BY Art Thiel 08:30AM 03/28/2012

Thiel: Ichiro hits all the right notes in Japan

Thrilling his frenzied national following with four hits, Ichiro followed Dustin Ackley in the lineup for the first time. The Mariners’ eight-year-old idea might just start to work.

Dustin Ackley got in early work on his home run trot Wednesday in the Tokyo Dome. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

TOKYO — Now he shows us.

In a game postponed from nine years ago, played 4,800 miles from where he’s hit leadoff for the last 11 years, following up an idea started eight years ago, Ichiro revealed himself to be baseball’s greatest No. 3 hitter.

After a 4-for-5 Opening Day when there were no other Opening Days, who can argue?

As far as hitting the right notes emotionally, the Tokyo Dome evening was high C above high C for him too.

“The four hits in this atmosphere,” he said, “are feelings that will stay with me.”

The frenzy surrounding him on this trip was enough to scare a mama grizzly with cubs. His move from leadoff to the third spot in the lineup was analyzed more than the Cold War. And this week he and his teammates looked terrible in two exhibition losses to Japanese teams. And fergawdsakes, he’s 38 and washing up.

So all he did was manage his distractions into nothing and alter the game against Oakland just by standing there.

In the 11th inning, with Brendan Ryan on third base after a double and sacrifice bunt in  a 1-1 game, baseball logic suggests walking No. 2 hitter Dustin Ackley, who homered earlier, and bringing the infield in to induce No. 3 hitter Ichiro to ground into a double play.

Nope. Maybe some other time. Not on Ichiro Night in Japan.

“He’s a hitting machine,” said Bob Melvin, the A’s manager who was also Ichiro’s manager in Seattle in 2003-04. “No way was I putting the game in Ichiro’s hands then, not with the way he was hitting.”

So he had Ackley pitched to, and he stroked a single that brought home Ryan with a tie-breaking run. After a stolen base, Ichiro brought liftoff to the 44,227 here, mostly to see him, with a liner to center that brought in Ackley for insurance in the 3-1 triumph.

“My approach was to be as close as possible to what the fans were feeling,” he said. “It was very, very exciting.”

Any discerning Mariners fan knows better than to get excited over Opening Day results. They had a five-game winning streak in openers before Wednesday night, and the seasons following four of them were losers. Big losers.

But the takeaway from this little sparkler was that an offensive uptick is more plausible with Ichiro hitting behind Ackley. Yes, it requires leadoff hitter Chone Figgins to return from the dead and for Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero (combined 0-for-9)  to come alive.

But one phenomenon at a time, please. The Mariners have one more real game with Oakland Thursday before returning to spring training to collapse from this trip and pull together other details.

Ironically, the idea of hitting Ichiro third, something he did a lot of in his early days as a pro in Japan, began in the U.S. at Melvin’s encouragement.

Mid-season in 2004, with the offense grown stale, Melvin asked Ichiro to bat third.

“He was great about it,” Melvin said in his office before the game. “I told him I hoped it wasn’t going to last long, but I just wanted to mix things up. I asked him his feelings, and he said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’

“I talked to (then-GM) Pat Gillick about it, and he was for it too. Everyone was supportive. I was uncomfortable because he was arguably the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. I never really thought it would be long-lasting thing. Sometimes a change of scenery is best for everyone.”

It lasted 10 days before Melvin put him back. But no one who has watched the Mariners struggle has forgotten it.

The move is taking place partly out of desperation and partly because second baseman Ackley is pretty good. His fourth-inning homer was the Mariners’ only offense until things came together in the 11th.

Answering a silly question about being baseball’s home run leader, Ackley flashed some humor.

“Yeah, that was the first thing I thought about when I got back to dugout, that I was the major league home run leader,” he said. “Really, for me to even play on baseball’s Opening Day was awesome, and to hit a home run, and do it in Japan . . . it was awesome.”

As he talked, Ackley couldn’t get enough of “awesome.” The A’s, conversely, had entirely too much of Felix Hernandez, who went mid-season on them with a single run on six hits over eight innings and 104 pitches.

“Everything came together for us,” said Hernandez. “We were awesome.”

So many awesomes were flying around that the conversation had to turn back to Ichiro, who is rarely big on superlatives. But now, of course, he has to top 4-for-5 in the second game because . . . well, it’s Japan and he’s Ichiro.

As someone who proved again that he is able to step from the whirlwind to concentrate on the moment, he declined to connect any dots between games.

“I have one more day left here,” he said. “I prefer to take it day to day.”

Maybe he can take to No. 3 for a whole year.


  • Jamo57

    Awesome column, Art!

  • Tian Biao

    Japan, man, I wish i was there. the atmosphere sounds incredible. awesome, even . . . keep us posted, Art!

  • jafabian

    Ichiro gets four hits but only 1 RBI.  No matter where he hits despite the fact he’s the best hitter on the club it doesn’t help if no one’s on base.

  • good article and take on the whole thing. 

  • Will

    Yosemite Sam …heh heh heh, that’s very descriptive.

    As for Lynch … Oh goody, another pro player with the twins buttons of “I’m an Idiot” and “Self-destruct”.

  • zippy

     multi-game suspension for an off-season DUI? — NFL is going way too boyscout– let the beasts play!

  • Bongotodd63

    It could be very well that he was not intoxicated, might have a drink on his breath and that he was just a black man driving in Oakland.  Just saying and I am white. And Thiel your the guy that also praises Lynch when he does well on the field. People make mistakes and stop being the Judge and Jury, DICK…

  • jafabian

    Lynch needs a wake up call.  As Goodell once said, playing in the NFL is not a right but a privilege.   Didn’t like letting Forestt go for the very reasons Art states here:  he was one of the straight arrows of the team of whom I once had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a church.  On a team where ability and accomplishments can sometimes overshadow transgressions the Hawks need to keep some of those types of personalities around to keep things in balance.

  • Kevin

    Robert Turbin better explode on the scene… or else the Hawks are a one-dimensional offense that just turned no-dimensional. 

  • PokeyPuffy

    gosh, didn’t think about suspensions, it really is bad news!  Getting the most out of undervalued, wayward players like Lynch is supposed to be Carroll’s strength….whaat happened?

  • OffTheLows

    There’s no history outside of Donte Stallworth that I’ve seen for players to be suspended for DUI, and his of course included a manslaughter. Raheem Brock had a DUI and a dine and dash incident and never was suspended and there wasn’t even discussion in the media of a potential suspension. Everything I read seems to be fait accompli that before charges, before a court date, before a potential trial (which would likely be in 2013), Lynch will be suspended at least 3 games, even though DUI history throughout the league indicates that even a single game suspension is rare. Reporters and commentators seem to have an agenda to push this belief while completely ignoring past precedent.

  • notaboomer

    cut lynch. raise ticket and beer prices. put all games on premium cable to pay for it. win-win. except for the average fan of course but who cares about us?

  • Matt712

    The facts will exonerate Marshawn. This is what really happened…

    Marshawn had spent the entire day in 90 degree heat with his church group putting a new roof on a homeless shelter which he had funded after his contract extension. And, as you can imagine, he and the rest of the flock had worked up a mighty thirst. So Marshawn dispatched his nephew, who had just turned 21 two days prior, to the local supermarket, giving him money to buy everyone lemonade. As the boy turned to leave, Marshawn told him to hurry, saying, “Hurry up, man! Go hard like I do!”

    Misunderstanding the “Go hard!” reference, the youngster returned with several cases of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Now, neither Marshawn nor the rest of the faithful laborers, being so entrenched in their Christian lifestyles, even knew what Mike’s Hard Lemonade was. But they did know one thing: it was ice cold and had a pretty yellow & black label with a lemon on it ! Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Hard Lemonade on a 90 degree day, but I can tell you, it goes down pretty darned quick and you cannot taste the alcohol. ….Marshawn proceeded to drink a case and a half by himself.

    Believe it or not, this level of consumption barley even phased him. Remember, this is a man who eats a 1 lb. bag of Skittles just to warm up for practice. So, not surprisingly, he thought it was simply a combination of his usual sugar buzz and the sweltering heat that had tampered with his equilibrium. Nevertheless, there was still much work to be done on that roof. But, as Marshawn strapped his tool belt back on and hollered at his fellow parishioners to join him, he noticed that they had all passed out on the shelter’s front lawn.

    Instead of quitting right then and there, Marshawn decided to do what he (long before Greg Jennings) had always done: put the team on his back. Marshawn worked into the night with only the street lights to guide his hammer, re-roofing that homeless shelter  until 2:30 AM. He only stopped every ten minutes or so to hydrate himself with more of that delicious lemonade.

    He then climbed down and loaded his still comatose Christians into the church van and proceeded to drive each of them safely home. After tucking the last one into bed at around 3:30, he finally staggered slowly back to the van and headed home himself. He was so exhausted he could barely keep his eyes open. And that’s when the flashing blue lights appeared in his rear view mirror.

    So, you see, it was all just a big misunderstanding. The real tragedy here is that, some in Oakland =, there’s a homeless shelter with a really poorly built roof.

  • Steven

    Saw this posted on the Field Gulls blog:

    Apparently a suspension for a substance abuse violation might void the guaranteed portion of Marshawn’s contract. If true, that may soften the blow to the Seahawks, and would ratchet up the pressure on Marshawn to earn his contract if he wants to continue getting paid.

  • Will

    Hope Yosemite Sam is too busy screwing the New Orleans Saints to notice what Lynch has done.

  • RadioGuy

    Just what I was thinking, except I don’t think McIntosh was considered a first round reach like Carpenter was.  Thank God for players like Giacomini and McQuistan.

    • Artthiel

       When I first saw McIntosh, I thought, this guy can’t do the job — he didn’t have the shoulders to be an OL. Shoulder aren’t the only thing, but they are kind of a minimum thing. He didn’t have the minimum

  • Artthiel

     Steve Niehaus? That goes back a ways. The knee injury is random, the slow recovery a little less so.