Ichiro Suzuki joins 3,000-hit club

Ichiro Suzuki. Kyodo News photo

Ichiro Suzuki. Kyodo News photo

DENVER, Colo. — Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki tripled on Aug. 7 and reached 3,000 career hits in the major leagues.

The hit in the finale of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies tied Suzuki for 29th on the majors’ all-time hit list with Roberto Clemente.

“The moment I did it, my teammates and fans congratulated me. To me the fact that I can make people happy through what I do is more important than getting 3,000 hits. I always knew that but it was reconfirmed today,” said Suzuki. “After I got the 3,000th hit, I thought of Mr. Ogi who helped make this happen. Without his decision I wouldn’t be here today,” he said of his mentor and former Orix BlueWave manager Akira Ogi, who passed away in 2005.

With the Marlins up 8-6 in the seventh inning, Suzuki, who was named to the starting lineup for the first time in eight games, connected for a one-out triple off lefty Chris Rusin and drove a sharp fly ball into the right field wall at Coors Field.

After a short delay caused by his teammates coming off the bench to congratulate him with hugs, high fives and pats on the back, Suzuki tipped his helmet to the roaring crowd of 40,875, then came around to score on a Jeff Mathis single in the Marlins’ 10-7 victory over the Rockies. In his other at-bats, he struck out once, grounded out twice and drew a walk.

After the game, the storage-turned-press conference room in the visitors’ club house was packed with local and international media.

When asked how he feels after finally accomplishing the feat,  Suzuki said he felt like he has “aged as quickly as a dog” this past week, having been limited to pinch-hit appearances on many occasions and needing 16 games after marking his 2,996th hit on July 21.

“There were times I didn’t want to see anyone. I tried to ignore my emotions while playing, but it wasn’t so easy and there were tough times,” he said. “I am human after all. If you cut me I bleed red, not green. Of course damage was done when I couldn’t produce results as a pinch hitter.”

But now that the burden is lifted from his shoulders, Suzuki smiled and said he will not bury all his frustration but try to express more of his emotions when necessary.

Of the 30 players in the 3,000-hit club, Suzuki, who already had 1,278 hits in Nippon Professional Baseball before he moved to the majors, is the oldest to have started his big league career, having done so as a 27-year-old. Suzuki beat Rickey Henderson’s record of 42 years and 286 days by four days to become the oldest player to collect 3,000 hits since the era of modern baseball started in 1900.

With 507 stolen bases, he also became the seventh player in the major leagues with a career 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases.
Suzuki moved from the Orix BlueWave of NPB’s Pacific League to the Seattle Mariners after the 2000 season via the posting system. In his first season, he was named the American League’s MVP and rookie of the year.

In 2004, Suzuki hit a career-high .372 to win his second AL batting title. His 262 hits that year broke Major League Baseball’s 84-year-old single-season hit record. He was traded to the New York Yankees during the 2012 season, and spent 2-1/2 seasons in the Bronx.

In 2015, Suzuki signed as a free agent with the Marlins, who planned to use him as a fourth outfielder. Although he received much more playing time than expected in his National League debut season, Suzuki batted a career-low .229.

But this year, Suzuki has flourished in the role as the oldest active outfielder, drawing walks nearly three times as often as he had in his career through 2014, while his on-base percentage is the highest of any Marlins position player.

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