If the dozen or so members of the international media crammed into Ron Washington's tiny visiting manager's office were any indication, Tuesday night's marquee event was the matchup of two Japanese pitching icons near the top of their game.
Cue Ichiro Suzuki: Hey, what about me?
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Long after Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda had finished trading futile blows at Yankee Stadium, Ichiro, the quintessential Japanese baseball icon, reiterated his worth and relevancy, blasting Tanner Scheppers' two-out, 1-2 fastball to the rightfield bleachers to give the Yankees their first walk-off of the year, a 4-3 win over the Rangers.
"It was a huge hit for him," Chris Stewart said, "and a big win for us."
Not the least of which because the injury-torn Yankees were going up against one of the league's more overpowering pitchers in Darvish (2.95 ERA). The Rangers ace took a 3-2 lead into the sixth before Jayson Nix pounced on his first pitch of the inning -- a flattened slider that he blasted to just inside the leftfield foul pole to tie the game at 3. It was only Nix's second home run of the year and his first hit of the night.
Darvish, who gave up all three of his runs on solo shots, was pulled two batters later. He gave up seven hits over 5 1/3 innings while tacking on six more strikeouts for a Major League-best 146.
"Any game is very important," Ichiro said through his interpreter. "But when you're facing their best, especially in the American League, a pitcher like Darvish . . . we get a win like that, it's a win, but it's kind of a bigger win."
It certainly helped that the Yankees had their best on the mound. Kuroda, though hardly spectacular, acquitted himself adequately. Now sixth in the league with a 2.77 ERA, he pitched 6 2/3, giving up three runs, two earned, both on home runs to nine-hole hitter Leonys Martin -- who hit one to left and another to right. Kuroda added six strikeouts.
He was further undone by struggling third baseman David Adams, who continued to be a liability. Four for his last 38 (he had a walk Tuesday), Adams threw away a ball hit by Adrian Beltre with one out in the fourth. Beltre later came around to score on Mitch Moreland's bases-loaded fielder's choice. That play gave the Rangers a short-lived 2-0 lead. The Yankees drew to within 1 on Travis Hafner's homer to right in the bottom of the inning, but the Rangers kept pace in the fifth on Martin's second home run of the game.
Brett Gardner's homer to right in the bottom of the fifth drew the Yankees to within 1. Gardner has now tied a career-high with seven. He nonetheless bemoaned his ninth-inning caught stealing -- the second out. "I was frustrated," he said. "You hit into the fielder's choice and you get thrown out . . . I went from feeling really, really bad to really, really happy."
And what of good ol' Ichiro, who sneaked into the spotlight after his countrymen had wrapped their shoulders tight? What does it all mean for those watching around the world?
"Watching it from the outfield, you see what a great atmosphere it is," he said. "But I'm also over here playing, so I don't really know what to say." And then he added, in his own perfect English: "Sorry."