With the infield in, Ichiro Suzuki went opposite field with a line drive single just past the diving third baseman. He was not remotely prepared for what happened next.
Ichiro’s pursuit of 4,000 hits has been a massive story in Japan, but it’s been a kind of obscure and odd one here in New York. It’s been thoroughly overshadowed by the Alex Rodriguez drama and the Yankees’ surge toward the playoff hunt, and it’s hard to know what exactly to make of a milestone created in two different leagues on two different continents.
But baseball players celebrate even the obscure milestones, and the Yankees seem to have a special sort of respect for Ichiro. As soon as that first-inning single slipped into left field, the dugout emptied, even as Ichiro tried to wave his teammates back to the bench.
“At first I was trying to stop them from coming,” Ichiro said. “But it was just because I was so happy and overjoyed with the way they supported me. … It was supposed to be a number that was special to me, but what happened tonight, I wasn’t expecting. When my teammates came out to first base, that was very special. The fans, I wasn’t expecting so much joy and happiness from them. That’s what made it very special tonight; not just the number, but all the things that came with it were very special.”
In the grand scheme of things, Ichiro’s hit was just another single that ultimately went nowhere, but milestones are largely symbolic anyway, and this one was symbolic of a long career that was only partially witnessed in this country. It was an appreciation.
“Having the 4,000th hit was important,” Ichiro said. “But what is going to make it the most special moment was the fact that the players, my teammates, came out. When I look back on this, that’s what’s going to make this very special.”
• As for the hit that actually won the game: “I just tried to swing at one good pitch to hit, because the whole game, [Dickey] was throwing knuckleballs, good ones with a lot of movement. Finally in the last one, the last at-bat, I get a good one to hit and that’s good to take the lead.”
• It’s worth noting that Soriano is a career .295 hitter with a .614 slugging percentage against Tim Wakefield. For whatever reason, he hits knuckleballs awfully well. “It’s very hard,” Soriano said. “I like to hit knuckleballs, but (Dickey)’s a little different because he throws knuckleballs, but hard ones. The guy that I faced before, he threw knuckleballs, but not that hard. It took me like two, three at-bats to get comfortable, and finally I get one, and that’s good for the team.”
• Soriano’s home run snapped an 0-for-17 streak. “He was due,” Joe Girardi said. “As hot as he had been, he was due.”
• You know who else was wildly important in this win? David Huff, who delivered five scoreless innings of terrific long relief. “A lot of that lineup was down in Buffalo when I was down in Scranton,” Huff said. “I got to face them and got a good feel for them. The rest of the lineup, I was just going off Romine because he’s caught a game (against them) before and he had a pretty good feel.”
• As for Huff’s glove-flip play: “I got lucky,” he said. “Nine times out of 10 I’ll probably end up throwing it up the line or flipping it too short or over his head. I just got lucky and hit him right in the chest.”
• Jayson Nix is heading to the disabled list with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch in the second inning. The Yankees will obviously bring up someone, but Girardi said he wasn’t sure who, and no one was pulled from the Triple-A lineup tonight (David Adams, Brent Lillibridge, Alberto Gonzalez and Ronnier Mustelier all played the whole game). There will be some sort of move tomorrow, and there’s obviously a good chance they’ll also want a pitcher after both long relievers were burned out.
• Girardi on Nix: “I feel terrible. Obviously he’s got a broken hand and he’s going to be out for a while. I’m not sure what exactly we’re going to do, but I feel really bad. After a great day from him yesterday and what he’s meant to our club this year playing so much shortstop in the absence of Jeet and Nuney going down. I always talk about Nixy, he’s a guy who does things right. Maybe it’s not always going to show up in the box score all the things that he contributes, but he’s a guy that just makes good decisions and does things right.”
• Girardi made it clear that Derek Jeter will not be activated tomorrow. He’s not going to be the call-up to replace Nix.
• When did Girardi know he had Mariano Rivera, despite Rivera pitching in both games yesterday? “I talked to him after BP and he said he felt good,” Girardi said. “I talked to Larry and Hark right before the game and I said, if the situation arises, he says he feels good, I’m going to use him. I don’t think I’ll use him tomorrow though.”
• Adam Warren became the eighth different Yankee to start a game this season. “I felt good,” he said. “I did run out of gas a little bit at the end, but I did feel pretty good. Probably a little more base runners than I wanted, but I felt like I battled through it and kept it close.”
• Funny comment from the Ichiro postgame press conference — Told that Rivera said it was an honor to play with him, and Ichiro responded with a answer that made him crack up at his own joke: “If you play for the Yankees so long, you start getting good at making comments like that,” Ichiro said before cracking up. “Even if it’s not true, I’m very honored that he said that. What I realized today is that the Yankees are so used to things like this happening that they’re so good at ceremonies like this.”
• Final word goes to Soriano: “As soon as Cano got the hit, I said, ‘This is the chance now to do something impressive.’ Because every game is very important for us. I said, I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself, especially in last at-bat. I just wanted to see a good one and make a good swing, and that’s what happened. … Sometimes, we have a bad week, two weeks. But we come back from that week. We come very strongly. I think the lineup we have now is very strong, and I hope the offense to produce like we’re producing right now.”
Associated Press photos