His season has usually been over by this point, but when the Yankees play the Orioles in Game 1 of the ALDS Sunday night at Camden Yards, Ichiro Suzuki will be back playing in the postseason for the first time since his first season in the majors, with the Mariners in 2001. He said via interpreter before Friday night’s workout at Yankee Stadium that he thought the playoffs would be the norm for him after that season. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Seattle traded him here in July, and he has seen a whole different atmosphere with his new team.
“Maybe with other teams making it to the playoffs is one of their goals,” Suzuki said. “But now from here on out is where the goal setting starts with the Yankees.”
Suzuki, who turns 39 on Oct. 22, was hitting .261 at the time of the deal. He batted .322 in 67 games with the Yankees.
“He’s shown he’s still a great player,” Joe Girardi said.
Suzuki spoke about how comfortable a transition it was for him with the Yankees, how he doesn’t usually like to open up and show his personality but that he did after the players started “teasing around” with him right after he switched sides. He said he wants to continue playing. He also told a story about how he quickly came to appreciate Yankees fans as a visitor despite what happened when the Yankees were about to eliminate the Mariners in the 2001 ALCS.
“Probably toward the end of the game, the fans started chanting, ‘Sayonara, Ichiro,’ ” Suzuki said. “That was kind of a tough moment, obviously losing. That was a tough thing to experience. After the season, that was the first time I went to Cooperstown. When I visited there, there were some Yankees fans there. They came up and wanted my autograph. I told them, ‘You want my autograph even though you’re saying Sayonara Ichiro?’ The fans were laughing.
“At that point, I kind of realized the Yankees fans buy a ticket, come to the stadium and they really enjoy the game. They’re here to enjoy this atmosphere, get after the other players. After the game, when they come out of the stadium, they still go out and ask for an autograph from the opposing team. They just generally, I think, love the game and love the players. You can’t say that about all the clubs. The fans that are out there screaming at you, that are saying rude things, that same stuff happens outside of the stadium.
“And so I was really kind of touched by the Yankees fans at that point. This was in 2001. I’ve really come to realize what kind of fans the Yankees fans were. I didn’t have to forgive them or anything, because to me, they were great fans.”
Mark Teixeira remembers the action of one fan in right at the old Yankee Stadium during Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles, the time when 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached out and assisted Derek Jeter’s drive over the fence — ruled a tying homer. The Yankees won the game and later the World Series. Teixeira wasn’t too pleased with that ruling. He was an Orioles fan at the time as a high school student in Baltimore. Friday night he said it was “one of the worst calls in baseball history.”
Now Teixeira is trying to overcome his calf problem and reverse his lack of postseason success with the Yankees. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia, as expected, will start Game 1. Hope you can check out my linked stories today for LoHud.com and The Journal News.