Ichiro traded to the Yankees, who beat Mariners to end skid
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SEATTLE -- The night's prevailing question -- how much does Ichiro have left -- wasn't going to be answered in his first game with the Yankees.
But his debut in pinstripes, a 4-1 Yankees' victory over the Mariners, contained more positive signs than negative.
A Safeco Field crowd of 29,911 that cheered Ichiro in his previous 11 ½ seasons did so at every turn Monday night.
Ichiro finished 1-for-4, but he singled in his first at-bat and stole second. Though he admitted to feeling "nervous" about donning something other than a Mariners uniform, he hit three balls hard, including a smoked line-drive out to second in his final at-bat in the ninth.
"It became a special day for me because of the fans' standing ovations," said Ichiro, who started in right and hit eighth. "Definitely a special day for me."
Joe Girardi said before the game his plans were for Ichiro to play primarily in left -- though he could get more time in right as Girardi said after the game that Nick Swisher may not be back by Friday -- and stay at the bottom of the order as his lineup at the top is relatively set.
But whether it's in an uncommon position, leftfield, or batting order spot, Ichiro is fine with it.
"I came over here wanting to be a help and help this team win," he said through his translator. "Whatever order that is, wherever that position might be, I'm here to just help."
The game, though an afterthought for many, wasn't insignificant as the Yankees (58-38) snapped a four-game losing streak and pushed their lead over Baltimore in the East back to seven games.
And another former Japanese star who made good in the United States, Hiroki Kuroda, was clearly the star of the night. Kuroda, 6-1 with a 2.61 ERA in his last 10 starts, was as good as he's been all season against the offensively challenged Mariners, who came into the night hitting .196 at home this season.
"He's been really, really good for us," Girardi said of Kuroda (10-7, 3.34), who allowed a run and three hits in seven innings, walking one and striking out nine, his second-highest total of the season. "I thought in the month of April he was putting too much pressure on himself, and he's seemed to settle down. Consistent, distance, quality innings, just really good."
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth, though there was an anxious moment for the Yankees as their training staff came out to look at him after he landed awkwardly before striking out Dustin Ackley for the inning's final out.
"Just landed funny," Robertson said. "I was fine."
Rafael Soriano, who blew a save Sunday in Oakland as the A's completed their four-game sweep, pitched a perfect ninth.
Ichiro, acquired earlier in the day for two minor league pitchers, received a standing ovation from the fans there when he took his position in the bottom of the first. He doffed his cap in reply.
The entire stadium stood and cheered when he came up with one out in the third. Before Kevin Millwood (three runs and nine hits in seven innings) delivered his first pitch of the at-bat, Ichiro took off his batting helmet and bowed in each direction.
All of that done, the likely Hall of Famer did what he had done 2,533 previous times in his career. After taking a called strike, he got a hit, this one a line drive back up the middle that was met with more cheers. He stole second, his 16th steal of the season, but didn't score as Russell Martin and Derek Jeter grounded out.
The Mariners gave Millwood the lead in the third when John Jaso singled in Dustin Ackley.
But the Yankees came back with a three-run fourth, with Alex Rodriguez, who hit his 15th homer of the season in the eighth, starting the rally with a one-out double off the top of the wall in right-center. After Robinson Cano walked, Mark Teixeira (3-for-4) drove in one with a double and Raul Ibañez and Andruw Jones each contributed RBI singles, making it 3-1. After Jaso's RBI single, Kuroda retired eight straight, with Jaso breaking the streak with a one-out single in the sixth.
Kuroda promptly ended the inning by inducing Jesus Montero, who went 0-for-4, to ground into a 1-4-3 double play.
But the predominant focus of the night, both before and during the game, was Ichiro.
The outfielder became a city institution, developing into one of the biggest sports stars in its history after coming over from Japan and winning both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP in 2001. He requested a trade three weeks ago and though he said he was taking his Mariners uniform off in "sadness," he was happy to head north in the standings.
"I'm going from a team that has the most losses to a team that has the most wins," he said. "It's been hard to contain my excitement in that regard."
There was excitement in his new clubhouse as well.
"Ichiro's a rock star," said Rodriguez, who improved to 8-for-21 on this trip. "He loves the bright lights, we have plenty of those in New York. I think he's going to love New York and I think New Yorkers are going to love him. It's a shot in the arm for him and a huge shot in the arm for us. Overall I think it's an awesome move by our front office. That's one of the great perks of playing for this organization."