SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: The game when Mariners’ Ichiro broke an 84-year-old hits record

Jun 3, 2020, 5:02 PM
Ichiro, Mariners...
Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki broke the single-season hits record in 2004. (Getty)
(Getty)

With baseball season delayed for the foreseeable future, 710 ESPN Seattle is broadcasting a different classic Mariners game every night. This week is Ichiro Week, highlighting big moments from the future Hall of Famer’s career. Today, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer details the day Ichiro set one of the sport’s most notable records. Hear the broadcast at 7 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle.

On Sept. 20, 2004, the Mariners embarked on a 10-game road swing through the AL West. The team entered that day’s game against the Angels with a 56-94 record, 31.5 games out of first place.

The team still bore some resemblance to the 2001 crew that won 116 games, but was now, in a word, old. John Olerud, 35 at the time, had been released the previous month. Edgar Martinez had announced his intention to retire at the end of the season. Dan Wilson would play in just 11 games the next year. And Bret Boone, though still semi-productive, had seen his numbers take a huge drop from his previous three years, marking the beginning of the end of his career.

The Mariners as a whole in 2004 were not a pretty picture, but as it almost always is in baseball, there was still reason to come to the ballpark on any given night. And as that road trip progressed, there was more and more reason to come to the park. And that reason wore No. 51 on his back.

In the first four games of the road trip, Ichiro went 13 for 19 (.684), matching the most hits he put up in any four-game streak during the season. Over the next six games, his bat cooled down to a more reasonable 7 for 26 (.269). Mercifully for Mariners fans, Ichiro picked a good time to become human for a spell. He would return to Seattle for the final three games of the season riding a 10 game hitting streak, and with the single-season hits record in his grasp.

Game 1 of the final homestand sold out not because fans wanted to see the 62-97 team that occupied the building nor because there was a terrific promotion or giveaway scheduled. That Friday night, Safeco Field was packed to the rafters because Mariners fans wanted the chance to see history.

They would get their wish.

In his second at-bat of the game, Ichiro came up with his second hit of the night and 258th of the season, breaking the 84-year-old record set by Hall of Famer George Sisler with a single up the middle.

With a full house watching, 150 members of international media on hand and members of Sisler’s family in attendance, Ichiro realized his dream of becoming baseball’s single-season hit king. His expression as he crossed first base one that we had really not seen from him, a mix of joy and relief. He tipped his cap, acknowledged the crowd, the members of which stayed on their feet cheering for several minutes, and celebrated with his teammates.

The most touching moment of the post record celebration came when he trotted to the first base side commissioner’s box where Sisler’s family was. He shared words and a handshake with Sisler’s sister, Francis Drochelman, and a number of his grandsons. The family was grateful that the record chase brought the former St. Louis Brown’s career back into the forefront.

It was a special baseball moment and one that Ichiro has spoke of treasuring. In 2009 when in St. Louis for the All-Star Game, he took time out of his duties to visit Sisler’s grave and lay a wreath on it.

The game would resume and Ichiro would get hit number 259 on his way to 262 that season.

The record still stands.

Lineup!

Ichiro, RF
Randy Winn, LF
Edgar Martinez, DH
Raúl Ibañez, 1B
Bret Boone, 2B
Jeremy Reed, CF
Greg Dobbs, 3B
Dan Wilson, C
Jose Lopez, SS

Ron Villone, P

Ichiro finished the season with a line of .372/.414/.455 (.869 OPS) and 130 OPS+, all career highs with the exception of the slugging percentage.

“A record that probably was kind of laying in the dust pile. It laid in the dust pile for 84 years and finally this young man from Japan comes in and establishes the new mark. Absolutely incredible.” – Dave Niehaus

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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Drayer: The game when Mariners’ Ichiro broke an 84-year-old hits record