Ichiro 4K: Suzuki reflects on his mixed milestone

08/21/2013 11:49 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Ichiro didn't keep the fans at the Stadium waiting long for his 4,000th professional hit, roping a single to left in his first at-bat to reach the career milestone.(AP)
"I sure hope not. I haven't seen anything from him that makes me believe he will, but I'm sure it's on his mind. It's just an unbelievable milestone, but the great thing about Ichiro is that he finds so many ways to get hits, you'd think his creativity might help him in this situation."

Those were the words of Yankees manager Joe Girardi prior to Wednesday's game, with the skipper speaking about whether or not he thought Ichiro Suzuki would be pressing in the batter's box, knowing he was one hit away from reaching 4,000 for his career between MLB and Japan.

Chalk one up for the skipper, as Ichiro needed just one at-bat on Wednesday to reach the milestone, slapping an R.A. Dickey knuckleball into left field with one out in the first inning on Wednesday night - only hours after he joked that, despite Girardi's statements, he knew exactly where in his sights the milestone stood for a long time.

"I'm pretty good at math, and you only have to add one every time you get a hit," Ichiro joked through his interpreter, "and as it's gotten closer, I've been more and more aware of it."

And, ironically enough, Ichiro also said before the game, when asked if there was any specific way he'd like to reach the milestone, that the exact outcome was close to the last one he would expect.

"Anything that I get a hit with is going to be Ichiro-like," he said. "Maybe it's going to be a bunt single, it might be an infield hit or maybe it's going to be a home run. The only thing I can tell you that isn't Ichiro-like is going to be a homer to left field."

Technically, the fateful at-bat was Ichiro's second crack at 4K - after singling for hit No. 3,999 in the seventh inning of Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader, he grounded out in his final at-bat of the day - but he needed just minutes to bring the Yankee Stadium crowd to its feet one night later.

"Obviously, (the pressure) didn't bother him. He wasn't thinking about it because he got it out of the way pretty quick," Girardi said after the game, "but it's a testament to how hard he's worked, how long he's been in the game, how he stays healthy and the way he goes about his business - he's a great player, and he's been a great player for a long time."

Ichiro, of course, had a different take.

"It is a number that is 1,000 four times, so I think that's what makes it a number people recognize," Ichiro said, "but from the first hit to the 4,000th, each one is just as important, because you can't get two or three hits in an at-bat; you can only get one, so each one is just as important, and that's how I look at it."

That 4K moment brought the Yankees to their feet as well, as the entire team came out of the dugout to greet Ichiro and congratulate him. Ichiro then doffed his helmet and bowed to the crowd as out in the left field stands, long-time fan Amy Franz moved the "Ichi-Meter" to 4,000.

"It was supposed to be a number that was special to me…but what happened tonight I wasn't expecting," Ichiro said. "When my teammates came out to first base, that was very special, and I wasn't expecting so much joy and happiness from the fans. That's what made it special tonight, and when I look back on this moment, that's what I'll remember.

Of course, Ichiro gladly took the praise on a milestone and a moment that was hard-earned and well-deserved. But while he, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only three men in history to have 4,000 total hits at the top levels of professional baseball, that was "only" hit no. 2,722 in the Major Leagues for Ichiro, so it's a milestone that even he understood isn't quite what it seems.

"It is a record that is adding two leagues into one," Ichiro said. "(Rose and Cobb) did it in one league. I don't think you have to put me in that same category as them."

Still, you can put him in the same category as one Yankees great, Lou Gehrig, whom he passed on MLB's all-time hit list when he slapped that single to left. Ichiro admitted that even now, as he plays in pinstripes, he doesn't know much about the "Iron Horse," but knows he was a heck of a player.

"I don't know too much (about Gehrig), but I know he was a great player, and now I can learn more about him and hopefully get to know him better," Ichiro said. "I hope to go to Cooperstown and learn more about him, but to do this in a Yankees uniform and share that with a great player like Gehrig is special."

After finishing the night 1-for-4 to stand at 4,000 and 2,722 respectively, Ichiro is looking up at Roberto Alomar (2,724) and Chipper Jones (2,726) on the MLB list, but his level of concern with passing them is the same as it is for reaching 3,000 MLB hits or passing Cobb or Rose's totals - little if any at all.

"I get asked that a lot, but I can't have that as a goal," he said. "What happens today determines what happens tomorrow, meaning that I have to perform every day in order to be in the lineup the next day. So, I don't make goals that are so far away; what I do is do what I can every single day and build off that and see where that takes me."

Still, regardless how anyone views his current or coming milestones, only two men in history have more total hits in the pros and less than five dozen have more in the Majors, so clearly Ichiro knows he's done something right.

"I've said this before, but if you don't get hits, you won't be playing," he said. "After I got my first hit, if at that point I said to you guys, 'My goal is to have 4,000 hits,' I think everybody would have called me an idiot, but now, after years and years of just getting hits every day, I've come to this point. What is important is just going out there and doing what you can do every single day."

For at least the next 39 days, he'll be doing that alongside Mariano Rivera, one of the all-time greats himself who said that it was an "honor and a privilege" to play with someone like Ichiro - a thought the Japanese sensation joked was "the Yankee way."

"When you play for the Yankees for so long, you get good at making comments like that," he joked. "But I'm very honored that he said that, and what I realized today is that the Yankees are so used to great things like this happening, they're good at presentations and ceremonies like this."

As for the ball from the special moment, Ichiro said he had no plans for it - because he still didn't have possession of it.

"I haven't seen it yet, so I have to make sure nobody took it first, and then I'll think about."

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