Ichiro knuckles down for 4,000th hit

I was thinking on the drive into Yankee Stadium Wednesday what a tough break Ichiro Suzuki had on a night he was seeking his 4,000th hit combined in Japanese and American baseball. The Blue Jays were starting knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner with the Mets.

It reminded me of the night in 1961 when the Orioles brought knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm out of the bullpen to pitch to Roger Maris who was trying for his 60th home run within the 154-game schedule to tie Babe Ruth’s record.

This wasn’t really dirty pool on the part of Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. It was Dickey’s turn in the rotation, but that would only make it tougher for Ichiro, or so I thought. He had 2-for-13 (.154) in his career against Dickey, so it promised to be a long night. Shows you what I know.

Suzuki didn’t wait very long to get the job done. In his first at-bat, he lashed a quintessential Ichiro single past third baseman Brett Lawrie and into left field for No. 4,000. While the crowd at the Stadium gave him a standing ovation, Ichiro was surrounded at first base by his teammates who had exited the dugout as the ball reached the outfield.

It was a poignant moment. Ichiro made a hand gesture toward his mates not to come out, but they ignored it as well they should have. The Yankees players did not overdo it. They merely paid their respects to a unique individual who has spent a lifetime spraying out base hits over two continents.

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