Archive for the 'Everyday Ichiro' Category

Everyday Ichiro #004: Memorial Day

I sat down to watch this Memorial Day game between the Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles expecting the bizarro Ichiro that has played in place of the eponymous protagonist of this series for the last few weeks; a shadow player unable to scratch out hits and stumbling to a .163 batting average in the last 14 days. Ichiro, mired in a slump that even his singles-oriented style hasn’t busted yet, has had the worst month of his career. Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times suggested a one-game sit for Ichiro to shake him loose. Unconvinced of his mediocrity, I watched to see if the great man had indeed been normalized. I was deprived of such a vision, but I was not disappointed.

1. In his first at bat, on that sunny day in Seattle, Ichiro took four or five fastballs from Jake Arrieta, then pulled one of them–way low and in with three balls, an obvious fourth–into right field along the ground between the first and second basemen. Close on the heels of this immediately uncharacteristic success, Ichiro stole second base and made it to third when the catcher chucked it away, providing additional evidence that, for one, speed don’t slump, and that, for two, you’ve got to get on base to steal. Thirdly, working with the postulate that you don’t have to hit home runs to score with speed, Ichiro scored easily on a Brendan Ryan ground ball out.

2. His second time up, hitting with a 2-1 lead, Ichiro rapped a first pitch fastball straight back at Arrieta, sending the ball glancing off of the pitcher’s shin and into foul territory between first base and home, where it rolled to a stop, out of reach of the first baseman while Ichiro trotted through first base easily. This is the real Ichiro, not bizarro Ichiro, the expert at sending grounders into the infield like a firecracker into a sandpit, that spin and dance out of the arm’s reach like pinballs. Today, through two hitters, I’ve seen no incapable doppelgangers or waxy bobblehead dolls. Just Ichiro.

3. Ichiro took a hard sinker on the inside corner for a strike just before watching the hapless Michael Saunders get pegged out at second base on a steal attempt. The failed steal sucked the life out of the at bat, and Ichiro hit a soft liner to second base for the out.

4. Against young reliever Pedro Viola, who uses a roundhouse pitching wind-up that could’ve been orchestrated by Frank Viola, Ichiro showed bunt a little, took a few pitches and worked the count to 2-1 before lofting a fastball to center field. He should have hit it harder, but the team already held the lead and the Mariners closed out another one, to rise a game above .500. A .500 day for Ichiro on a .500 team. That’s the Ichiro I know, if not the team.

Sidenote: I just discovered Super Ichiro Crazy!, a site by Steve Mandich devoted to the life and career of Henry Kissinger. No, no, it’s an Ichiro site! Check it out, you’ll find lots of great images and information about Ichiro over the years, well pre-dating my own small obsession.

Everyday Ichiro #003: The Middle

via Yahoo!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.

escobar fields an Ichiro grounder in the 3rd inning

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.

Everyday Ichiro #002: Opening Day

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.

References:

Everyday Ichiro #001: Return of the Routine

via Yahoo!

The first opportunity to watch Ichiro take an at-bat after a long winter off from baseball is always a joyous thing indeed. – Conor Dowley, Pro Ball NW

Last year I took a stab at blogging about one team on a daily basis: the Mariners. The blog was called Everyday Ichiro, and the experience was humbling and illuminating. I watched the team play every day, scoring the game in my own style–a sort of running play-by-play and scouting report–and synthesizing my observations into regular posts.

I had never watched so much baseball, or learned so much about a team so quickly. Blogging a team daily required a Zen centeredness, a spiritual calm, and a sense of patience that I’ve rarely drawn upon. My attention span increased, and my awareness of the broader trends of a baseball team expanded.  But, alas, my experiment lasted just half of the season. It didn’t help that the Mariners turned out to be, without exaggeration, one of the worst baseball teams in history.

The daily baseball blogger, working for little to no pay, year after year, is a folk hero.

The primary inspiration for the blog was the opportunity, as a then-new Seattleite, to watch Ichiro Suzuki play every day. Such a privilege deserved notice, and I devoted a section of most of my game analyses to his at bats. Every game, Ichiro used his unique skills and speed to coin a novel way to hit a single or make an out. So distinct is his game that his failures are often just as compelling as his successes, which, in a game of failures, is an aesthetic boon. Each at bat was and is an aesthetic experience.

So, while Everyday Ichiro the blog expired and now floats aimlessly in Fire Joe Morgan/Walkoff Walk Dormant Baseball Blog Purgatory, my goal is to carry on the core concept: the chronicle the exploits of Ichiro, right here on Pitchers and Poets,* with Eric throwing in his two cents as well.

*I know that I live in Seattle, and that Mariners ball isn’t on everyone’s radar, but it’s my belief that Ichiro is among the players who transcend the limitations of franchise and make us all happy to be baseball fans.

via Yahoo!

Without further ado, here is the first edition of 2011’s Everyday Ichiro:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011, vs. MIL

With the first televised Mariners Spring Training game, there’s the chance to once again bathe in the routine of Ichiro. I missed it–as did Conor at Pro Ball NW quoted about–without realizing how much I missed it.

Ichiro’s routine balances the regularity of his tics, stretches, and postures with the irregularity of his batting style. He lofts easy pop ups, chops grounders, swings at bad pitches, takes awful swings, and dribbles swinging bunts to every side, even as every single pitch he brings the bat up in a salute, brings his hand to his cheek, glances past the pitcher, and swings the bat back up to the hitting position as predictably as if they were the hands of a grandfather clock.

To paraphrase Grampa Simpson and his description of Jonny Unitas’ haircut, Ichiro is a player you can set your watch to.

1. In his first at bat of the evening, against the Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, Ichiro takes a couple of pitches, then rolls a smooth grounder right to the shortstop, and is thrown out at first by a quarter step. The return of the image of Ichiro, and his unnatural quickness to first base.

2. Nobody dodges an inside pitch like Ichiro. He dances gracefully away from danger. Gallardo’s straight fastball and his good curve keep Ichiro on guard, and he fouls away pitches until the count goes full. An easy grounder to second retires the batter, who has important things on his mind after natural disaster wreaked havoc on his homeland.

On these shores, baseball was back, and Ichiro was back. The sun had gone down in Seattle, and the dog was asleep. I followed quick on his heels, and wouldn’t see if Ichiro hit again, or even if the Mariners won the game.