Ichiro excites fans, pleases teammates in 7-for-8 day

Ichiro Suzuki’s request for a trade from the Mariners nearly two months ago was based on his desire to have a shot at postseason play, which he has not experienced since his rookie season in Seattle in 2001. The Yankees presented him with that opportunity, and his performance in their split-admission doubleheader sweep of the Blue Jays Wednesday was like a dream come true for both him and the Yankees.

“I’m very sad that this day is over,” Suzuki said in the understatement of the year. “Now I have to prepare to come back to the ballpark [Thursday night] and be ready to play.”

Suzuki’s wish has been granted, to be in the thick of a division race. He did more than his share Wednesday in helping the Yankees keep a hold on first place in the American League East. A 7-for-8 day that featured a game-saving catch in the afternoon and a game-winning hit at night was the sort of occurrence the Yankees envisioned when they made the trade June 23 for two minor-league pitchers that put Suzuki in pinstripes.

“It was an incredible day,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He has been swinging the bat well for us lately. I feel good when he’s up there. We have moved him all over the place in the outfield. We can’t ask any more from him.”

Ichiro batted leadoff in the afternoon game as Girardi gave Derek Jeter the matinee off and had a double and two singles and scored two runs. He also made a sliding catch in left field for a rally-snuffing out on a hard liner by Rajai Davis in the eighth inning. Suzuki then outdid himself in the nightcap with a 4-for-4 game at the plate and on the bases. He had two doubles and two singles and stole four bases in as many attempts.

The last of Ichiro’s hits was a two-out single in the eighth off lefthander Aaron Loup that scored Curtis Granderson, who had led off the inning with one of eight walks allowed by Blue Jays pitchers. Jayson Nix bunted Granderson to second. The center fielder swiped third, one of seven steals in the game for the Yankees, but pitch hitter Steve Pearce struck out.

So it was up to Suzuki, who on another occasion might have been lifted for a pinch hitter like Andruw Jones. But Ichiro earned the chance to hit in that spot after getting hit in each of his three at-bats against Toronto starter Ricky Romero, another lefthander. Suzuki poked a liner to left for what proved the decisive run after Rafael Soriano earned his 42nd save of the season and second of the day with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Asked to compare making a game-saving catch against getting a game-winning hit, Suzuki declined to make a choice, which is to his credit. “In both cases, the fans were excited and my teammates were happy,” he said.

Romero, who left after six innings, remained winless in 15 starts since June 22. He was 8-1 with a 4.34 ERA in 15 starts on that date and is 0-13 with a 6.62 ERA since in as up-and-down a year a pitcher could have.

David Phelps was stuck with a no-decision, too, but not a no-appreciation from his teammates. In the game after the Yankees used seven pitchers, Phelps pitched into the seventh inning to give the bullpen a break.

Despite drawing eight walks and stealing seven bases, the Yankees were locked in a tight game because they stranded 12 runners. Ichiro supplied the key that opened the game for the Yankees. He is batting .317 in 164 at-bats with the Yanks and is hitting .277 overall, a raise of 15 points in his season average since the trade, which is proving to the great benefit of him and his new team.

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