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Sports : Tuesday, April 03, 2001

Opening Night at Safeco Field: Ichiro translates to win
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 major-leaguer.

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 run.

"When I got the bunt sign, I was worried about my performance," Ichiro said. "And then I was very glad I could contribute.

"I want to be here for a long time. What I felt tonight I'll never forget.

"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 four runs.

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.