07/24/12 3:00 AM ET
Ichiro switches clubhouses after surprising deal
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
Instead, the longtime Seattle icon was greeted by cheers from Mariners fans while adorned in his new Yankees road gray -- and the No. 31 instead of his familiar 51 -- shortly after his stunning trade was announced.
And that was just the start of one of the stranger nights in Mariners history, with the longtime face of the franchise suddenly facing the very team he'd played for in all of his previous 1,844 Major League games.
"It's definitely different any time a guy gets traded after being on a team for a long time," said Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley. "Same thing with Albert Pujols in the offseason when he got traded to the Angels. It's different seeing guys on different teams.
"He won't be the last guy to be a big trade and a surprise like that, so you've just got to go back to your business."
But when Ichiro stepped into the batter's box for his first at-bat in the third inning, the Safeco crowd rose and cheered to the point where the 10-time All-Star felt compelled to step out, doff his cap and bow deeply to the fans.
Then he promptly singled up the middle. Of course he did. And then stole second. What else?
Ichiro wound up going 1-for-4 in his Yankees debut as New York won 4-1. The question for Ichiro and the Yankees will be whether at age 38 he can sustain the youthful zest he summoned for that first at-bat and stolen base.
Ichiro always played well on the big stage earlier in his career, but hasn't seen much of the spotlight in recent years. He's shown flashes of his former self at times this season, but for the most part has looked like a player who has lost a step or two while his batting average and on-base percentage dropped to career lows of .261 and .288.
There was fire in Ichiro's eyes as he tried to throw out Ackley at home in the third inning, but Ackley went in standing up. Ichiro is still a good outfielder, but not the 10-time Gold Glove winner of his prime.
He overthrew the cutoff man on the play where Tampa Bay scored its winning run in the 14th inning on Friday, then committed his first error of the season on a forced throw Saturday that allowed another Rays run in a 2-1 victory for Seattle.
He'll be less of the focus in New York, where the Yankees immediately put him eighth in the order Monday. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said he expects Ichiro to be re-energized by being thrust into the heat of a pennant race.
"It's certainly a different surrounding cast, which should help him as well," Zduriencik said. "There won't be as much pressure on him. He has a bunch of All-Stars and Hall of Famers there and it's very nice and unique for him."
The uniqueness of the trade itself was multiplied by the fact the two teams opened a three-game series against each other Monday night. Zduriencik said the timing was purely coincidental.
"The biggest consideration was to honor Ichiro's request. That was No. 1," Zduriencik said. "The fact it happened like it happened, it was more just circumstance and coincidence. On one side it'll be really interesting for our fans to see him take the field in another uniform. That is going to be very, very interesting scenario.
"There'll be a lot of fans who come out and pay tribute to him, which he deserves. To play three games here in another uniform, that's a very unique and I'm looking forward to it on one sense. The other sense, the emotional side is tied to it. Very unique."
Zduriencik said no thought was given to waiting until after this three-game series to complete the deal.
"When you have a player that asks for a request and you have a chance to have the deal done, you just have to move forward and do the deal," he said. "I don't think you can sit on it because a lot can happen on both ends. So the right thing to do, when you have a deal in place and you've agreed to meet his request, then you just do it." Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the timing of the deal provided a golden opportunity for the fans.
"It's kind of strange," Girardi said. "A lot of times, clubs wait. But I think it gives their fans a chance to say thank you and for him to say thank you. I think it's nice."
Ichiro will not wear No. 51 for the Yankees, as no player has worn that number for them since Bernie Williams retired in 2006.
"Of course No. 51 is a special number to me, but when I think about what 51 means to the Yankees, it's hard for me to ask for that number," Ichiro said through interpreter Ken Barron. "I'd like to have a new number and then make that my own."