PHOENIX – There was some debate before the 2001 season whether Ichiro Suzuki could be a viable everyday player in the major leagues.
The critics listed his unorthodox swing, his unique approach to hitting, and his lack of American baseball experience as things that would work against him.
But from that season on, he has proved those critics wrong. He has also compiled a pretty impressive list of his own: American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, two AL batting titles, 10 All-Star teams, 10 Gold Gloves for his outfield play, three Sliver Sluggers, and breaking the single-season record for most hits.
So when he notched the 2,500th hit of his career in Tuesday’s win, the 38-year-old Ichiro took a rare moment of reflection on all he has accomplished – including the latest milestone, which signals longevity as well as consistency.
“I have broken many records in the last 12 years,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “You look at when, on my first day I got here in 2001, if I said my goal was to get 2,500 hits then people would say I was crazy. But now you look at it, looking back, things do come true.”
All those accomplishments haven’t lessened his motivation, he said.
“That’s how I see myself now and I still look back to how I felt my first day here because there is a passion inside that is all the same,” he said.
What stokes that fire?
“There are two things that come to mind,” he said. “The passion and love for the game that kept me motivated up to this day. There was also the criticism that came along with that, that keeps burning in my heart and brought me to this day.”
But his days of breaking records seem a little less certain.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge gave him the day off Monday and he responded with four hits Tuesday. A few more days off could be in his future.
“It’s just something that he’s got to understand that it’s not a bad thing to get a day off now and again,” Wedge said. “I know what he’s conditioned for, and that he wants to play every single day. Ultimately, what we’re looking for is to get the most out of everybody over 162 games. If I think a day off is good for him, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Ichiro isn’t above getting a day off under the proper circumstances.
“It kind of depends on how you are given that day off,” he said. “(Monday) was tough for me and very regretting because you want to go out there and perform. But then I understand the skipper’s situation and understanding as well. So it kind of depends from here on how you are being given a day off because regretting is something I have in my heart, but at the same time it gives me motivation too.”
With another hit Wednesday, Ichiro is at 2,504 for his career. The next big milestone is 3,000, something that would take a minimum of three seasons to accomplish. With each year, it will get more difficult. But he embraces that challenge.
“I like to put pressure on,’’ Ichiro said. “Because with that, you overcome that and you achieve something bigger.’’
SMOAK SITS ONE OUT
Justin Smoak was out of the lineup on Wednesday after fouling a pitch hard off his right knee in Tuesday’s night’s game.
The big first baseman finished the game and even drew the crucial leadoff walk in extra innings to set up the winning rally. But after icing the knee after the game and sleeping on it, the knee was too swollen and sore to play.
“I tossed and turned all night trying to find a way to get comfortable,” Smoak said. “It felt like I had a heartbeat in my knee it was throbbing so much.”
Smoak said he had never fouled a ball off his back leg on a swing. But he said with the number of pitchers throwing cutters, you will see it more and more from hitters.
“You never see a cutter till you get to pro baseball,” he said. “Up here, guys are throwing them all the time and throwing them 90 to 92 miles per hour.”
As for suffering another fluky injury, Smoak could only shake his head.
“If it was going to happen to someone, you know it’s going to happen to me,” he said.
The Mariners have today off before opening a three-game series against the San Diego Padres on Friday at Petco Park.email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish