A wet, stormy day in Kansas City, the broadcasters were practically calling this one before it started, hoping to make it official before the big blow moved in to stay. Even an early surge from the Royals this year wasn’t enough to ward off the dreariness of a gray spring day. 8,811 damp souls hid under umbrellas while they watched Bruce Chen sling his journeyman’s selection of pitches. The Mariners came into the game with 4 wins and 8 losses.
The day in Ichiro:
1. In his first at bat against Chen’s sling-armed arsenal of low 80s to high 80s cheese, Ichiro reached low and lofted a pop-up to shallow center. The hit was just about to drop expertly between the center fielder and the shortstop–another in Ichiro’s legacy of perfectly placed hits–when Alcides Escobar, raced under it, reached out at the last possible moment, and caught it over his left shoulder, at waist level. A professional hitter met with a professional defensive play.
2. The close-up camera filming Ichiro’s pre-pitch warm-up shook violently in the wind, and it was raining steadily for Ichiro’s second at bat. He took a fastball strike outside, then fouled off a sweeping Chen breaking ball. Color man Mike Blowers said of the pitcher-hitter match-up, “Ichiro saw plenty of pitchers like Chen in Japan, so I’d think it wouldn’t bother him.” There may be something to the observation, that Japanese pitchers don’t throw as hard as major leaguers, and that they throw a lot of breaking stuff, the way that Chen does. My initial reaction was skepticism, as Ichiro’s been in the bigs for a decade, a far cry from his roots by now. On reflection, though, there must be a deeply ingrained familiarity with the style that wouldn’t simply disappear. Only just now did it occur to me that Chen’s name might have subliminally triggered the broadcaster’s association with the Asian game. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Ichiro soon smacked a single as neat as a bounce pass dead up the middle, past a reaching Chen to the shortstop Escobar again, who fielded it, spun, and nearly pegged Ichiro at first. Alcides and Ichiro seem to be developing a strange sort of relationship, the inklings of a rangy duel.
3. Chen served up a lazy swerver right down Broadway in Ichiro’s third at bat, and Ichiro hit it squarely and sent it up the middle for a clean base hit. Said the line drive: “You robbed me once, Escobar, and almost again. Not this time.” Am I crazy to think that Ichiro decided before the game to hit everything straight back up the middle? Is that even possible?
As a sidenote, the game itself was over from around the third inning. The Mariners barely hinted at scoring.
Point being, Ichiro is often the game itself. I don’t much care what goes on around him on nights like this, even if he does. To me, his exploits are comprehensive. It’s Ichiro v. Escobar tonight amid the rain and mud.
4. In the eighth inning, with the team down five to zero and the bluster thickening, Ichiro chopped one more ground ball up the middle for Alcides to gather and deliver to Kila Ka’aihue at first. The game was called and put down in the books after eight innings. A young guy on tarp duty fell in front of the big roll and it steamrolled him. He appeared dazed but conscious afterwards.
The record will indicate that this game pitted the Kansas City Royals against the Seattle Mariners. The truth, as we now know it, is that Ichiro Suzuki and Alcides Escobar rallied like Federer and Nadal, lobbing gambits and exchanging volleys while the world around them plodded past.