Felix Hernandez recovered from an early homer ceded to Josh Willingham by shutting the A’s down for the rest of the Seattle Mariners’ first game, using his Cy Young curveball and the fastball that seems imbued with a little additional gravity when it leaves the King’s hand.
Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Justin Smoak, and, yes, Ichiro, did their part by peppering Oakland with well-struck balls. “Put the ball in play and see what happens.” Well, the A’s made five errors is what happened. Beleaguered M’s fans will take it.
Here’s the day in Ichiro:
1. Ichiro took two Trevor Cahill strikes to start his 2011 season, then glanced several good pitches pitches foul and took a few more, enough to draw a walk. Then he stole second base. A patient if defensive debut.
2. A few low sinkers pushed the count to two balls and none, then Ichiro hit a slapshot at third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who would have done well to wear a goalie mask and leg pads for the series of shots Ichiro would send his way today. This one bounced once and glanced off his glove, and Ichiro notched his first hit of the season. Figgins singled to send him to second, and the trip to third and home was made easy by Cahill’s control problems.
With each high five that he hosted in the dugout after scoring, Ichiro said, “thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
In the bottom of the third, Dave Sims said, in honor of the late Dave Niehaus, “now we’re gonna lay off this half-inning and let you enjoy the natural sounds of baseball.” Felix pitched against the background murmur of the crowd. I wasn’t in Seattle long enough to feel Dave’s loss as deeply as many, but I was misty.
3. With a long-time star like Ichiro, Opening Day is for remembering everything you love about a player. “He’s so lean,” was my wife’s reaction to seeing Ichiro in high def again. Then, in the top of the 4th, he hit another ball at poor Kevin Kouzmanoff, who took it off of the chest. This one was called an error but Ichiro reached base, where Figgins stranded him.
4. With a man on second with an out, Ichiro saved Kouz another bruise by hitting a grounder past him. Ichiro’s first RBI of the season was followed closely by a joyous home run from Chone Figgins.
5. Ichiro grounded into a double play in his final at bat, but he’d already spoken the first few lines of dialogue in the first act of his season. They were pointed, promising lines, pulsing with promise, foreshadowing a characteristically rich narrative.