Ichiro honored for latest milestones

Ichiro honored for latest milestones

SEATTLE -- A two-minute presentation on the big screen in center field at Safeco Field on Tuesday night captured the essence of nine years worth of hits that made Ichiro Suzuki one of a kind.

Only a small portion of the 2,005 hits he has accumulated during the past nine years were shown, but you certainly got the picture of what life has been like around the team since the 35-year-old arrived from Japan prior to the 2001 season.

"We witnessed something that has never been done in the history of baseball," marveled four-time All-Star Mike Sweeney. "That was a special night for all of us, and especially Ichiro. I'm elated for him. We're all elated for him."

And so are the fans.

The Mariners played their first home game since Ichiro became the first player in Major League history to accumulate at least 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons. The hit that got him to 200 occurred in the second inning in Sunday night's game against the Rangers in Arlington -- an infield single.

On behalf of the Mariners organization, club president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik honored Ichiro for reaching two milestones during the just-completed road trip -- his 2,000th career hit in the Major Leagues and reaching the 200-hit plateau for the record ninth straight time, breaking a record Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Keeler had to himself for nearly 108 years.

"It's an awfully special record," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I have been reading a lot of different dialogue from throughout baseball, and if you poll the great players in the game, whether it's Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, all of these guys, if you ask them how special [200 hits for nine years] is, I think you get a greater appreciation.

"It is an unbelievable record. That's why it has taken 108 years to break."

It also was a record that Ichiro apparently wanted to happen sooner rather than later. He could have asked to sit out the second game of Sunday's rain-delayed doubleheader against the Rangers sitting on 199 hits and save the last one for the upcoming homestand.

But he figured the team had a better chance of winning the game if he played, so he played -- and the Mariners won, 5-0, behind ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

"Tonight is going to be a big night for him," Ken Griffey Jr. said before Tuesday night's game. "Fans will be able to show their appreciation for all the hard work he has done."

Griffey was among the dugout greeters when Ichiro came off the field after getting his 200th hit -- a slow grounder to shortstop that he legged out for his 55th infield hit of the season and 453rd of his career.

"Oh, I got on him for that," Griffey smiled. "I congratulated him and gave him a hug. We watched this thing unfold from the beginning of the season and it's very impressive what he's done."

Injured first baseman Russell Branyan was at home, wishing he was in Texas.

"I was watching the game and saying to myself that it really sucks to be sitting here because I'm injured and not being with the team to witness that in person and support him. I was happy for him. It has been a joy watching him on a daily basis," he said.

Branyan said he's amazed Ichiro hasn't gone more than one game this season without at least one hit and doesn't see an end to 200-hit seasons anytime soon.

"I don't see why he can't get 200 hits every year for the next five years," Branyan said. "He's a hitting machine. He expects to get a hit every at-bat and expects three hits every game. He has an uncanny drive to get hit after hit after hit and I think you are going to see this for the next five years. It's like I told Billy Hall when we got him, 'Man, wait to you see this guy rack up 10 hits in a three-game series.'"

Added Sweeney, "What impresses me the most about Ichiro is the way he prepares and gets himself ready to play at a high level every single day."

Ichiro received a standing ovation from the fans at Safeco on Tuesday night, and the Hall of Fame will soon be receiving a still undetermined artifact from the probable future Hall of Famer from Sunday night's game.

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