By Stephen Wade and Tim Booth / Associated Press
TOKYO — Ichiro Suzuki seems to have said “sayonara.”
The 45-year-old Seattle Mariners star announced his retirement Thursday night, shortly after waving goodbye at the Tokyo Dome during a 5-4 win over Oakland in 12 innings.
Ichiro went 0-for-4 and was pulled from right field in the eighth, saluting his adoring fans in the packed crowd. He drew hugs from teammates in a three-minute walk that signaled to all his great career had ended.
The outfielder said in a statement after the game that he had “achieved so many of my dreams in baseball, both in my career in Japan and, since 2001, in Major League Baseball.”
He added that he was “honored to end my big league career where it started, with Seattle, and think it is fitting that my last games as a professional were played in my home country of Japan.”
Ichiro was a 10-time All-Star in the majors. He got 3,089 hits over a 19-year career in the big leagues after getting 1,278 while starring in Japan. His combined total of 4,367 is a professional record.
When he departed the game, he strolled from right field, turned and waved to the crowd with all of the usually reserved Japanese fans on their feet.
To chants of “Ichiro, Ichiro, Ichiro” he was greeted at the dugout — and later in the dugout — by emotional embraces from teammates. Yusei Kikuchi, the Japanese rookie pitcher who started the game, openly broke down crying when he embraced Ichiro.
Oakland players stood solemnly and watched camera flashes and iPhones catch the historic scene. All over the stadium signs read: “Ichiro we love you” and “Ichiro is Life.” Fans wore his famous No. 51 in all shades, colors and from all eras.
He was 0-for-5 in the two regular-season games against the As in Tokyo. He also struggled in spring training with only two hits in 25 at-bats. And in two exhibition games in Tokyo against the Tokyo Giants he was 0-for-6.
The conclusion to Suzuki’s career was speculated about since the games in Japan were announced last season.
Ichiro returned to the Mariners before the start of the 2018 season, then transitioned in May into a role as the special assistant to the chairman that allowed him to still be with the team and take part in pregame workouts, but meant he could not play in any games.
Suzuki was unlike anything the majors had seen when he left Japan for Seattle, and he’s become one of the most important figures in baseball history — and not just because of his 3,089 hits, 10 Gold Gloves, numerous All-Star Games, single-season hit record and MVP award.
Suzuki carried the burden of an entire country in coming to the United States, and his success created opportunity for the countless others who have followed. Whether he wants to accept the label or not, Suzuki was a trailblazer. His influence and importance shouldn’t be understated.
Suzuki preceded Hideki Matsui, who had a stellar career with the New York Yankees, by two years. In the years since, players like Nori Aoki, Kosuke Fukudome and Kaz Matsui followed. Last year marked the arrival of two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani.
All of them got their chance after Suzuki smashed the stereotypes that surrounded Japanese hitters.
He swatted away those stigmas with an AL MVP award, 242 hits and a Gold Glove Award in his rookie season. He was a catalyst for a team that won a record-tying 116 games, and he brought a new style to the majors while laying the foundation for others to follow.
The 10-time All-Star had a .311 average in the majors.
Suzuki became a star in Seattle and it’s why the trip back to Tokyo was so meaningful for him while wearing a Mariners uniform, more so than if he were returning to Japan with either the New York Yankees or Miami, the other two major league franchises he played for in his career.
Ichiro became a one-word, household name in Seattle. It was only right his final professional game came with that team.
But it was time for Suzuki to step away. Suzuki hit .205 in 44 at-bats and all nine of his hits last season were singles. In exhibition games prior to the games against the A’s, Suzuki had two hits in 31 at-bats. Too often, Suzuki looked like a 45-year-old trying to hang on.
Ichiro provided his usual flair during the days in Tokyo leading to his final two games. Cameras and flashes followed his every move. In the first game, Suzuki popped up with a runner on second base in his first at-bat, and walked his second time at the plate. He took his place in the outfield for the bottom of the fourth inning and was pulled from the game. He trotted off to another huge ovation and was hugged by Seattle players in the infield.
Hundreds wore Ichiro jerseys — of different eras and colors — emblazoned with No. 51, and a military band played a Sousa march in the pregame ceremonies.
A half-dozen fans lined up just behind the third-base dugout and held up cards spelling out his name in Japanese. Another wore a shirt that read: “Ichiro I believe — 3,090.”
The dream of Ichiro adding any more to that career hit count is now over. The countdown now is for his induction into Cooperstown.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed from Seattle.