Ichiro enjoys support from Yankees fans
Considering what the American League East standings look like, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry could use a little boost. It got it Friday night with Ichiro Suzuki’s first game at Yankee Stadium wearing the pinstripes. The sellout crowd of 49,571 responded to every move the hit maker made during the game, another sound drubbing of Boston, 10-3. The Yankees are 6-1 this year against the Red Sox, who are last in the division and trail the Bombers by 11 1/2 games.
“Usually when I came here [with the Mariners], the fans were all over me the whole game,” Ichiro said. “But the fans tonight were awesome. They cheered for me all night. I hope that continues.”
Right from the start, Suzuki enjoyed the fans’ reaction. The Bleacher Creatures’ roll call did present a problem in his mind, but he was able to doff his cap in response.
“I wanted to take my hat off and acknowledge them,” he said. “But I was worried that if I tipped my cap while a ball was hit to me and I couldn’t catch it that those cheers would turn to boos.”
Suzuki’s contributions were modest, but they were there. He had one hit in four at-bats, a single in the fourth inning before Russell Martin homered. Ichiro was also on base in the eighth after hitting into a fielder’s choice and scored another run on Curtis Granderson’s grand slam. Raul Ibanez also homered in the first inning with a runner on first base.
That was the difference in the game. Both sides hit three home runs, but the trio socked by the Sox off Phil Hughes were all with the bases empty – Dustin Pedroia in the first, Carl Crawford in the third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the fourth.
“You can usually live with those,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the solo home runs.
The long ball has haunted Hughes all season. He gave up home runs in each of his first 12 starts of the season, but that pace slowed. The three home runs Hughes allowed Friday night equaled the total the righthander had allowed over his previous five starts. For the season, Hughes has given up 25 home runs in 121 1/3 innings.
All those home runs might have given Suzuki the idea that perhaps he, too, might take advantage of the Stadium’s cozy dimensions in right field. Anyone who has witnessed Ichiro taking batting practice is aware he can go deep, but just like Wade Boggs he has been fearful that he might ruin his stroke by trying to hit home runs.
Suzuki has a great respect for the game. He has been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame four times. When I contacted him in my role with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 2001 to notify him that he was voted the AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award winner, he answered the call from an office in the Cooperstown, N.Y., museum while on a visit there.
So it was hardly a surprise to hear him talk about one of baseball’s greatest rivalries.
“For a long time, the Yankees organization expects to win, and the players are accustomed to winning,” Suzuki said. “That is the mentality here. To have played my first game here with them against the Red Sox was special. There is an expression in Japan that on nights like this you grab your cheek to see if it is real and that you are not dreaming.”
In the United States, we pinch ourselves in the same situation. The cultures came together for Ichiro Suzuki Friday night.