In a throwback performance for the ages, the 38-year-old left fielder combined to go 7-for-8 at the plate in Wednesday’s doubleheader, leading the Yankees to a sweep of the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
“It was just an unbelievable day, and that two-out hit in the eighth just kind of capped it off,” manager Joe Girardi said, referring to Ichiro’s RBI single with two outs in the eighth inning that gave the Yankees a 2-1 victory in the nightcap. “We talked about it, he’s been swinging the bat better. I’ve given him a day off here and there, which kind of helps him as well, but he was huge for us today.
“I know in facing him, I always worried when he came to the plate, so I feel good when he’s up there. He’s played extremely well for us and has been extremely versatile. You can’t ask him to do any more.”
In Game 1, Ichiro went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. The Blue Jays were threatening and had the bases loaded in the eighth, but with two outs, Ichiro fought off the blinding sun to make a tremendous basket catch and preserve a one-run lead. The Yankees went on to win, 4-2.
“I’m glad I don’t have a big belly because the ball might have hit the belly and popped out,” he joked.
Then, in Game 2, Ichiro delivered just the second four-hit, four-stolen-base performance of his career. After Curtis Granderson walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and stole third, Ichiro knocked him home with a looper to left to snap a 1-1 tie in the eighth. The Yankees had been 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position at the time. His career-high-tying four stolen bases tied a franchise record as well.
“I haven’t done anything different today, so I don’t know what the difference was,” Ichiro said. “I’m very sad that the day is over, but ... we definitely need to go after the game tomorrow and get prepared to play the game. It was a great day.”
Ichiro is just the seventh Yankee since 1969 to record at least three hits in each game of a twin bill, joining Derek Jeter (2008), Johnny Damon (2006), Willie Randolph (1987), Dave Winfield (1983), Matty Alou (1973) and Roy White (1972).
“I go up to the plate thinking I’m going to get a hit every time I’m at the plate,” Ichiro said. “Now, the results were different today. I’m not sure what the difference was, but I did go up with the mindset that I was going to get a hit every at-bat.”
When they traded for him in July, the Yankees hoped that being in a pennant race for the first time in more than a decade would reinvigorate Ichiro. And it has. In 52 games since being acquired by New York, Ichiro is hitting .317 (52-for-164) with three homers and 19 RBIs.
“When you’re swinging the bat well, you’re swinging the bat well,” Girardi said. “It’s been going for a while now, so I hope it just continues -- for months.”
Wednesday might in fact mark the day Ichiro not only became a “True Yankee,” but an everyday Yankee as well.
“I think it’s possible,” Girardi said. “It helps when we can give him a day. I think it keeps him [stay] fresh. He was outstanding, but no, I think it’s very possible, yes.”
The Yankees got five important innings out of Andy Pettitte in his return to the mound on Wednesday.
Even more important, perhaps, they seem to have unearthed another weapon in Ichiro.
“I came here in the middle of this season and have always just wanted to contribute, to help in this pennant race, and today was a great day,” he said.