With a eighth-inning infield single on Wednesday night that boosted him to the 200-hit plateau for the eighth consecutive season, Ichiro equaled a Keeler record in Major League Baseball that had stood alone for 107 years. Keeler had 200 or more hits from 1894 through 1901.
Ichiro's feat came on a night when the Royals came back late for a 5-2 victory over the reeling Mariners. But that didn't take away the luster of Ichiro's accomplishment. Keeler's famous quote was "Hit 'em where they ain't." That's what Ichiro did on a 3-for-3 night with a smash inside first for a double, a bloop to left for a single and the slow roller to shortstop in the eighth that showcased his speed getting down the first-base line.
"Thanks to something like this, I have the opportunity to be associated with him and cross paths with [Keeler]," Ichiro said through interpreter Ken Barron. "That's something that makes me very happy."
A large group of Japanese media members was following Ichiro's pursuit of hit No. 200 in Kansas City. He had one hit apiece in the opening two games of the series before getting two hits off former teammate Gil Meche and one off left-hander Ron Mahay in Wednesday's game. Ichiro also set an American League record by moving past Wade Boggs, who had seven consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits.
Asked where he would rank the eight consecutive 200-hit seasons on his long list of hitting accomplishments, Ichiro replied: "Must I rank?"
Ichiro talked of having a similar feeling of personal satisfaction when he established the all-time Major League single-season record with 262 hits in 2004, surpassing George Sisler's 257 hits.
"On an individual basis, it was the biggest thing for me this season," Ichiro said.
Given the way Ichiro prepares and takes care of his body, he would appear to have a great chance to break Keeler's mark in 2009. Ichiro will turn 35 on Oct. 22.
"He has that year-round preparation to play," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "The really great ones, without ever saying it, have a realization that it's all going to be over some day. They are going to look back and say they did everything they could to get everything from their ability."
The only thing that would have made Ichiro's night more enjoyable would have been a Mariners victory. But with Seattle leading, 2-1, in the seventh, an error by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on a potential double play ball opened the door for the Royals to score three. A two-run single by former Mariner Jose Guillen off reliever Miguel Batista snapped a game tied at 2.
Jose Lopez's two-run single in the first proved to be all the offense that Seattle could muster while falling to 0-7 on the road trip.
Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith allowed just three hits and one run through six innings. But when it took a spectacular play by Betancourt on Mark Teahen's smash up the middle to preserve a 2-1 lead after six, Riggleman went to his bullpen for the seventh.
Roy Corcoran couldn't work around Betancourt's error in the seventh and the game ultimately slipped away.
"It's frustrating for [Rowland-Smith] to not come away with the win, it's frustrating for myself, who makes the decision to go to the bullpen, and it's frustrating for the bullpen, which didn't get the outs," Riggleman said.
Still, there was Ichiro to provide something positive to discuss in the Mariners' clubhouse.
Ichiro now has 1,792 career hits in just eight MLB seasons.
"It's pretty amazing," Rowland-Smith said. "You face guys who hit .310 or .315 and you look up and they still haven't gotten 200 hits."
Riggelman noted that after the 2007 season, Ichiro took only five or six days off and then began his workouts for the following year. It's that type of work ethic, Riggelman said, that enables Ichiro to play through the grind of a 162-game season and put himself in position for 200 hits each year.
"I believe he can keep doing that for the next two or three years," Guillen said.
Another year, another 200-hit season. Like Keeler long ago, Ichiro just keeps hitting balls in places where there are no fielders.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less