BY John Hickey 07:24PM 04/02/2011

M’s win, Ichiro becomes franchise hits leader

Infield single in the ninth inning breaks mark, sparks 5-2 win over A’s.

Ichiro became the Mariners all-time hits leader, surpassing Edgar Martinez / Getty Images

OAKLAND – It was a tough day for Edgar Martinez. But it was a pretty good day for one of Martinez’s biggest fans, Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro had two hits, including a game-winning infield single in the ninth inning that proved to be the catalyst in Seattle’s 5-2 win over Oakland. With that game-winner, the Mariners’ longtime right fielder moved past longtime Mariner DH Martinez to take over as Seattle’s all-time leader in base hits with 2,248.

A couple of hours earlier, Martinez had lost his record as Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in RBIs by a DH when David Ortiz of the Red Sox drove in three runs to get to 1,004, one more than Martinez.

Martinez will have to be happy that his records were eclipsed by a couple of players for whom he has great respect. And Ichiro offers that respect back, with interest.

“I took his record; you look at the numbers and that’s a fact,’’ Ichiro said shortly after Saturday’s win. “But he’s a hero in Seattle. He’s my hero, also.

“I played with Edgar for years, and that is a treasure for me. That’s what I remember.’’

Ichiro had two infield hits, including one that brought home the game-winner in Seattle’s 5-2 win over Oakland Saturday. Neither went much more than 90 feet, but neither was defensible by the A’s as Ichiro helped Seattle go to 2-0 to start the season, the first time the Mariners have been two games over .500 since sitting at 9-7 two weeks into the 2010 season.

“It’s a great accomplishment by a great player,’’ Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “And first of all, it helps us win the game.’’

Seattle needed the help. The A’s had tied the game against Seattle reliever Chris Ray with an odd run in the bottom of the eighth only to see Jack Wilson work over new Oakland closer Brian Fuentes for a long at-bat that resulted in a leadoff single.

“I’ve faced Fuentes for years when he was with Colorado,’’ Wilson said. “I just wanted to make him work, and it paid off.’’

A bunt by Michael Saunders got Wilson to second and a single by pinch-hitter Miguel Olivo put runners at the corners. Ichiro followed with a chopper toward the hole between first and second. First baseman Daric Barton fielded the ball, had no play at first base and had no interest in going there anyway, not with Wilson representing the go-ahead run.

“I wasn’t thinking about if I was going to make it to first base,’’ Ichiro said. “I was thinking about if (Wilson) was going to score. We needed that run.’’

The Mariners got it. Barton’s throw was wild, pulling catcher Kurt Suzuki toward the first base dugout. Wilson scored and Olivo made it to third.

“I was going on contact,’’ Wilson said. “As soon as Ichiro drew his bat back, I was going. You know he’s going to make contact, put the ball on the ground somewhere.’’

A wild pitch from Fuentes made it 4-2. And after Ichiro stole third, Chone Figgins brought him home with a sacrifice fly.

For Seattle, which rode the steady, precise offerings of left-handed starter Jason Vargas for most of the first seven innings, the win moved the Mariners to 2-0, two games over .500 since being 9-7 two weeks into the 2010 season.

“That’s the kind of offense we showed all spring,’’ said Vargas, who was victimized as much as anyone last year by a Seattle offense that was stuck in the mud most of the season.

“There’s a difference in this team and the way it wants to go about winning. There’s an intensity throughout the entire team. And we don’t give up. We didn’t even in spring training.’’

The Mariners, who had lost to the A’s the last five times they’d faced them in 2010, have a chance to sweep the season-opening series Sunday afternoon with Doug Fister throwing for Seattle against lefty Gio Gonzalez, a 15-game winner for the A’s a year ago.

SHOULD THEY OR SHOULDN’T THEY? Should a team pitch to the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki with first base open and a man on second base?

History says that most American League managers choose not to. In the 2010 season, he was walked intentionally 13 times. In the decade he’s been in the big leagues, the Seattle right fielder has been given 155 free passes.

During those 10 years, only four big league hitters have been intentionally walked more than that, and all of them – Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez – rank among the best home run and RBI producers the game has known this century.

No matter. Oakland manager Bob Geren decided to attack Ichiro in just that situation in Friday’s season opener.

On the first pitch from lefty reliever Craig Breslow, Ichiro faked a bunt. On the second, with the infield now drawn in a step, Ichiro slapped a single to left for a run that tied the game at 2. The Mariners were up 3-2 by inning’s end, and Seattle went on to a 6-2 win.

Felix Hernandez, who went nine innings for the win, is the defending Cy Young Award winner. Would he have pitched to Ichiro in that situation?

“If I had to face him in that situation,’’ Hernandez said, “I don’t know what I would do. I don’t like to walk guys, but maybe you have to there. It was a big hit for us.’’

“I didn’t expect them to walk me,’’ Ichiro said afterward.

Maybe he should have. He is one of the few proven bats in the Seattle lineup, and managers have made a habit of staying away from him. Friday’s performance underscored the common sense behind such a decision.

For Wedge, it wasn’t a consideration he had to make. But the at-bat had charms for Wedge, too. He particularly liked Ichiro’s decision to fake a bunt on Breslow’s first pitch, opening up the infield.

“Some of what Ichiro does is for show, some of it for purpose,’’ Wedge said. “That’s part of his game. He got the infield in, then shot one through for the RBI. I’m not going to question what he does.’’

NOTES: With his no-decision Saturday, Vargas is 0-7 in his last nine starts. … First baseman Justin Smoak had a single and has a hitting streak dating back to last season of 12 games. … Center fielder Michael Saunders and catcher Adam Moore had their first starts of the year. When making his lineup, Wedge moved shortstop Brendan Ryan to the No. 6 slot. Catcher Miguel Olivo had the night off. Along with the Ryan move from eighth, second baseman Jack Wilson went from ninth to seventh behind Ryan. “I like the way they work off each other,’’ Wedge explained. “We’ll probably keep them together.’’ … Wedge is just being careful with Olivo, who missed most the Cactus League with a groin injury. “With Olivo, we’re not going to push him early,’’ Wedge said. “If he plays the day game (Sunday), that gives him more time to be ready for the night game Monday (in Texas).’’ … Olivo apparently didn’t feel any ill effects from his home plate collision with Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki. And neither did Suzuki, who was in the lineup Saturday after being lifted from the game early Friday.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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