Even after averaging more than 200 hits in his 12 previous major-league seasons, 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki still has the capacity to surprise and delight his teammates. His wizardry with the bat was woven throughout the Yankees' 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
In the second inning, Suzuki showed he still has the speed to beat out an infield hit and came around to score for a 2-0 lead. He led off the bottom of the sixth by lining an 88-mph fastball from Hyun-Jin Ryu into the rightfield bleachers.
After the Dodgers cut their deficit to one run in the seventh, the lefthanded Suzuki delivered a softly flared single into short leftfield near the foul line with the bases loaded to drive in two runs for a 6-2 lead. It was as pretty a piece of professional hitting as you could ever see.
"To be honest, I just closed my eyes and swung,'' Suzuki said with an impish grin to his interpreter after the game. Told how clever it looked, he playfully replied, "You've probably seen me in the past, but today, I was just going up there and hitting it. Maybe I'm fooling you guys, and you think I can hit.''
Of course, the only one Suzuki is fooling is Father Time. With the Yankees' unending litany of injuries, he lately has revived memories of younger days in Seattle and his long hot streaks. His three-hit game was his fourth multi-hit game in the previous six, and he entered Wednesday night's game batting .455 in that stretch. He went 0-for-3 in the Yankees' 6-0 loss, dropping his average to .270.
"When guys go down and you start losing games, there might be a little more pressure put on me,'' Suzuki said, "but at the same time, it's an opportunity for players to step up and carry this team.''
Suzuki's homer was his third of the season and ended a streak of 115 at-bats without one. With the bases loaded in the seventh, Suzuki was comfortable in the clutch. His hit raised his career average with the bases loaded to .403 and boosted his RBIs total to 129 in that situation.
When it was suggested Suzuki's flare was a bit like a pool shot, Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay agreed.
"Yeah, it is,'' Overbay said. "It had some good spin to it. It's typical of him. I've seen him hit a walk-off base hit when it bounced, and he got a base hit over the shortstop. He puts the bat on the ball, and he puts it in the perfect spot. It's an art.
"Two RBIs late in the game were big. He's Ichiro. It's fun to watch him every day. He never ceases to amaze you.''