These past three games — and really, these past three weeks — Ichiro Suzuki has looked like he did in his absolute prime. He’s slapped key singles, smacked a few homers and stolen bases in bunches. He must feel on top of the world, right?
“Baseball is a tough game,” he said. “That’s how I feel right now.”
“I haven’t changed my approach to the game, that’s why I mean, it’s a tough game,” he explained. “Same routine, same approach, but different results. That’s what I’ve really realized about baseball and the deepness the baseball game brings to all of us as players. Baseball is a game where you really don’t know the reason why certain things happen. And that’s what I’ve felt in past days.”
Since coming to the Yankees, Ichiro has hit .321/.341/.464. That’s really close to his career numbers, maybe even a little better. With Seattle earlier this season, he was hitting a career-worst .261/.288/.353.
“There’s a lot of players who, when they’re struggling, they go back and watch tapes of when things were going well,” Ichiro said. “I’m a little different. I feel like, at that time, everything at that (previous) point is different from what I’m experiencing now, so you really can’t go back to that point. You really have to look at what you have now, and learn from the things you’re doing now, instead of looking at something in the past.”
You were expecting a common approach from Ichiro? Of course not. Just last night Nick Swisher was asked whether he ever talks hitting with Ichiro, and Swisher said it’s nearly impossible. Ichiro hits unlike anyone else, and his approach is unlike anyone else. He does what works for him, and right now, what works for Ichiro is what works for the Yankees.
“When you have a guy like that at the bottom of your lineup that has like 800,000 hits in his career, that’s going to work out well for us,” Swisher said. “… The only thing stopping his balls lately are either the seats or the wall.”
• Swisher hasn’t been so bad himself. He’s been a bit streaky the past week and a half or so — the hits have come in bundles — but he’s gotten some things going after that dreadful trip through Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Tonight’s grand slam was his third of the year. “In a situation like that, I was really looking for something early in the count to drive,” he said. “Lincoln was throwing cheese, so to be able to get on a fastball like that, it just kind of went straight up in the air. You’re just trying to get one run in. Anything else is a bonus.”
• The Yankees have matched a franchise record with 10 grand slams this season, which they also did in 2010 and 2011. In 2010 Alex Rodriguez had three grand slams, in 2011 Robinson Cano had three grand slams and this year it’s Swisher.
• All four of Ichiro’s home runs with the Yankees have come at Yankee Stadium. Tonight’s home run snapped a 23-inning homerless streak for the Yankees.
• Ichiro had a hit in seven consecutive plate appearances. That was the most consecutive plate appearances with a hit for any Yankee since Bernie Williams went nine straight in 2002. That’s from Elias.
• Rafael Soriano seemed to be getting loose before the ninth inning, but he was never coming into the game. “In my mind he was not available,” Joe Girardi said. “A lot of times he’ll play catch before the ninth inning. I didn’t even call and ask for him.”
• Instead, Dave Robertson closed out his second save of the season by striking out the side. “Someone had to pitch the ninth inning today, and it fell on me,” Robertson said. “Yesterday I didn’t really help (Soriano) out much – I couldn’t get through the eighth inning – and he came in and picked me up. I felt like, if I was able to give him a break today, it’s a good thing.”
• Not a good outing for Phil Hughes, whose command was a real issue. “I just tried to figure things out on the fly,” he said. “See if I can command my changeup, my curveball or something else. Changeup command came and went. Fastball was kind of all over the place. It was a nice night to get a lot of runs because I definitely needed it.”
• Despite allowing four runs in five innings, Hughes picked up his team-high 16th win. “Tonight kind of tells you that you can’t put too much into it,” Hughes said. “Maybe some games that you deserve to win, you don’t. Some games where you don’t deserve to win, you do. That’s just sort of the way it goes and I’ve been a recipient of some run support, which is nice. It’s nice to get wins, but it’s better for the team to get wins. Especially at a time when you really need them. Obviously I would have liked to have been better, but you’ll take any win you can get.”
• Hughes reached 180 innings in a season for the first time in his career.
• In the fourth inning, Hughes became the second pitcher in franchise history to strikeout four batters in an inning (Hechiavarria reached on a passed ball). A.J. Burnett also did it on June 24 of last year.
• This was the Yankees ninth series sweep of the season and their fifth straight win. … Their seven-run fourth inning matched their most runs scored in an inning this season. … They improved to 23 games above .500, matching their season-best.
• Derek Jeter’s hitting streak reached 14 games with a 2-for-4 night that included a pair of RBI singles. He has 11 RBI in his past 11 games.
• Final word goes to Ichiro: “I think all teams that are contenting, that are good teams, always go through ups and downs through the year. At what point in the season tough times come, depends on how you’re going to make it to the end or not, I feel. Having this momentum come at this point in the season, that’s the Yankees, and that’s what makes this team special.”
Associated Press photos