By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
NEW YORK — Ichiro Suzuki had heard ovations throughout his career in Japan and Seattle, from postseason games to All-Star appearances to the night he broke baseball’s all-time single season hits record.
Still, Suzuki said, his biggest ovation came this week in New York, when he hit his 100th career home run, which happened to be his first as a Yankee.
“I don’t know if they knew it was my 100th or were just happy it was my first here,” Suzuki said. “I could hear them chanting my name when I was in the dugout, and I didn’t know if I should acknowledge it or not — we were behind in the game.
“It was a little awkward.”
Suzuki has been cheered in New York for stealing a base, and for nice catches made in right and in left field. Most important to him, however, is the team he now plays for.
“It’s been an easy adjustment in the baseball aspects,” Suzuki said. “Every day I’m able to feel we’re going to win, which has always been my main goal. It makes me happy to be part of that.”
After 11 seasons with Seattle, how did it feel to see himself in Yankees pinstripes?
“We have everything in this clubhouse, but we don’t have a mirror long enough for me to see my whole body, so I haven’t seen myself,” Suzuki said.
He was aware, he said, that the Mariners had won seven games in a row before their series in New York, but didn’t know any specifics and hadn’t seen box scores.
“If every day had 30 hours, I would know more,” he said.
New York writers who hadn’t seen Seattle play particularly well asked manager Eric Wedge if the Mariners were ‘coming around.’
“I know we’re headed in the right direction,” Wedge said. “There are still bumps in the road, but the guys are quicker to fix them.
“You’re supposed to get better as the season goes on, and we’re doing that.”
Left-hander Justin Vargas was named American League Pitcher of the Month for July, when he went 5-0 — tying the franchise record for wins in a month — with a 1.64 earned-run average. Mariners pitchers had gone 5-0 14 times, but not since Felix Hernandez did so in September, 2009. … Center fielder Michael Saunders was given a day off so he could be off his feet for two consecutive days — the team was off Thursday. He had “stiff legs,” Wedge said, but will be back in the lineup today. … Statistical oddity: opposing pitchers Friday, CC Sabathia ranked third among active pitchers with 2,140 career strikeouts; Kevin Millwood ranked fourth with 2,059. … Wedge on lefty reliever Oliver Perez: “He’s with us because he deserved to be here. He’s throwing the ball harder, his breaking ball is sharper and he had a passion to get back to the big leagues and succeed there.”
Seattle plays the Yankees in New York in a 10:05 a.m. (PDT) game that will be televised on ROOT. Probable starting pitchers: Felix Hernandez (9-5, 2.79) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.28).