On a clear day
With contract reportedly settled, Ichiro tees off on NL
Posted: Wednesday July 11, 2007 1:47AM; Updated: Wednesday July 11, 2007 2:32PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Someone should have told Fox Sports' Jeanne Zelasko she was playing a cruel joke on San Francisco. As the 2007 All-Star Game MVP award was being presented to Ichiro Suzuki, she mused to the crowd that the Japanese star who tattooed the National League on Tuesday night could wind up being a Giant next season.
Guess no one mentioned to her that Ichiro is reportedly wrapping up a five-year extension with the Mariners that could be worth as much as $100 million. And maybe that's why a beaming Ichiro played like a guy with a Giant load off his mind as he did a little bit of everything in leading the American League to its fifth straight victory in the Midsummer Classic.
He led off the game with a single to right field off a nasty Jake Peavy fastball. His next hit in the third was classic Ichiro: a gorgeous, curving chip the opposite way off Ben Sheets that landed just over the head of third baseman David Wright.
Then in the fifth, Ichiro made history, blasting a Chris Young fastball off the right-field fence and legged out the first inside-the-park home run ever in an All-Star Game -- giving the AL the lead for good.
"He's an artist with the bat, he's an excellent base runner, a wonderful outfielder -- he's a complete ball player," said NL manager Tony La Russa. "There's really no place you can go to get him out."
And that was something the NL failed to do all night. In all, Ichiro had three hits and two RBIs in three at-bats on Tuesday, equaling his total production in six previous All-Star appearances combined (3-for-15 with two RBIs).
"[This game is] one that I'll never forget," he said through an interpreter. "The past six years I never had an All-Star [Game] that I really thought I gave it my all or was able to give it my all. So I'm really happy. It was a fun All-Star Game."
Ichiro was even loose during batting practice -- not only was he shagging flies with over-the-shoulder grabs and running stabs, smiling with the glee of a little-leaguer, but he also belted homer after homer himself.
"I had heard this about Ichiro but never paid much attention to it," said AL manager Jim Leyland. "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."
Who says Ichiro is broody, reserved and enigmatic? On Tuesday, he was having perhaps the most fun he's had in four straight losing seasons with Seattle: "If I'm allowed to bat .220, I could probably hit 40" home runs, he joked. "But nobody wants that."
That kind of relaxed attitude is a far cry from the tense situation in the Pacific Northwest this season where, even as the Mariners have stormed their way back into contention in the AL West, Ichiro's potential free agency had been a specter looming over Safeco Field.
While Ichiro had never come out and said he'd consider leaving the only American club he's ever known, the 33-year-old did make it clear he planned on testing the market once his four-year, $41 million deal expires at the end of this season.
He'd been coy about any extension rumors over the past several months, right into the All-Star festivities, dodging the question left and right. Even after one of the best performances of his career Tuesday, he refused to answer if the contract-extension reports were true.
"You'll find out sometime," he quipped. Now there's the Ichiro we know.