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07/12/10 6:45 PM ET
Ichiro attacks 10th All-Star Game with vigor
Mariners outfielder hopes event's spark follows him home
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- The "magic number" for Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki always has been "200". He begins every season with that number of hits on his mind and not only reached it in all nine of his Major League seasons with the Mariners but surpassed it, once even getting more than halfway to 300 before the season ended.
That was in 2004, when he set a MLB record for most hits in a single season, finishing with 262, five more than Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler accumulated in 1920.Ichiro is at it again this season, spraying the ball to all fields in all the ballparks he plays in, and adding a plethora of infield hits along the way, defying the fact he is 36 years old now and should be slowing down. Hardly. His 10 consecutive All-Star selections is the longest current streak in the Majors and ties the club record also held by Ken Griffey Jr. (1990-99) and the 13-game hitting streak he carries into the second half is the 35th double-digit hitting streak of his career, ranking second to Derek Jeter (38) as the most since 1952 for active players. As evidenced by the more than 2 million votes he received from baseball fans around the world, the Japanese star remains one of the most popular players in the game and will take his usual place on a field full of All-Stars at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night. He will play right field and lead off for the American League, which has not lost a Midsummer Classic game in which Ichiro has played. Ichiro would like some of that same magic to rub off on the Mariners, who have spent the majority of the season in last place in the AL West despite his numerous hits, throws and catches. He would have been one of two players representing the Mariners at the 81st All-Star Game, but Cliff Lee was traded to the Rangers on Friday and will be wearing the red, white and blue home uniform of his new team. "I was very, very excited when [Lee] joined the Mariners," Ichiro said through his translator on Monday. "When you face different teams, you see a lot of pitchers. When you see Cliff Lee, he's something different. He's a special pitcher. He's the No. 1 guy that I wanted to pitch for the Mariners. That dream came true. He did pitch for the Mariners, but it's sad to say he only pitched three months. This is reality. It is what it is." But why did the Mariners not fare better? Why have they struggled? "I want to ask you," Ichiro said. Ichiro smiled before continuing. "Baseball is a very tough and difficult sport," he said. "You never know what will happen until you actually play the game. There are many factors. There are different aspects. We all have to play to our abilities, but to do that we have to play as a team. Great talent won't make you a good team. It's very difficult. You have to work together. I didn't expect this to happen. It is what it is. It's reality, and we have to deal with it. "Being at the All-Star Game, you want to feel motivated. You want to feel high. When you have to think about the season in this position in Anaheim it's very tough. Because the media, everyone, expected a lot from us in Spring Training. You can't explain it in words. That's how tough it is mentally." The Mariners' dynamic duo definitely earned their selection to the Midsummer Classic and two -- maybe the only two -- bright spots during the first half of the season. But Lee is gone, and Ichiro remains. "Consistency is the first word I think of when I think of Ichi," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He is the one guy you can count on to be the complete player on your team and he has been that for going on 10 years now. He's running well, his stolen bases are up from last year, he's playing every game and playing solid defense. He's just the epitome of an All-Star." Said teammate Mike Sweeney, a five-time All-Star, "Ichiro is not a guy who changes the temperature in the room, nor is he someone who's going to call a team meeting. But in the same breath, he's not a guy who just sits there. He's a steady, strong presence in the room. The way he prepares every day does the talking for him. He has the same routine. Is a master of his craft and obviously is one of the best hitters on the planet. "For him to do what he has done in this game, weighing 168 pounds, is amazing. There is nobody like him."