Ichiro Suzuki started the season in an unfamiliar place: the dugout. Healthy and eager, the future Hall of Famer nevertheless watched from the bench, warmed up in the clubhouse, but didn’t enter the game on Opening Day. He repeated the agonizing process in the second game of the season against the Astros.
After notching two DNPs, Ichiro returned to action Thursday against the Astros and displayed why, at 40, he still has much to offer. With two outs in the top of the seventh, Yankee rookie Yangervis Solarte hit an infield pop up that flummoxed Houston pitcher Brad Peacock, catcher Carlos Corporan, and third baseman Matt Dominguez. An alert Ichiro sprinted from second to home before the trio mesmerized by a falling ball figured out what had happened. Ichiro’s insurance run put the Yankees up 4-2 for good. There’s still room on a roster for a player who runs like a rookie but thinks like a veteran.
Last night, Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese phenom who went undefeated in the Nippon league in 2013, took a Major League Baseball mound for the first time. Ichiro, who knows something about being the hot Japanese import under the hot camera lights, again played all nine innings. Despite early struggles, Tanaka managed a win. His elder fellow countryman helped ensure that by going 3 for 5 and scoring two runs.
One branch of baseball math speaks poorly for Ichiro’s opportunities going forward. The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal, Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million deal, and extended Brett Gardner on a four-year, $52-million package in the offseason. That’s a $200 million investment for right, left, and center. Where does that leave room in the outfield for Ichiro?
Or, maybe another branch of baseball math will prevail. Ichiro boasts a .556 batting average in his two starts. More importantly, the Yankees, who started the year 0-2 with Ichiro riding the pine, won their next two games with Ichiro on the field. Age is just a number. So is the win column, which so far finds the Yankees in it when Ichiro is in the starting line up.
After hitting three straight sub-.300 seasons following ten years at the .300 mark or more, Ichiro looks to cheat Father Time, and some younger outfielder’s playing time, in 2014. He’s out of the line-up today. But there’s always tomorrow. For a former phenom at forty, tomorrows don’t appear as plentiful as they once did.