As it turns out, the best thing that could have happened in Seattle turned out to be a non-story.
By Stuart G. Matthews | @stumatthews11
Future Hall of Famer Ichiro, age 44, was suddenly moved into a front-office role on Thursday by the Mariners. He was deactivated, but No. 51 has not officially retired as a player. Ichiro is now Seattle’s special assistant to the chairman John Stanton.
Perhaps only the timing of this move was odd.
Ichiro was, after all, getting limited playing time and what he got wasn’t good – the legend was batting .205 with no extra-base hits in only 15 games, coming mostly off the bench.
The thing that makes this sad is there had been such high hopes for a duel between the pair of Japanese pioneers after Ichiro arrived in Seattle from the Miami Marlins, where he was just a sideshow among many sideshows.
Ichiro of course, was the first successful hitter to cross the Pacific and achieve stardom in the US. Counting his hits in Japan and America, Ichiro passed Pete Rose’s record of MLB hits with 4,257. Only Ichiro is guaranteed to go through the doors of Cooperstown.
Ohtani is breaking new ground on a different path as the 23-year-old tries to get through a full season as both a batter and a pitcher, striving to do what only Babe Ruth really did successfully in 1918 and 1919.
After Ohtani arrived in Anaheim and Ichiro in Seattle, the elder statesman talked about wanting to pitch against Ohtani. Ichiro had begged to pitch for Miami in 2015 and got his wish, throwing one inning against the Phillies. Along with his career batting average of .311 in MLB, Ichiro also has a 9.00 ERA as a hurler.
Ohtani’s two-way quest is off to a much better start. Going into Sunday’s finale in at Safeco Field, Ohtani was batting .339 with four home runs, and had struck out 26 batters in 20.1 inning.
At least they had a playful moment with both in uniform at Safeco Field.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. What he has done for this game, our country and the fans. I wish I could have played against him, but it wasn't meant to be ~ Shohei Ohtani
"I have nothing but the utmost respect for him," Ohtani said in a statement released by the Angels. "What he has done for this game, our country and the fans. I wish we could have played against him, but it wasn’t meant to be. Wish nothing but the best for him moving forward."
The sudden move upstairs for Ichiro had some Angels fans – and reporters – musing about whether this was like a pair of boxers avoiding a fight.
"I don’t think there’s any ‘ploy’ afoot," said Kate Preusser, managing editor of Lookout Landing, SB Nation’s Mariners counterpart to Halos Heaven.
"A GM’s job is to field the best team possible every day, and it was rapidly becoming apparent Ichiro—and more importantly, his spot on the roster—was an obstacle to that goal," Preusser said.
Of course, Kate’s right. But a skeptical Angels writer (and you can call me one of those) – could view Ichiro’s sudden move into the front office from the field as a cold-hearted dagger by Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto.
Dipoto won’t admit it, but if the deposed Angels GM remains bitter about losing the bidding for Ohtani’s services, he would truly be emotionless.
"Nobody ever knows," Dipoto told the Seattle Times at the Winter Meetings. "The person knows. In this type of situation, we didn’t know.
"I don’t want to spend the whole night talking about it. He’s made his selection. He’s a member of the Angels. We’re going to have to watch him 19 times a year whether it’s as a pitcher or as a hitter, and we’ll have to figure out how to get the better of him. He’s a great player."
Hmmm. So let’s assume Dipoto is still bitter. Or at least, more than slightly bummed out.
Preusser also rightly stated that the Mariners, with two pitchers recently placed on the disabled list, needed Ichiro’s roster spot more desperately than they needed a fifth outfielder – even a legendary one whose ticket to Cooperstown is already punched.
"Fan wishes don’t always align with baseball realities, unfortunately," Preusser said. Again, she’s right.
Fan wishes don’t always align with baseball realities, unfortunately. ~ Kate Preusser, Lookout Landing managing editor
And to be true, the Mariners are right in the thick of the American League West melee for supremacy. After Sunday’s finale, the Angels (21-13) stood alone in first place in baseball’s most heated division by a mere game over the defending world champion Houston Astros.
And every other club is in it too, including the gritty Mariners (19-14), hotly on the leaders’ tails at a 1.5 games back. The Oakland Athletics hit well enough to keep their heads above water. Possibly only the Texas Rangers are underwater.
And although we may have missed the main event, the side-show of Sho remains can’t-miss baseball.
In the third inning, Ohtani struck out Gamel and his flowing locks on a vicious slider. Look like a girl, swing like a girl.
In the fifth, Gamel was credited with an infield single off Ohtani, but it wasn't much of a hit. His sharp grounder up the middle went off Ohtani's glove and caromed to Angels' third baseman Zack Cozart, whose throw was narrowly too late to first.
And Ichiro couldn't have done better than that?
Ohtani ran his pitching record to 3-1 by defeating the shell of Seattle great Felix Hernandez. He threw 98 pitches, striking out six before losing command in the seventh.
But Ohtani's outing including one of the most devastating pitch sequences anyone is likely to see when he struck out M's catcher Mike Zunino in an at-bat that may live in Zunino's nightmares for a while.
Ohtani ran the count to 2-2 by wasting a 97-mph heater right underneath Zunino's chin.
The next pitch was simply unfair. Zunino hit nothing but air as he swung a few feet over a splitter that Ohtani buried in the dirt. Zunino shook his head, and went back to the dugout to put on his catching gear.
Somewhere, within Safeco Field, Ichiro Suzuki may have been keeping a stern external face as a member of the Mariners' brass. But inwardly, Ichiro must have been smiling.
"You have done well, son."