Ichiro takes final bow after 27-year baseball career
TOKYO -- Ichiro Suzuki took a final bow in the eighth inning and the Seattle Mariners worked overtime to send him out a winner, claiming a 5-4 victory in 12 innings to sweep the two-game set from the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome on Thursday.
Ichiro's storied 27-year career ended with a dramatic exit in the eighth inning. After taking his position in right field, Mariners manager Scott Servais pulled Ichiro to the delight of a raucous, sellout crowd that responded with an extended ovation as the worst-kept secret in the building was confirmed.
Ichiro officially announced his retirement from baseball -- after 19 seasons in Major League Baseball -- Thursday evening in the Tokyo Dome, where emotional hugs and tears flowed from the top row of the stadium to the Seattle dugout. Each plate appearance and fielding opportunity was met with rousing applause.
"I have achieved so many of my dreams in baseball," Ichiro said, "both in my career in Japan and, since 2001, in Major League Baseball. I am honored to end my big league career where it started, with Seattle, and think it is fitting that my last games as a professional were played in my home country of Japan.
"I want to thank not only the Mariners, but the Yankees and Marlins, for the opportunity to play in MLB, and I want to thank the fans in both the U.S. and Japan for all the support they have always given me."
The Mariners broke a 4-4 tie when Domingo Santana brought in the go-ahead run with one out and the bases loaded, scoring Dee Gordon with a sharp ground ball to Marcus Semien. Santana sprinted down the first base line to beat Jurickson Profar's relay and prevent a double play.
"I had a very happy time playing with him since spring training til this day, Ichiro told us it is a gift for him to play here. But for me he gave me the greatest gift that I get to play with him," said Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi, who battled tears during the game and afterward measuring the gravity of the moment with his childhood hero.
Mariners closer Hunter Strickland record the save for the second consecutive night for the Mariners (2-0) with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 12th. Santana again was the hero, chasing down Profar's fly ball to left field and crashing against the wall in a successful effort to record the final out.
As the 45-year-old Suzuki left the field in the eighth, every Mariners' player, coach and staffer was greeted with an embrace. Compatriot Yusei Kikuchi broke down in tears. The crowd erupted for the loudest ovation of the night as he lifted his cap and acknowledged the crowd before stepping into the dugout and sharing a moment with Mariners Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
A half-inning prior his last plate appearance nearly resulted in an infield base hit, just barely beaten by Marcus Semien's toss from short to the groans of disdain from the crowd. Tim Beckham, the go-ahead run, was stranded on second base.
Kikuchi became the first Japanese player to begin his career on home soil the same night Ichiro became the only Japanese-born MLB player to finish his in Japan.
"Since I was a primary school player," Kikuchi said, "I took trains and buses to see ball games, June in my third grade year, I saw Ichiro back then (with Orix) he was a super hero for me. He was my adoration and every time I saw him I was very nervous. Butterflies in my heart in my chest and I spoken with him with excitement. It is the greatest gift for me to be able to spend time with him. I have learned a great deal from him just looking at the way he practices and I would like to make the best use of this experience throughout my career."
The left-handed starting pitcher was spotted a 3-0 lead with Ryon Healy and Mitch Haniger home runs in the second and third innings. The rookie navigated through four harmless innings before Oakland slugger Khris Davis chased him with two outs in the fifth. Davis struck an RBI single, rendering Kikuchi ineligible for the decision. Oakland tacked on another run via a Jay Bruce handling error at first base the next at bat.
Marco Estrada went five innings on the other side, and striking out one in his Athletics debut and improving upon Mike Fiers' tough outing in the opener. He settled down after Seattle's power exhibit to retire the last seven batters he faced.
"Today we had our chances, we were behind we came back again. That's something we do quite often. Felt a couple times we had them on the ropes and had a chance to win the game and didn't. It's frustrating to lose games, we'll regroup and get back into spring training mode and get back in the season," A's manager Bob Melvin said.
Ichiro ends his Major League career with 3,089 hits. In 2004 he set the single-season record for hits in a season with 262. He brought over 1,287 hits from Japan, totaling an astronomical 4,367 total hits in professional baseball.