SEATTLE (AP) - Ichiro Suzuki tied the record for most career hits by a Japanese player with his first grand slam in six years Wednesday night, his second hit of his season debut following his first career trip to the disabled list.
Suzuki golfed a full-count pitch from Los Angeles’ Angels reliever Jason Bulger four rows into the right field bleachers in the bottom of the seventh for his first slam since July 18, 2003. Suzuki knew the 74th home run of his nine-year major league career was gone immediately. He dropped his bat and just watched _ along with some fans back in Japan _ before breaking into a proud trot.
It gave the Mariners an 11-3 lead _ and more thrills to a crowd of 18,516 that was already buzzing from Ken Griffey Jr.’s 613th career home run three innings earlier.
Ichiro, an eight-time All Star and eight-time Gold Glove outfielder, tied Isao Harimoto’s Japanese record with hit No. 3,085.
The record is a big deal in Japan, so big a television network there flew Harimoto to Seattle so he could attend Wednesday’s game.
Suzuki had 1,278 hits in nine seasons with Orix of the Japanese Pacific League and has 1,807 in eight with the Mariners. Harimoto played 23 seasons with the Toei Flyers (who later became the Nippon Ham Fighters), Yomiuri and Lotte.
Suzuki, 35, went on the 15-day DL after he was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer that caused him to miss the final days of spring training. The ulcer had stopped bleeding by the time Suzuki was diagnosed, but severe fatigue forced the move to give Suzuki rest, against his wishes.
Seattle was off to a 6-2 start without him and had won five in a row entering Wednesday.
To make room for Suzuki, Seattle placed left-handed starter Ryan Rowland-Smith on the 15-day DL with triceps tendinitis, retroactive to April 11. The frustrated Rowland-Smith said he stopped having full range of motion in his throwing arm Monday.
He was scheduled to start Thursday against the Angels, but right-hander Chris Jakubauskas, a 29-year-old native of Anaheim, Calif., will get a promotion from Seattle’s bullpen to make his first career start instead.
There are debates in Japan whether Suzuki owns the “true” Japanese record for hits because more than half his total is while playing in the United Sates, but Harimoto said previously he would believe Suzuki owns the true record.
“He said he told me 15 years ago he would probably break my record,” Harimoto said through interpreter Takanao Ishii, while watching Suzuki take batting practice Wednesday afternoon.
“Ichiro remembers that. I don’t remember that,” he joked.
Harimoto played against Willie Mays during an offseason tour of Japan by major league players half a century ago, calling Mays the greatest player he ever saw. He said there is a big reason Suzuki reached his hits record in six fewer seasons than Harimoto took to set it: he noted major league pitchers still pitch to Suzuki “even on a day he gets five hits.”
Harimoto said once he got two hits in a game, Japanese pitchers walked him _ or threw at his head.
Jakubauskas, a non-roster surprise from spring training, was at Double-A West Tennessee this time last year, taking 13-hour bus rides for road games. He began his professional career earning $700 a month pitching for Florence, Ky., of the Frontier League and spent four seasons in the Independent Leagues.
One was for the Ohio Valley Redcoats. They didn’t have a home stadium in 2005, so they played 90-plus games on the road.
He supplemented his meager Independent League salaries in winters by laying concrete, processing home loans for a bank _ and selling women’s shoes at a Nordstrom’s department store in Montclair, Calif.
“It was pretty lucrative, but obviously it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term,” he said.