Suzuki sets new record for hits

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2004

SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki called it the highlight of his career, the most emotional he has ever been.

Suzuki set the major league record for hits in a season, breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old mark with a pair of early singles in the Seattle Mariners' 8-3 victory over the Texas Rangers on Friday night.

''It was a big relief,'' the Japanese star said through an interpreter. ''I felt like something got off my shoulders. To see the fans and to see my teammates, it was just a very exciting time for me. It was a very special moment -- definitely the highlight of my career.''

Suzuki is known for his clinical approach, a methodical hitter who follows the same routine before games and who does the same peculiar things every time he steps into the batter's box.

During a yoga-like squat to loosen up on deck, he wiggles his shoulders. Then he steps to the plate with a deep breath, holds the bat at arm's length and tugs on his right sleeve with his left hand.

Crack! There's often a hit right after that.

''He's definitely one of the most exciting players I've ever been around,'' said Seattle hitting coach Paul Molitor, who joined the Hall of Fame this summer.

This season, there have been 259 hits for Suzuki so far, two more than Sisler had for the St. Louis Browns over a 154-game schedule back in 1920. Suzuki did it in his 160th game in 2004.

''It's not over yet,'' Suzuki said. ''We still have two more games.''

The record-breaking single was a bouncer up the middle in the third. The ball started off the arm of Rangers starter Ryan Drese (14-10), carrying just beyond the range of shortstop Michael Young.

Fireworks exploded after Suzuki's big hit reached the outfield, creating a haze over Safeco Field, and his teammates mobbed him at first base.

''Goose bumps aren't even the right word,'' Seattle manager Bob Melvin said. ''That second hit almost brought tears to my eyes. ... If you're talking about sending a guy up for a hit, this guy is the best ever.''

Suzuki chopped a leadoff single in the first inning to tie Sisler's mark, then put himself in the record book. Suzuki added another hit in the sixth, giving him 259 this season and a major league-leading .373 average.

There was a five-minute break when Suzuki made history.

''That's the most emotional I've gotten in my life,'' he said.

With fans still cheering the record, Suzuki ran to the first-base seats, bowed respectfully and shook hands with Sisler's 81-year-old daughter, Frances Sisler Drochelman, and other members of the Hall of Famer's family.

''My father would have been delighted,'' Drochelman said. ''He would be so happy to know such a fine young man was doing so well.''

Across the Pacific, fans in downtown Tokyo watched Suzuki in sports bars and on big-screen monitors.

''I would like to give him my heartfelt congratulations,'' Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. ''He has made extra efforts in addition to having a natural gift.''

Added Suzuki's father, Nobuyuki: ''You can tell how happy and proud I am just by looking at me. The tears just won't stop flowing.''

The fans were on their feet when Suzuki left for substitute Hiram Bocachica with two outs in the ninth. Melvin made the move to let Suzuki get one more ovation, and the right fielder jogged in to cheers.

''I just hope people realize the monumental effort it took to surpass this record, which has stood so long,'' Molitor said.

Seattle's Ron Villone (8-6) allowed two runs in five innings to earn his second victory as a starter this season. He gave up Mark Teixeira's two-run homer in the first but otherwise pitched well.

Texas added an unearned run in the eighth, but it wasn't enough to offset Seattle's 18 hits -- 17 of them singles. Bret Boone had three hits and two RBIs, driving in a run to make it 8-3 in the eighth.

After Suzuki's 258th hit, he scored his 100th run of the season when the Mariners batted around in the third, taking a 6-2 lead on six hits. Suzuki batted twice, hitting a long fly that Laynce Nix caught on the run for the third out.

There was a scary moment for Suzuki in the top of the third. The Gold Glove right fielder chased a foul ball by Ken Huckaby that landed in the stands, and casually hopped up on the low, padded fence -- but then lost his balance.

Suzuki fell awkwardly and came down straddling the fence, but was OK.

''Even if I broke a bone there, I was going to get up and play,'' Suzuki said.

Suzuki's first-inning single was his 919th hit in the majors, breaking the record for most hits in a four-year span. Bill Terry of the New York Giants set the previous record of 918 hits from 1929-32.

Suzuki has 921 hits in four seasons. The 30-year-old Suzuki was a huge star in Japan during his nine seasons with Orix in Japan's Pacific League. He got 1,278 hits playing in his home country, and he left Japan with a .353 hitting average.

Earlier this season, Suzuki became the first player to collect at least 200 hits in each of his first major league seasons. His 222 singles this year also are a major league single-season record.

''Because we won, we were able to enjoy it more,'' Suzuki said. ''If we wouldn't have won, I don't think the guys would have been waiting for me to pour beer on me.''

Notes: The crowd of 45,573 was the ninth sellout this season. ... Seattle's seven straight hits in the third tied a club record. ... With his 38th homer, Teixeira set a Rangers record for most HRs in a season by a first baseman.

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