June 5th: With two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, Ichiro faces off against Baltimore's Chad Bradford and snaps a 4-4 tie by slicing a double just inside the left field line.
With as many big hits as Ichiro's come up with throughout his Mariner career, what I find most incredible is how many of them remain so vivid in my memory.
What's special about this one is that it was essentially a repeat of one the night before. On June 4th, with the Mariners already having rallied to tie the Orioles at 4 in the bottom of the 8th, Ichiro stepped up with two on and two out and smacked a 2-2 pitch from John Parrish into left-field for the go-ahead (and eventual winning) double. That win was Seattle's third in a row, and it helped them keep pace with the division-leading Angels. It also pushed them to four games over .500 for the first time since 2003. Spirits were high, with the exception of those of us who were simultaneously busy watching our favorite hockey team get steamrolled in the Stanley Cup.
The next day, the M's sent Cha Baek to the hill against Brian Burres. Seemingly a bit of a mismatch in our favor, the thing about Brian Burres is that he sucks, so he gave our lineup fits. Hitter after hitter kept bailing him out and letting him off the hook, and after six and a half innings, Baltimore held a 4-1 lead. But there was good news: having thrown 111 pitches, Burres was done for the night, forcing the Oriole bullpen to make an appearance and giving us a whole new ballgame.
In came Danys Baez. The final out he got in the sixth was a scorching line drive, and his start to the seventh wasn't much better - after allowing a leadoff single to Guillen, he threw eight consecutive balls to Ibanez and Johjima, loading the bases with nobody down. By that point Sam Perlozzo had had enough and signaled for Jamie Walker, but his idea of help was a sac fly, a wild pitch, and a pair of base hits, the latter of which evened the score. In a game during which for the longest time the Mariners seemed entirely lifeless, they'd suddenly sprung to action, and in the Orioles' faces you could sense the dread of deja vu. Seattle was one hit away from snapping its opponent's back.
Ichiro. After Chad Bradford came in and got Willie Ballgame to bounce out to short, up came the same guy who'd plunged the dagger into Baltimore's side just the previous evening. With Bradford being a submarining righty, Ichiro being one of the toughest left-handed hitters in the world, and Lopez standing on deck, I'm still trying to wrap my head around Perlozzo's reasoning for letting him swing away.
I Suzuki Double to LF (Line Drive); Broussard Scores; Bloomquist to 3B
So it wasn't so much a line drive as it was a neatly-placed looper that landed a few dozen feet behind third base, but still, as far as Ichiro's concerned, you got the feeling like that was exactly what he wanted to do with the ball. In came the fifth run, which was all Seattle would need. Morrow and Putz would go on to finish the O's off with nary a threat. At 30-25, the M's were doing better than most people expected, and few things are better for a fan base's morale than consecutive late-inning comeback wins.
Said Ichiro after the game:
"That's true," he said in English, sporting a big grin.