Ichiro shows world he's the do-it-all star
Runs away with MVP Award after historic inside-the-park homer
SAN FRANCISCO -- He has set the record for most hits in a single Major League season. He was a member of the Japanese team that defeated Cuba to win the first World Baseball Classic. He is reportedly on the brink of extending his tenure with the Mariners for five years at $100 million.And now he's the first Japanese player to be named the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game. He did it on the strength of a 3-for-3 night and the first inside-the-park homer in both his professional career and the 74-year history of the Midsummer Classic. What else is there to prove for Ichiro Suzuki? "It's an [All-Star Game] that I'll never forget," Ichiro said. "The past six years, I never had an All-Star Game when I really thought I gave it my all. So, I'm really happy. It was a fun All-Star Game." As if he needed to, Ichiro made a big impression all the way around. "He's an artist with the bat, a wonderful baserunner and outfielder," said Tony La Russa, the manager of the National League team that lost again to the American League on Tuesday night, this time 5-4, this time at AT&T Park. "This guy is a complete player and there's no place to go to get him out. You just try to get him to hit the ball at somebody." AL manager Jim Leyland, who kept his league's 10-0-1 streak intact, said that Ichiro could hit for power if he wanted to. "I had heard this about Ichiro, but never paid that much attention to it," said the Tigers' manager. "They said he hits balls out in batting practice like it's nothing. He probably hit more home runs tonight in BP than any player on the field and he made it look easy. I can't believe what ease he was hitting balls with over the fence, like it was nothing. I'm not really too happy about that because we play [the Mariners] on Thursday. That's who we open up with." Ichiro singled in his first two at bats and then launched a drive to the arcade in right-center off Padres right-hander Chris Young. Right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. looked up and waited for the carom off the red-brick wall, which is 18-feet high at that particular section. Instead it hit a strange green padded crease near the inside of the base of the third archway and caromed away from Griffey toward the corner. With Ichiro's speed, at that point his fate was complete. "I thought it was going to go over the fence and when it didn't I was bummed," said Ichiro, who had never hit an inside-the-park homer, not in his nearly seven Major League seasons or his career in Japan.
Young, voted in as the 32nd man on the NL team via the online Final Vote, wasn't surprised. Ichiro has beaten him like a tom-tom: 8-for-20 (.400) with a double, two homers and six runs batted in."He's a good hitter," said Young, who has faced Ichiro during Interleague Play and during his two years with the Rangers. "He's got my number and put a good swing on it. The ball kind of took a lucky bounce and with his speed that's the way it goes." Since he came over from Japan, Ichiro has never had less than a 200-hit season, setting the MLB record of 262 in 2004. At 33, he has already amassed 1,482 hits. He has been an AL All-Star every season, but has never had an evening like this one. Coming into the game, he was 3-for-15 with one extra-base hit, a double, and only two RBIs. In one night, he matched his hit, extra-base and RBI totals. Ichiro, clad in black jacket and wearing a yellow tie, answered questions through interpreter, Ken Barron. What about Leyland's contention that Ichiro could hit home runs if he paid attention to them? "Tough question," he said as he pondered an answer. "If I'm allowed to bat .220, I could probably hit 40. But nobody wants that." Has Ichiro had much experience hitting at oddly configured AT&T Park? "We actually haven't played too many games here," he said. "We've had two exhibition games here, but never during the regular season." Is he committed to the Mariners for the long term? "You'll find out sometime," Ichiro said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.