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Sports : Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Mariners
No stopping, resting Ichiro
By Bob Finnigan
Seattle Times staff reporter

TORONTO - In the goody bag that is Ichiro, Mariner fans have seen talent that is charging and changing the play of the Mariners almost day by day.

But Sunday, if they looked closely, they may have seen something the multifaceted outfielder had not shown before.

Standing on first base in the sixth inning, after placing a perfect hit-and-run single behind a breaking Charles Gipson, Ichiro smiled.

It was little and it was fleeting, but for a flicker it broke through the game face the guy wears as constantly as his scraggly beard.

No wonder. The man is hot.

So hot that he had locked up the 19th game of his current hitting streak before the Toronto Blue Jays had time to announce the time of Sunday's first pitch - since he had lined it into right-center field for a double.

So hot that going 33 for 92 during this streak has added only one point to his batting average, now .360, from when he started the stretch April 22.

So hot that he has hits in 35 of 37 games, a pace that would give him hits in 153 games. The major-league mark is 135, shared by Chuck Klein (1930), Rogers Hornsby (1922) and Wade Boggs (1985).

So hot, he's on pace for 271 hits. The major-league mark is 257 set by George Sisler of St. Louis in 1920, and the American League mark is 253 by Al Simmons of Philadelphia in 1925.

Ichiro's so hot that he kept himself in Sunday's lineup with four hits - again. Manager Lou Piniella had considered holding Ichiro out of the last game of the Boston-Toronto trip, but as Ichiro did on April 6 and April 17, days before Piniella planned to rest him, he got four hits on Saturday, and as on April 7 and April 18, was back in there.

That, plus the fact he is such a good AstroTurf player, meant he was back in there for the SkyDome finale.

"You watch him on turf, and you can see he was made for it," Piniella said. "The infield has to play him shallower for his speed and he can bang the ball through. He showed Saturday he can line the ball in the outfield gaps and it gets through for extra bases."

Ichiro's so hot he shot the right-center gap for triples both Saturday and Sunday, giving him five in 37 games and a pace for 22 this season, which would double the Mariners' current record, set by Harold Reynolds in 1988.

Incidentally, the Fox Sports TV crew timed Ichiro's breaks on his triple Saturday, and the guy got faster the farther he went. It took him 4.17 seconds to reach first base from the batter's box, 3.47 from first to second and 3.43 from second to third. That, fans, is fast.

Ichiro also is so hot that he has broken only three bats this season.

For comparison, Edgar Martinez was asked how many he has broken. "Too many," said the Mariner designated-hitter. "It's easier for me to count the bats I have left, than the broken ones."

Piniella said Ichiro saves his wood but constantly gets the good part of the bat on pitches.

"Whether he takes an inside-out swing or a normal swing, he has a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball," he said.

The manager does plan on giving his right fielder a day off this week against Chicago, since the White Sox will start two lefties in a three games, Mark Buehrle tonight and David Wells on Thursday. Right-hander Rocky Biddle starts tomorrow.

"Right now, we're looking at the first game," Piniella said. "With the off-day Monday and Wednesday a night game, it would be like having three days off for him."

But don't count on it. As Piniella has found out again and again and (literally) again, it's tough to sit a man who is this hot.