Brendan Ryan called the whole day “strange” – one Seattle Mariners fans will surely never forget.
Ichiro Suzuki, who manned right field for 12 seasons at Safeco Field and was a 10-time American League All-Star, was traded Monday to the New York Yankees for two minor league pitchers.
None of his Mariners teammates had this in mind when they woke up Monday. They were ready to start another homestand, beginning with three games against New York, the American League East Division leader.
But by midafternoon as players began arriving at the ballpark, word had spread that Ichiro was being traded – leaving some scratching their heads, and others wishing the Japanese star nothing but the best.
“Just when you think you know what is going on in this game,” Seattle catcher/designated hitter John Jaso said, “something surprises you, and lets you know that you don’t know anything.”
Just a little past 4 p.m., Ichiro was facing a throng of media from Seattle and New York. Two hours later, he was back on the field, wearing a Yankees pullover, taking batting practice with the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.
“He is going to love New York,” Rodriguez said. “And New Yorkers are going to fall in love with his style of play.”
As he took the field in the bottom of the first inning, the fans in right field rose to their feet and applauded. He stopped, took off his cap and tipped it to them.
Batting eighth in the Yankees’ order, his first-at bat came in the top of the third inning.
Again, as he stepped into the batter’s box, the Safeco Field crowd gave him a hearty standing ovation. He took off his helmet and graciously bowed.
“It was a special day for me because of the fans’ ovation,” Ichrio said. “It was a wonderful day to experience that.”
Kevin Millwood has seen a lot in his 16 seasons as a major-league pitcher but nothing like Monday. In the morning, he was Ichiro’s teammate. In the evening, he was trying to retire him.
It was Millwood who stepped behind the mound, giving Ichiro the full spotlight to salute fans.
“I figured he would tip his hat,” Millwood said. “I wasn’t sure if he would bow or not, but he did.”
In that first at-bat, he lined a single to right-center. He retreated to the first-base bag where ex-teammate Justin Smoak was waiting.
“Definitely different,” Smoak said.
Dustin Ackley, the Seattle second baseman, had two of the three putouts of Ichiro – on a pop-up in the fourth inning and a lineout in the ninth.
“I am sure he will help those guys a lot,” Ackley said. “It is good to see he got to a team in first place. I am always happy for a guy like that.”
Reliever Josh Kinney was the last pitcher to face Ichiro, getting him out in the ninth inning.
“It was weird – awkward, honestly,” Kinney said. “Still feels like he is my teammate.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8442 blogs.thenewstribune.com/mariners @ManyHatsMilles