — last night he hit a home run — he’s a very talented, talented player.”
Talented enough to step out of the shadow he’d shared with Wee Willie Keeler, whose record of eight consecutive 200-hit seasons had stood since 1901.
The barely 5-foot-seven, 140-pound Keeler made it to the Hall of Fame with a “Baltimore Chop” method of bouncing infield singles high off the ground.
A century later, his kindred spirit in Seattle is blazing a trail to Cooperstown that no Japanese player has, his every move chronicled by an army of media members from his homeland. Ichiro admits he can only feel relief, not satisfaction, at reaching these milestones because of his desire to please his baseball-crazed compatriots from Japan.
“For me, it’s not allowed for me to not accomplish this,” he said.
But perhaps this time, if not satisfaction, he could feel something else. On this one night, dripping wet and eyes stinging, he could glance around at 24 other soaking Mariners and know he was truly not alone.
For the record
vs. AL West: 26-25
vs. L.A.: 9-9
vs. Oak.: 11-5
vs. Texas: 6-11
vs. AL East: 17-14
v. AL Cen.: 20-24
vs. NL: 11-7
vs. LHP: 25-27
vs. RHP: 49-43
Extra inn.: 8-6