Friday, September 21, 2012
Ichiro The Incredible
By Andrew Marchand
His name hung in the cool air, like a rock star being persuaded for an encore. The 40,511 in attendance chanted, "E-Chee-Ro, E-Chee-Ro, E-Chee-Ro." They rhythmically said his name, enchanted by his success in the past 36 hours at Yankee Stadium and his legend.
They wanted another hit and they knew it was coming.
It was the fourth inning Thursday. And by that time, Ichiro had already collected eight hits in his past nine at-bats over the past two days, including a solo homer in the third inning that put the New York Yankees on the board.
Now, the bases were loaded in the fourth and Toronto Blue Jays starter Aaron Laffey never had a chance.
The crowd grew louder and louder -- "E-Chee-Ro, E-Chee-Ro, E-Chee-Ro" -- sensing he would come through once again, against Laffey.
Before the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had already basically promoted Ichiro to an everyday player again because Andruw Jones' skills have eroded in the second half of the season. The manager had faith Ichiro could hit lefties again. How could he not?
So on a 2-2 cutter, Ichiro smashed another shot to right for a two-run double.
Nine hits in his past 10 at-bats for Ichiro, The Incredible.
With the 10-7 win over the Blue Jays on Thursday, the Yankees' fifth straight victory, they pushed their lead over the Baltimore Orioles to one game with a mere 13 remaining. The charge to the finish line is being led by Ichiro, who has been sensational the past two days. He is playing like he did when he was 28, not 38.
"He is in a real good place right now," Girardi said.
Ichiro is just another star in the Yankees' universe, but he is unique -- from his wardrobe with his rolled up jeans to show off his colorful Chuck Taylors and accompanying rainbow socks, to his penchant for incessantly stretching as if he is on some 24-7 yoga regimen. Whatever he is doing, it is working.
"Baseball is a game where you don't know why certain things happen," Ichiro said through his interpreter. "That's what I felt the last two days."
The Yankees don't know when this Ichiro hot streak will end, but there is no way Girardi can keep him out of the lineup against righties or lefties. Ichiro is giving the Yankees more than they ever could have reasonably expected when they dealt two minor leaguers to Seattle for him.
They were so unsure with how much Ichiro had left they gained assurance from him that he would be fine with not playing every day and batting toward the bottom of the order. Ichiro, desperate to compete in important games, agreed. But the Yankees didn't know what to expect.
They made the trade for Suzuki to play great defense, provide some speed and if he hit it would be a plus. When he left Seattle in July, he owned a .261 batting with a .288 on-base percentage. His inability to walk didn’t matter when he was hitting .350. But a .261 singles hitter who has no other way of getting on base is not much of a threat.
It is easy to say that the transition has energized his game and perhaps that is the reason why he is exploding offensively. He has four homers (all at Yankee Stadium) in 54 games compared to four in 95 games with Seattle.
"His hand-eye coordination is absolutely amazing," Girardi said.
Whatever it is, Ichiro is a different player in New York than he was in the Seattle.
He is now hitting .321 in his 54 games as a Yankee. Over the past two days at the Stadium, in a Yankee universe filled with stars, one name was larger than all of them, filling the cool air as he continued to deliver hit after hit.