Ichiro Suzuki had already made a positive impression by the time he entered into legend status.
The Mariners were off to a good start in 2001 despite having lost Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. in back-to-back seasons. They were in the middle of a nine-game road trip in which they would go 7-2 and grab a division lead they would never give up.
Ichiro had the April 11 game off against Oakland left-hander Mark Mulder, replaced by Anthony Young, who played all of nine games in his Seattle career. But with the game scoreless in the eighth and righty Jim Mecir on in relief for the A’s, Mariners manager Lou Piniella pinch-hit Ichiro to start the inning, and he delivered a bloop base hit to start a three-run rally.
In the bottom of the inning, Aaron Sele was inching closer to a shutout when Oakland center fielder Terrence Long led off with a single. That brought up pinch hitter Ramon Hernandez, who delivered a ground ball base hit to right. Ichiro came up throwing, and no one who saw it or heard Dave Niehaus’ memorable call will ever forget it.
A laser beam, barely 10 feet off the ground, reached third baseman David Bell on the fly with Long a good five feet from the bag.
The Mariners players and coaches were blown away, as reflected in the game story in the Seattle Times written by Bob Finnegan.
• Piniella: “I’ve seen some pretty good arms. Dave Parker, Ellis Valentine, Jay (Buhner) when I came here – but, boy, that ball had some hop on it.”
• Buhner: “You just don’t see a guy throw like that all the way in the air, when it’s cold as hell, when he’s been sitting for seven innings.”
• Second baseman Bret Boone: “I only heard the ball as it went past my ear. When I saw Long head for third, I just said, ‘You’re out. Period, man, you are out.’ And was he ever out.”
• Bell: “I knew he had a great arm, but I was a little surprised. Rarely do you see a throw start that low and carry that far. I was looking to take it on the hop and it never hopped.”
Ichiro was showing signs of what he can do at the plate, hitting .371 at the time, but this was a sign of what the Mariners truly had.
A complete ballplayer.