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Japan's hits king follows Ichiro's pursuit

Japan's hits king follows Ichiro's chase

SEATTLE -- The only two members of Japan's 3,000-hit club were side by side at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon.

Almost 28 years after he retired from baseball as Japan's all-time leader in hits with 3,085, 68-year-old Isao Harimoto traveled to Seattle to watch Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki continue his pursuit of the record.

Ichiro came off the 15-day disabled list prior to Wednesday night's game, went 2-for-5 and tied Harimoto for the record he set while playing for the Toei Flyers, Tokyo Giants and Lotte Orions from 1959 through 1980. Harimoto was inducted into the Japanese Hall of Fame in 1990.

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"As soon as he could do it, I'd be happy," Harimoto said through an interpreter. "People [in Japan] are almost too crazy about this. So if he could do it tonight, I'd be happy."

The former infielder said he predicted 15 years ago that Ichiro would become the all-time record holder for most hits by a Japan-born player.

"At that time, I could tell Ichiro was already really good," he said. "I never thought it would happen in Japan. If you get that many [hits], pitchers are going to walk you. Here, Ichiro could have five hits and they're still going to pitch to him. "In Japan, if you have two hits in the game, they are going to walk you, or worse [throw at the batter]."

The first 1,278 hits of Ichiro's professional career came with the Orix Blue Wave from 1992-2000 -- a .353 career average. He went into Wednesday night's game -- his first of the season -- with 1,805 hits in the Major Leagues.

Harimoto said Ichiro's hit total should be considered a record even though some of them didn't come in Japan.

"Yes, it's a real record," he said.

Their hitting styles were much different.

"He's moving forward and my form was standing kind of back," Harimoto said. "The way Ichiro hits is an advantage for balance."

Harimoto never seriously considered making the move Ichiro did -- from Japan to the Major Leagues. It would have been much more difficult than it is now because there were only 16 teams in the Majors when he played.

But he did get to play against some of the Majors' best players.

 "I played against Willie Mays and Frank Robinson when they came on a tour of Japan," he said. "Willie Mays is the best I've ever seen."

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

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