When Joe Girardi sat next to Ichiro Suzuki for this afternoon’s press conference, the Yankees lineup had not been posted, and Girardi refused to announce it until he had a chance to speak to Ichiro privately. Girardi was about to bat one of the best leadoff hitters we’ve ever seen eighth. Ichiro had never started a game hitting lower than third.
“He didn’t bat an eye,” Girardi said. “He said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ And he seemed really excited. … We talked about the lineup and what our expectations are. He was ready to go. He was itching to get dressed and get out to stretch with the guys. The conversation was quick, and we’re excited to have him.”
After a lengthy standing ovation, Ichiro singled in his first Yankees at-bat. He went on to steal a base and — in a fitting end — he caught the game’s final out, which was a fly ball from Jesus Montero.
“I came over here wanting to be a help, and wanting to help this team win,” Ichiro said. “Whatever order that is, wherever position that might be, I’m here just to help the team win. … I was on the opposite side today, and on this side, obviously it looks different being over here. But I was kind of worried getting up on that first at-bat, but with the standing ovation, I was really relieved. It was a special day today.”
Girardi made it clear that he plans to keep Ichiro in the eighth spot in the order, and he expects him to play every day, not only against right-handers. This chapter might not last more than two months, but it’s a new chapter just the same. And it got started with a win tonight in Seattle.
“No disrespect to where he’s coming from, but coming to an environment and a culture where you’re in first place and you expect to win, his responsibility changes dramatically here,” Alex Rodriguez said. “We just want him to be Ichiro, have fun and do what he does. There’s no need for him to come out and try to do anything more. For us, we add someone who plays great defense, has great fundamentals and understands winning baseball.”
• Ichiro was the story of the day, but the star of the game was Hiroki Kuroda who allowed one run on three hits through seven innings. He struck out nine and picked up his 10th win. “He’s been really, really good,” Girardi said. “I thought in the month of April he was putting too much pressure on himself, trying to validate coming over here. He’s seemed to settle down and he’s been really, really good for us. Consistent. Distance. Quality innings. Just really good.”
• Kuroda has pitched at least seven innings in nine of his past 11 starts since May 27. … He’s 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in those past 11 starts. … This was his eighth career game with at least nine strikeouts, and his second this season.
• The Yankees snapped a season-high four-game losing streak. “Going through that losing streak, we really needed this win,” Kuroda said. “With the addition of Ichiro, we got a big win today and it was really good for me and good for the team.”
• Ichiro said there was at least a little bit of comfort in playing his familiar position on his first day with a new team. “It was the same position, right field, but the players on the opposite side were guys that I played with, and I was wearing a gray uniform,” he said. “Obviously I’m going to get used to it, but it’s going to take a while.”
• Why No. 31? “One of the numbers is obviously a number that’s special, so it was just kind of a feeling that I had,” Ichiro said. “I just kind of felt that was the number for me.”
• Girardi’s reaction to seeing Ichiro on his team: “He looked good, hit the ball right on the screws twice, stole a base, made a good throw to home. Kind of what we expected. Almost created a run the one inning.”
• Rodriguez actually has a five-game hitting streak. This road trip has been brutal for the Yankees, but Rodriguez has shown some good signs. He’s hitting .381 with four runs, two doubles and a home run in the past five games. “I think he’s swung the bat pretty good on this trip,” Girardi said. “He lined out a couple of times yesterday and I told him that was kind of stupid. He’s hit the ball square. I like his at-bats, I do.”
• Rodriguez has 299 home runs as a Yankee.
• Mark Teixeira has a hit in 12 of his past 13 games at Safeco Field. He’s hitting .456 during those 15 games.
• The Mariners were held to one run or less for the 25th time this season. Yuck. They’re 2-23 when held to one run or less. This was the sixth time they were held to three hits or less.
• Girardi is now saying that Nick Swisher might not play until Saturday or Sunday. He said there’s no setback, the Yankees are simply thinking about giving Swisher a little more time to be careful. “Friday at the earliest,” Girardi said. “I’m not even sure we’ll have him Friday. We’ll see.”
• Final word, obviously, goes to Ichiro: “It was definitely a tough, tough day for me. Now I can just focus on baseball. If you had said, hey, I’ve got to play soccer tomorrow, that might be tough, but it’s baseball, and I’m going to just focus on playing the game.”
Associated Press photos