Ichiro Suzuki joined the 4,000*-hit club, and the Yankees celebrated with yet another late-inning, feel-good victory.
The rightfielder laced a first-inning single to leftfield for career hit No. 4,000 when combining his major-league statistics with his years in Japan.
The Yankees marked the moment by flooding him at first base, and Alfonso Soriano capped the night with a two-out, two-run homer in the eighth off R.A. Dickey (9-12) to lead the streaking Yankees to a 4-2 win over the Blue Jays Wednesday night.
The Yankees' 10th win in 13 games, which pulled them within four games of a wild-card spot, was made possible by several players, most notably Soriano. He snapped an 0-for-17 stretch by sending a Dickey knuckler into the leftfield seats for his ninth homer in 24 games since rejoining the Yankees.
Soriano said when he came to the plate he thought, "now is the chance to do something impressive," and he did. The homer made a winner out of David Huff (1-0), who allowed one hit in five scoreless innings in relief of spot starter Adam Warren. Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save.
But this night will be remembered for Ichiro, even if baseball purists are sure to have a field day debating the significance of the 39-year-old's milestone and how his hits compare against the likes of Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Those are the only two to compile 4,000 hits in the majors.
But there is no questioning what Ichiro's teammates think of his achievement. Almost immediately after he lined a Dickey knuckler past third baseman Brett Lawrie, the rest of the Yankees players and coaches emerged from the dugout -- some even jumped over the dugout wall -- to get to first base to congratulate him.
Ichiro said he was surprised and even a little embarrassed by his teammates' reaction. The game stopped for a few minutes as the Yankees took turns shaking hands with Ichiro, who took off his helmet and acknowledged the considerable fan ovation at Yankee Stadium with a few graceful bows.
"I was really overwhelmed," Ichiro said through a translator. "The game was stopped for me . . . I kind of felt bad that the game was stopped for me. At first I was trying to stop them from coming."
Midgame interruptions for personal milestones are rare, last seen in the Bronx for moments such as Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit in 2011 and Alex Rodriguez's 600th home run in 2010. That the Yankees orchestrated a brief delay to celebrate Ichiro's hit speaks to the significance of the moment.
Dickey said he didn't mind the delay. "They should take a moment to recognize that achievement," he said. "He certainly deserved a moment."
The single marked the 2,722nd hit of Ichiro's 13-year major-league career, an impressive total on its own considering he was already 27 years old when he joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001. He compiled 1,278 hits with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan.
Ichiro said he has been aware for a while that a combined total of 4,000 was within reach -- "I'm good at math." he said -- but he threw cold water on talk that his 4,000 hits should be considered in the same breath as Rose's 4,256 and Cobb's 4,189.
"Those guys did it in one league," Ichiro said, "so I don't think you could put me in the same category."
That the hit took place in the first inning -- in only Ichiro's second at-bat going for No. 4,000 -- was especially good news to manager Joe Girardi, who had been openly hoping he would get the milestone over with quickly to keep it from becoming a distraction.
"It's incredible, 4,000 hits," Soriano said. "Not too many people can get 4,000 hits."