In what could be his final at-bat at Safeco Field, Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki homered to right field on the first pitch he saw in the ninth inning of a 10-5 loss. Though he’s never hit more than 15 dingers in a single season, I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Ichiro’s first homer of the season came in the finale of a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
When he burst onto the scene in 2001, Ichiro established himself as a slap hitter and reached base primarily with his speed. Even a routine groundball to the shortstop was as good as a ball into left field early in his career. Ichiro was fast enough to either force a throwing error or flat out beat the throw. The drag swing sure didn’t hurt his chances of making it down the line, because he was nearly already out of the box by the time he hit the ball.
Though he’s made a career as a slap hitter with a .312 lifetime average, Ichiro is well known for his ability to hit the long ball, but he chooses to get on base instead. He once commented, “If I’m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40 [home runs], but nobody wants that.” (I heard the same comment from one of the top prospects in the Angels organization last summer.) Former Mariners used to comment on Ichiro’s ability to repeatedly hit balls of the Hit It Here Café at Safeco Field during batting practice.
While I don’t know if he did, few great hitters have been fabled to call their shot. Babe Ruth is the first who comes to mind to have called his shot. The legend says he pointed toward center field, then hit a home run right to where he was pointing. Hanley Ramirez is rumored to have called his shot in a three-homer game against the San Francisco Giants at Fenway Park. Ramirez got hit in the back by Albert Suarez, then let him know he’d be “getting him back.” He sent a line drive over the Green Monster in his next at-bat. Of course, we can’t forget Crash Davis of the Durham Bulls. (I know it’s a movie, but I love it.) “If this guy starts me off with a breaking ball, I’m taking him downtown.” And he does.
After watching Ichiro in Seattle for 11 and a half years, you come to see that a hitter like that can just about put the ball wherever he wants when he wants, including the right field seats. Ichiro knew this would be one of his last chances to send a ball sailing over his old stomping grounds in Area 51. So he did.
Photo by Brigham Berthold