It's a little bit funny that Ichiro's first noteworthy moment with the Mariners came not with his bat, but with his arm. In fact, when I think of Ichiro, I think of him gunning down Terrence Long at 3rd, or that insane catch against Garrett Anderson in 2005, or the play last year against Boston where he damn near went through Safeco's centrefield fence. I have a much harder time with hits - I remember #257 bouncing over Hank Blalock's head in front of a delirious home crowd, and I remember #258 making its way back through the box and past Ryan Drese, but as for the rest? I can't say any of Ichiro's hits with us (now at 2000 and counting) have stuck with me the way his moments in the field have*.
Part of that, I think, is because of the team he played on. Post 2003, the team's offence has scraped adequacy exactly once, and we tend not to remember the leadoff doubles that turn into exactly zero runs (at least, we try not to). Clutch hits are the ones that stay with us, and it's not like the M's have been falling over themselves to give Ichiro the opportunity to cash in. His teammates aren't entirely to blame, though. Ichiro gets so many hits, so fast, that it's near impossible to keep up with him. Since 2001, he's done the following:
242, 208, 212, 262!, 206, 224, 238, 213, 195(+).
He's been first in the AL in hits in six years, and second in the other three. He holds the record for hits and singles in a season. He's now at 2000 in his career. Every single time he gets a hit, we've seen it before. We've seen him twist his body around and hammer the ball to right field. We've seen him reach out and tap the ball down the third base line, getting to the bag almost before the third baseman reaches the ball. We've seen him lean back and serve balls into left field that he shouldn't even be able to hit. Watching Ichiro, you get the feeling that you're seeing the same thing again and again, superimposed onto a different background.
His charm isn't in doing things that can surprise. I mean, how could he possibly surprise you? He does things that nobody else in the game can do, and he's done them so often they've become passe. Ichiro is so good at being Ichiro that we forget how magical the little guy is, and that's both a bit of a shame and the most impressive part of what he's accomplished with us. Ichiro is a hitting machine and if there's any justice in the world, he's a first ballot hall of famer. That he makes us forget how good he is, the fact that we take him for granted... well, that's just who he is. Ichiro is a magician; someone who makes the impossible look mundane.
Now he's at 2000 hits, and closing in on the major league record for consecutive 200 hit seasons. Congratulations, Ichiro. For the past nine years, you've made the team worth watching. Legend.
*The WBC-winning hit this year is a different story.