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Friday, Sept. 11, 2009
Ichiro produces magic with baseball bat in his hands
By ED ODEVEN
Ichiro Suzuki is a hitting machine.
From his younger days as a star with the Orix BlueWave to his record-shattering time with the Seattle Mariners, the iconic outfielder has racked up hits at an amazing rate.
On Sunday, Ichiro collected the 2,000th hit of his Major League Baseball career, a leadoff double against the host Oakland Athletics. In doing so, the All-Star right fielder reached that milestone in 1,402 games, achieving the feat at a rate faster than anyone except one other player in the history of the game: Al Simmons, who needed 1,390 games to do it in the 1920s and '30s.
Ichiro is on the verge of reaching another major milestone this week. Entering Tuesday's series opener against the Los Angeles Angels, Ichiro needed five hits to become the first player in MLB history to record nine straight 200-hit seasons. (He already owns the all-time single-season record of 262 hits, set in 2004.)
With a baseball bat in his hand, the 35-year-old is a bona fide artist.
Or as teammate Ken Griffey Jr. told reporters on Sunday: "He can just flat-out hit. There's just nothing he can't do with a bat. From the top of that helmet to a ball bouncing, he can just swing it."
Ichiro has won a pair of American League batting titles — .350 (in 2001) and .372 (in 2004). He has a career .333 average in the majors.
Yet he continues to marvel those around the game, even those who see him on a day-in and day-out basis.
Just as Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu.
"He's a special player, he's got so many weapons," Wakamatsu told the Seattle Times, without needing to cite the fact Ichiro has won eight Gold Gloves since joining Seattle in 2001.
"He can use the whole field, he can hit a home run now and then. Just a special player."
What makes him such a skilled batsman?
"He has such a feel for the ball," Wakamatsu told MLB.com, "and what he can do with his body and motion never cease to amaze us."
In fact, it's always been that way, well, ever since 1994.
In 951 games with the BlueWave (1992-2000), Ichiro had 1,278 hits and batted .353 overall. He won seven consecutive Pacific League batting titles in that span, starting with a .385 average in '94, his breakout year. In his previous two seasons, Ichiro had played in a total of 83 games. That season, however, he appeared in all 130 games and rapped out 210 hits, an NPB record.
From that point on, this much was certain: He had arrived as a once-in-a lifetime star.