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03/23/10 8:24 PM ET

Ichiro's 'unbelievable' grab recalls Mays

Mariners right fielder turns back to infield to rob Mathis

PEORIA, Ariz. -- At the crack of the bat, Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki turned around and sprinted toward the wire fence separating the playing field from the visiting bullpen.

The number "51" was visible for several seconds as Ichiro hustled after the towering fly ball hit by Angels catcher Jeff Mathis in the second inning of Tuesday's Cactus League game at Peoria Stadium.

Finally, just as the ball was about to sail over his head, Ichiro, with his back still to the infield, jumped, snagged the ball, lost his footing and skidded on the warning track and into the wall.

He emerged from a cloud of dust, took the ball out of his glove and threw it back into the infield.

It was only a Spring Training game, but a player known for seldom leaving his feet to catch a ball turned in one of the greatest plays of his nine-time Gold Glove career with Seattle.

"I've never caught a ball like that before, so it will stay in my memory," Ichiro said after the Mariners' 6-4 win. "If you look at the angle, usually it's from the right or the left. But that was straight from the top. That was a tough play and was one of my impressive catches.

"You [must] have the imagery to go straight to the ball and not go around it. Once you go around from the left or the right you don't get to that ball. When you first see it, you imagine where the ball will land. So you go straight to that point where the ball will drop and then you will see it from up top."

It was an a-Mays-ing catch all right, reminiscent of the great grab Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series to rob the Indians' Vic Wertz of an extra-base hit.

"How many Gold Gloves has [Ichiro] won? That's why," said Angels reliever Scot Shields, who was in the bullpen and had a bird's-eye view of the play. "It reminded me of Mays' great catch, and Jim Edmonds' catch. [Ichiro] had both arms extended and was going down when he was catching it. When it's straight over your head like that, it's tough. You think it might hit you in the head. That is tough to do.

"I think he was on the track when he caught it. I gave a little clap. You have to appreciate catches like that in Spring Training. During the season, it's different. You're saying, `Drop it.'"

Just about everybody was saying, "How did he do that?" on Tuesday.

"There is the over-[the-shoulder] catch, and now there's the jump-dive-over [the head] catch," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It was unbelievable. I have never seen him make a catch like that on a ball over his head."

The view was even better from the visiting first-base dugout.

"That was incredible," Angels skipper Mike Scioscia said. "Naturally, he's an incredible athlete and outfielder. That catch, that's as good as it gets."

Ichiro said he saw the ball leave Mathis' bat and simply turned and ran to a spot where the ball might come down. He didn't see the ball again until "it actually passed my head."

So he jumped, snagged the ball and instinctively slid feet-first to avoid a head-on collision with the wall.

"You can't think because it's happening in a second," he said. "You let your body guide you to the result."

The catch didn't really surprise Mariners second baseman Chone Figgins.

"The thing about it is he works on that during batting practice," the former Angels star said. "To see it in a game is neat to see, but a play like that is like second nature to him."

Ichiro will often catch a line drive with his glove behind his back.

"He has GPS," Wakamatsu said.

Asked what the hardest part in making a catch like that, Wak said, "I wouldn't know."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. Lyle Spencer contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.