It could’ve ended in 2017, when he crushed a homer off Evan Marshall in the final plate appearance of a meaningless game for Miami to a raucous Safeco crowd. It could’ve ended last year, after a difficult first month and the return of healthy replacements. It could’ve ended eight years ago, when his bat finally began to slip at the age of 37 in 2011, and yet all those times and more Ichiro returned. Resolute in his ability, his preparation, his need to play the game he’s spent 28 years making his profession. And yet tonight, all but assuredly, it will come to an end. At least in MLB, only the Mariners embraced him each of the past two years, and it could not be more fitting than for his career to conclude in his homeland. Ichiro’s hometown of Kobe in southwestern Japan and tonight’s host city of Tokyo are as far apart as Seattle and Bend or Coeur d’Alene, but every person in attendance will be there for him all the same. One hit, of any sort, would mean the world to him no doubt, as it would to the fans in attendance. As it would to me.
He’ll be joined on the field tonight by Yusei Kikuchi, who is his countryman even as the 27-year-old LHP was born and raised in Morioka, an equal distance from Tokyo as Kobe but in nearly the opposite direction. The two cities are as far apart as Washington D.C. and Atlanta, but they will be the story tonight, one beginning a career in the U.S., the other concluding, forever intertwined.
The lineup is... identical to last night’s. After an 0-for-5 showing with three strikeouts, Ramon Laureano has flipped spots with Marcus Semien, and the Athletics second catcher Josh Phegley will catch, but little else has changed. Marco Estrada has had an abbreviated spring and a winter to attempt to reverse the significant tailspin his numbers have taken over the past two seasons, and he may break out a far different usage rate of his pitches than his four-seam/change-up heavy approach of years past. With a week off ahead, the hook will likely be quick once again. Estrada was one of only five pitchers to allow a higher rate of HRs per 9 innings in 2018 than Mike Fiers, which could bode well for another power show tonight.
Maybe even enough for a certain outfielder...
Game Time: 2:35 AM PDT, 6:35 PM JST
Radio: 710 AM ESPN, MLB At Bat App
Online: WatchESPN or MLB.TV
I hope I’ll have at least a few brave souls with me for another weeknight sLLumber party, let’s get weird y’all.