07/16/08 2:47 AM EST
No joke: Ichiro again stands out
Jovial nature on display after offensive, defensive highlights
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
The Most Valuable Player of the 2007 Midsummer Classic in San Francisco, Ichiro once again put his full set of skills on display in Tuesday night's 4-3 American League triumph in the Bronx that required 15 innings to complete, extending to 12 seasons the National League's frustration.
In his second Yankee Stadium at-bat, after flying out in the first, Ichiro slammed a single to right but was quickly erased on a double play.
In the top of the fourth, Ichiro made one of those plays few right fielders can make. Racing to his left on the crack of the bat, Ichiro reached Albert Pujols' line drive in the corner, wheeled and fired a strike to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter to cut down the Cardinal at second.
"I expected Pujols to try to get to second base," Ichiro said to Japanese reporters afterward, "because he is not Bengie Molina."
His dry wit was also evident when he was asked about the high-fives he exchanged with teammates after returning to the home dugout following the throw. Even the pitcher, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, was uncharacteristically animated.
"I was surprised Halladay was smiling," Ichiro said. "I've never seen him smiling."
After striking out in the fifth inning against Arizona's Dan Haren with two runners on and one out, Ichiro was replaced in right field by J.D. Drew, whose two-run seventh-inning homer tied the game at 2.
A career .331 hitter appearing in his eighth All-Star Game, Ichiro is a .333 All-Star Game hitter. He was 3-for-3 in last year's Classic with the first inside-the-park homer in the history of the event.
The baseball community has been on a first-name basis with Ichiro for years now. He's like the Babe, Yogi, Mick, Reggie, Fernando, Manny. No last name necessary.
Ichiro has acquired a fondness for the fans of New York over the years and is always happy to pay a visit, whether it's a three-game series in May or an All-Star Game as the reigning MVP.
"More than the stadium," Ichiro said before the game, "I enjoy playing in front of the fans here in New York. I feel like when somebody on the other team makes a good play and they boo -- and they boo a lot -- it's because they appreciate the fact that they got to see a good play.
"In the booing, hate is not involved."
Grady Sizemore, the Indians' young center fielder of uncommon grace, is a big fan of Ichiro's unique style and flair.
"I wouldn't say there are too many guys similar to Ichiro," Sizemore said. "He does a good job of making everything he does look easy. It doesn't seem like he's ever panicky or in a hurry. It's like he's in his backyard, having a good time."
A man of mystery to many peers, largely because of the language barrier, Ichiro is known to snap off Snoop Dogg lyrics with a distinct style when he's comfortable.
He nodded with dancing eyes when asked in English if he likes Snoop before the game.
Ichiro strikes Sizemore as "a laid-back guy with a good sense of humor.
"He plays the game hard, the right way. I haven't got a chance to talk to him much, but I can tell he's a good guy."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.