As he stepped into the batter's box for his fifth at-bat at Yankee Stadium Tuesday afternoon, Ichiro Suzuki was showered with applause, which was immediately followed by his name being chanted.
Ichiro subsequently grounded out to first base. But he finished 2-for-5 with two runs scored in the Yankees' 8-4 win over the Blue Jays in the first game of a split doubleheader. He singled and doubled yesterday and is now one hit shy of 4,000 in his career, combining his statistics from Japan and Major League Baseball.
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"In that last at-bat, the fans really let me know that they actually knew about it and that they were cheering me on, which was special," Ichiro said through his interpreter.
Ichiro, who entered the nightcap as a pinch runner and scored the winning run, had 1,278 hits in the Japanese Pacific League, where he played from 1992-2000, and now has 2,721 in MLB.
The only players to achieve 4,000 hits are Ty Cobb (4,189) and hit king Pete Rose (4,256). Though Suzuki won't be credited officially with having joined the 4,000-hit club, his manager acknowledged the difficulty of accomplishing the milestone nonetheless.
"I didn't have 4,000 hits in my whole career going back to T-ball," Joe Girardi said. "To me, it's an unbelievable feat and he's some kind of hitter."
Ichiro, a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove Award winner who was the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 2001, said he has not made it a goal to surpass Rose's mark.
"The 4,000th hit is just as important as any other number for me," the outfielder said. "I'm trying to get a hit every time and I'm excited to get up to do that."
Ichiro, 39, knows the real feat for him would be to reach 3,000 big-league hits.
"I think that is a goal that is easier to make," Ichiro said. "Nobody will say anything about 3,000 hits. There'd be no debating then from fans and media. Not that I've heard anything, but I think it's kind of natural to have people react that way."