SEATTLE (AP) - Ichiro Suzuki set the hits record for Japanese players Thursday night with a characteristically sharp single in the fourth inning of the Seattle Mariners’ game against the Los Angeles Angels.
The eight-time All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder hit a one-hop smash into right field off Joe Saunders for his 3,086th hit. Japanese star Isao Harimoto smiled and flashed a thumbs-up sign from the box seats as his record fell. Ichiro tipped his batting helmet to the cheering home crowd.
The ball Suzuki hit was thrown out of play for souvenir keeping. Suzuki then came around to score the game’s first run on a ground out by Adrian Beltre.
After the inning ended, Harimoto stood and bowed from behind the Mariners’ dugout to acknowledge a standing ovation from Seattle’s fans.
Suzuki had 1,278 hits in nine seasons with Orix of the Pacific League. He has 1,808 in nine seasons with Seattle.
Showing how big a deal Suzuki breaking the record is in Japan, a television network there flew the 68-year-old Harimoto to Seattle so he could see the 35-year-old superstar do it.
“For Mr. Harimoto to make the trip all the way here from Japan for the game, it’s probably the first and last time. That has special meaning to me,” Suzuki said through his interpreter, after he tied the record with two hits in the surprising Mariners’ rout of the Angels on Wednesday night.
Thursday’s game was broadcast live back to Japan, in the late morning there.
Suzuki, 35, had been on the disabled list for the first time in his career because of a bleeding ulcer until Wednesday. Then he tied Harimoto’s record in theatrical, dramatic fashion, with his first grand slam in six years.
“That’s pretty much Ichiro _ the greatest of Ichiro,” the 68-year-old Harimoto said through an interpreter about a half hour after the slam.
Last year, the 2001 AL rookie of the year and MVP joined Hall of Famer Willie Keeler (1894-1901) as the only major leaguers to record 200 hits in eight consecutive seasons. When he tied Boston’s Dustin Pedroia for the major league lead with 213 hits in 2008, Suzuki became the first player to lead the majors in hits (either outright or tied) in three consecutive seasons.