TOKYO (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki started for the Seattle Mariners on Thursday in what the Japanese news agency Kyodo is reporting will be his final major league game.
The 45-year-old Ichiro fouled out his first time up and grounded out in his next at-bat against Oakland. Each time the crowd chanted “Ichiro, Ichiro” as camera flashes and iPhone flashes lit up the 45,000 sellout at the Tokyo Dome.
Kyodo didn’t cite the source of its report. ESPN also reported the news.
Seattle manager Scott Servais had hinted that, after Ichiro started in a season-opening victory against the Athletics on Wednesday, he might not start the final game of the brief series that opened the Major League Baseball season.
“I wasn’t quite sure,” Servais said. “I thought we’d give him the opportunity to go out there. And I’d love to see him get a couple of hits and finish on a high note here. I want to do the right thing.”
Ichiro has been swarmed over in games in Japan. On Thursday he signed caps, jerseys, photos and balls down the left field line with security guards on megaphones telling people to be careful.
He saluted the crowd taking his spot in the outfield, and tossed a half-dozen balls to fans behind the third base dugout. In batting practice, fans in that same spot wore shirts saying “Ichiro is Life”and “I believe 3,090.”
Ichiro has had a difficult spring, finding it hard to rebound after stepping aside last May to become a Mariners’ front office assistant.
He was 2 for 25 in spring training games, and then 0 for 6 in two exhibition games in Japan this week against the Tokyo Giants. The Japan exhibitions do not count as official games. If they did, Ichiro would be hitting .065.
He has 3,089 hits since joining the Mariners in 2001, and another 1,278 playing earlier in Japan — baseball’s all-time hits leader.
He was 0 for 1 with a walk and a popout in the 9-7 win over the A’s on Wednesday.
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A sellout of 45,000 turned out again to watch Ichiro and Mariners rookie pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, who made his first start in the majors.