09/14/09 1:12 AM ET
Ichiro sets MLB record on infield grounder
Mariners star reaches 200 hits for ninth straight season
By Jim Street / MLB.com
After going 1-for-4 in the rain-delayed opener of a doubleheader to close within one of the 200-hit mark, the Mariners right fielder legged out a slow roller to shortstop Elvis Andrus with two outs in the second inning of Game 2, a 5-0 win for the Mariners. Andrus fielded the ball, but realized he had no chance of getting the speedy Ichiro, who reached on his 453rd career infield hit without a throw.
The 35-year-old became the first player in Major League history to have nine consecutive 200-hit seasons, and making the feat even more impressive, his came during the first nine years of his MLB career. He had been tied with Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Keeler (1894-1901) at eight in a row.
A smaller-than-usual crowd at Rangers Ballpark, largely because the twin bill started more than four hours after it was originally scheduled to start because of steady rain, gave Ichiro a warm ovation. He tipped his helmet and the ball was replaced, no doubt being sent to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The reception he received inside the visitor's dugout at the end of the inning was warmer. There were pats on the back, low- and high-fives, and hugs from others, including Ken Griffey Jr.
"One thing I was preparing for was for Junior not to get the 200-hit ball because he would write silly things on it," Ichiro said. "But he did get the ball and he did write silly things on it."
Ichiro laughed and then said breaking the record was more satisfying to his country than it was to himself.
"When I break a record, I never feel satisfaction," he said. "I strongly feel expectation from Japan and my records are things that I feel Japan [believes] they must have.
"I always want to feel satisfaction, but when I accomplish a record, I only feel relief."
Compared to the best
|Below is a look at how Ichiro's stats compare to those of MLB's top five career hit leaders.|
|*Through Sept. 13|
A large contingent of Japan-based media has been following Ichiro on this road trip to chronicle and film his pursuit of MLB history. The chase to break a 108-year-old record drew a lot more attention in his homeland than it did in the United States.
"I believe you guys [U.S. media] have seen the situation here with the media and the expectation," he said. "I think you can tell that. For me, it has not allowed me to not accomplish [the record]. That is why I feel this way."
This is the second time Ichiro has replaced a Hall of Famer in the Major League record book. The first occurred in 2004, when he accumulated 262 hits, five more than George Sisler had in 1920.
"I was a witness to both," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I was coaching with the Rangers when he broke the [single-season] hit record. That was something. But to break a record that was set in 1901 is even bigger in my book."
Ichiro had to clear more hurdles this season to reach the 200-hit mark.
Unlike his first eight seasons with the Mariners, when he never missed two consecutive games, Ichiro had to overcome physical issues to reach the 200-hit level this season.
A fine nine
|Below is list of the most hits recorded by a player in a nine-year period.|
|* Through Sept. 13|
He missed the first eight games of the regular season because of a bleeding ulcer that put him on the 15-day disabled list. A strained left calf put him on the sidelines for eight more games at the end of August.
But nothing could stand in the way of him reaching the 200-hit mark again -- although almost non-stop rain in the Arlington area the past three days put a temporary delay on his record run.
That forgettable series in Anaheim -- 1-for-14 -- delayed the inevitable a little more.
But the historical 200th hit, which came in the Mariners' 144th game, was the fourth-fastest of the nine. He got there faster in 2004 (126th game), '01 (132st game) and '07 (136th game).
The latest methodical hit journey began on April 15 at Safeco Field. After lining out to Angels shortstop Erick Aybar in the first inning, he singled to center field in the third. Ichiro capped his own "opener" with a grand slam in the seventh inning in the Mariners' 11-3 victory.
He had at least one hit in 11 of the 13 games he played in April and in the only games that he went hitless, he came back the following game with two hits.
It was a sign of things to come.
Ichiro played 29 games in May, had at least one hit in 28 of them and ended the month riding a 24-game hitting streak and 49 hits, just missing his fifth 50-hit month of his career and the first since August 2004.
Ichiro also had at least 50 hits in August '01, as well as May and July '04.
But not even during that '04 season, when Ichiro broke Sisler's 80-year-old single-season hit record, did he maintain the kind of day-in and day-out consistency of this season.
A "slump" for him lasted for one series this season, when he went 1-for-14 against the Angels on the second leg of this three-city road trip. That one hit came in the middle game of the series, so he maintained his feat of not going consecutive games without at least one hit.
The closest he came to a two-game skid was in back-to-back games against the Angels in Anaheim on April 26 and two days later in Chicago in the opener of a doubleheader. Ichiro was 0-for-3 against the Angels before reaching on a bunt single in the eighth inning -- his final at-bat of that game -- and went 0-for-4 against the White Sox.
"He's a special player, he's got so many weapons," Wakamatsu said. "He can use the whole field; he can hit a home run now and then. He's just a special player."
After the game, he received a beer bath in the shower.
Griffey picked up Ichiro, slung him over his shoulder and carried him into the shower.
"What I feared came through," Ichiro said, smiling. "When I got the walk-off hit earlier in the season, they did that to me. It has happened in my career a few times, but not after I got my 2,000th hit, because we lost the game.
"To get enjoy that with the teammates I have now is special. Of course, it is impossible that we are going to have the exact same [players] that are here now back next year. So, to enjoy this with them, especially that guy over there [Griffey], makes me very joyful."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.