Sports : Tuesday, April 03, 2001
Opening Night at Safeco Field: Ichiro translates to
By Bob Sherwin
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ichiro, Japan's greatest player, showed last night that
nothing was lost in the transition in his historic debut as a
The diminutive right fielder started a game-tying two-run rally
against the Oakland Athletics in the seventh and extended the winning
rally in the eighth with his first bunt in seven years. The Mariners
then held on to beat the A's 5-4 on Opening Night before a crowd of
45,911, the largest for a regular-season game in Safeco Field history.
Japanese closer Kazu Sasaki finished out one of Japan's finest hours
in sports by picking up the save with a relatively routine ninth after
yielding a leadoff single.
"A few years ago, Kazuhiro talked about how great it would be to
play on the same team, to have a good game and then have Kazu come in
and save it," Ichiro said. "To have all that in our
very first game is unbelievable."
Would there be celebrations in Japan? "I can't speak for all
Japanese," Ichiro said, "but I'm sure there will be
some celebrating going on."
The Mariners, who once trailed 4-0 and were still down 4-2 in the
seventh, sent Ichiro to the plate against reliever T.J. Mathews. Ichiro,
who struck out and failed to get the ball out of the infield in his
first three at-bats, bounced a single into center field for his first
major-league hit. The historic ball then was taken out of play and
tossed to the Mariner bench. Mathews, working deliberately to Mike
Cameron, eventually walked him.
A's right-hander Jim Mecir came in to face Edgar Martínez who hit
the first pitch for his third single. The line shot to right scored Ichiro
and sent Cameron to third. John Olerud followed with a single to left,
scoring Cameron to tie the score at 4-all.
In the eighth, Carlos Guillén opened with a walk. Ichiro, who
last bunted in a game in 1994, laid down a wonderfully placed drag bunt.
Mecir rushed his throw to first because of Ichiro's speed and the ball
skipped off the glove of first baseman Jason Giambi. Ichiro,
credited with a single, advanced to second on the error and Guillén
took third. Cameron hit a shallow flyout to center, but Guillén held at
third. Olerud, facing lefty Mark Guthrie, followed with a first-pitch
sacrifice fly to left, scoring Guillén with what held up as the winning
"When I got the bunt sign, I was worried about my
performance," Ichiro said. "And then I was very glad I
"I want to be here for a long time. What I felt tonight I'll
"Of course, I'm glad to have this day over with. To get a win is
a bonus. Now I must start thinking about tomorrow."
Credit the bullpen, the strength of the team, with the victory. Brett
Tomko, Arthur Rhodes and Sasaki performed well in relief of starter
Freddy García, who struggled through 3-1/3 innings.
The game started under cool but pleasant conditions. It was 46
degrees at game time, but when the temperature dropped below 40 in the
top half of the fourth inning, the roof was extended over the field. By
that time, García was over-extended, as he had already allowed the A's
García looked sharp with a 1-2-3 first. He walked a pair of batters
in the second with one out then came back to strike out a pair, Terrence
Long and Jeremy Giambi, to end the threat.
However, Ramon Hernandez opened the third with a hard one-hop double
off the left-field wall. García retired the next two batters before
intentionally walking last year's American League MVP, Jason Giambi, and
Olmedo Saenz followed with a high-arching double into the left-center
gap that scored Hernandez with the first run.
Long started the three-run rally in the fourth with a double to left,
then stole third on the first pitch to left-handed-hitting Jeremy Giambi.
Giambi was then intentionally walked to set up a possible double play,
but Hernandez singled home Long for a 2-0 lead. After Johnny Damon
walked, rookie Jose Ortiz doubled home two runs and García's 79-pitch
outing was over.
Tomko got Saenz to pop up in the infield, then struck out Eric Chavez
to end it. Tomko was impressive, retiring seven batters.
Dan Wilson singled in the Mariners' first run in the fourth, and Bret
Boone's sacrifice fly in the fifth cut the deficit to 4-2, setting up
the Mariners' comeback.