Ichiro steals spotlight from Japanese pitchers

The all-Japanese pairing of the Yankees’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish turned into a standoff Tuesday night. The game was decided by another Japanese player in the bottom of the ninth inning as Ichiro Suzuki hit a walk-off home run for a 4-3 Yankees victory.

It was the second career walk-off homer for Suzuki, whose other was Sept. 18, 2009 with the Mariners off Mariano Rivera, who just happened to be the winning pitcher Tuesday night. Ichiro has three other walk-off hits. It was the Yankees’ first walk-off victory of the season.

For one game at least, the Bronx Bombers were back. Ichiro’s shot off a 1-2 fastball from Texas reliever Tanner Scheppers was the fourth solo homer of the game for the Yankees, who had not homered in the previous two games and four of the past five. In fact, they hit only four homers in their previous 15 games combined.

“That’s Yankees baseball,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “We haven’t seen much of it this year.”

Both starting pitchers left the game with the score 3-3.

Kuroda had a slight edge as he pitched two batters into the seventh inning, and one of the three runs he allowed was not earned due to a throwing error by third baseman David Adams. The other two runs were on solo homers by Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin. Kuroda walked one batter and struck out six.

Darvish lasted 5 1/3 innings. All three of his runs were on inning-leadoff home runs by Travis Hafner in the fourth, Brett Gardner in the fifth and Jayson Nix in the sixth. Darvish gave up seven hits overall with two walks and six strikeouts.

Gardner’s home run was his seventh of the season, which already matches his career high. He hit seven homers in 2011 in 510 at-bats. His seventh dinger this season came in his 289th at-bat.

Nix’s home run was his second of the season and ended a homerless stretch of 202 at-bats. It was also the first home run for the Yankees by a right-handed batter in 18 games covering 255 at-bats since June 4 when switch hitter Mark Teixeira connected from the right side off Indians lefthander Scott Kazmir.

Adams’ errant throw allowed Adrian Beltre to reach first base in the fourth inning (Beltre would later make two errors himself although neither resulted in a run). Singles by A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman loaded the bases. Beltre scored as Mitch Moreland hit into a fielder’s choice.

Beltre’s first error put Zoilo Almonte on first base in the fourth. Almonte quickly got to second base by stealing it but he was stranded. Beltre failed to glove a smoking liner by Hafner with one out in the fifth, and Robinson Cano made it from first to third. Darvish averted danger by striking out Lyle Overbay and retiring Almonte on a force play.

After Stewart’s single in the sixth that ended Darvish’s night, the Yankees did not have a base runner until Stewart again walked on four pitches leading off the ninth. Gardner grounded into a force play and then made the second out attempting to steal second. That left matters up to Ichiro as he moved into center stage on a night that began with two of his countrymen on the mound.

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