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Ichiro Suzuki now more important than ever to the Yankees

Ichiro Suzuki #31 of the New York Yankees

Ichiro Suzuki #31 of the New York Yankees follows through on his ninth inning two run home run against the Detroit Tigers during game one of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, October 13 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Okay, it's mea culpa time.

When the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners, most Yankees fans—and members of the media—either swooned over the move or thought it was a worthwhile low-risk, high-reward gamble. I thought it was uninspired and, ultimately, not a big upgrade from what the Yankees already had.

Consider that, at the time, Ichiro had hit .261 with a .288 on-base percentage for Seattle, Andruw Jones had given the Yankees 11 first-half home runs and Dewayne Wise had been providing the Yankees with Ichiro-like production (.262 average, .286 OBP).

Ichiro's first month in New York was certainly more productive than his 2012 tenure with the Mariners (.297 average), but he still had a cringe-worthy OBP of .319. Low-risk, medium-reward looked like the ultimate payoff.

Then September happened. Ichiro hit .362 during the final month of the season, becoming one of the hottest hitters on the team, and a clutch hitter at that. Add to this that Jones had long ago become an automatic out and suddenly the trade was truly swoon-worthy. Mea culpa indeed.

But as important as Ichiro was to the Yankees' stretch-run, which helped them maintain a lead on the pesky Baltimore Orioles and secure the best record in the American League, he's even more important to the Yankees right now.

For one thing, he's one of the few Yankees who have hit this postseason. Overall, he's 9-for-33 (.272) with two doubles, five RBIs and three runs. He's 4-for-10 in the ALCS against the Tigers.

But while Ichiro can certainly make an impact with how he hits, right now it's more about where he hits.

When the Yankees traded for Ichiro it was with the idea that the former All-Star, MVP and Rookie of the Year would hit near the bottom of the lineup. Ichiro's strong play (and Curtis Granderson's anemic bat) elevated him to the No. 2 hole.

Then Derek Jeter broke his left ankle diving for a ball on Saturday night and the Yankees suddenly—and vitally—required a spark-plug lead off man.

From a famous spare-part, Ichiro has become a piece of immense significance to the Yankees. He has the spotlight on him once again.

It's not as if the leadoff spot is foreign to Ichiro. He's batted first 1,755 times in his career -- far and away the most of any position in the lineup -- and he's hit .324. This season he started 35 games in the leadoff spot and batted just .255. He was 0-for-4 during Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS.

But Ichiro has been proving the doubters wrong since he came to the Yankees. He's been proving -- like his fellow 38-year-old Jeter -- that talent can triumph over age, even if just for a little while.

Now it's time to make those 'mea culpas' ring even louder. It's time to prove just who Ichiro is once again.

New York Sports