By Michael Kelly
The Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki defined his career with speed and sharp hits. It was only fitting he flashed both in his historic moment.
Suzuki lined a tripled off the wall for his 3,000th career hit in the major leagues, becoming the 30th player to reach the milestone as the Miami Marlins beat the Colorado Rockies 10-7 on Aug. 7.
The 42-year-old Suzuki got his big hit in the seventh inning. He became the first player born in Japan to reach 3,000, and joined Paul Molitor, his former hitting coach in Seattle, as the only ones to hit the mark with a triple.
“I wanted to see it go over the fence, but after I heard that Paul Molitor was the other person to do it I was glad it didn’t go over,” Suzuki said after sharing champagne with his teammates in the clubhouse after the win. “I have a special relationship with him and having something like this, that is the same thing he accomplished, makes it more special.”
Suzuki was hitless in his first three at-bats of the game before he tagged Chris Rusin.
Suzuki launched a long drive to right field that carried just beyond the reach of leaping Gerardo Parra, and breezed into third standing up.
“When I got that hit the burden was lifted off,” Suzuki said.
Third base coach Lorenzo Bundy hugged Suzuki as Miami players came out of the dugout to congratulate him. He waved his helmet to acknowledge the cheers at Coors Field.
“We gave him a big hug and told him he deserved it,” said Dee Gordon, who was the first player to reach Suzuki as he stood on third. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. Show him his respect, show him that we respect his milestone.”
Suzuki was happy to share the moment with everyone. He appeared to become a little emotional when he was told fans at Safeco Field in Seattle stuck around after the Mariners game ended to watch him get 3,000.
“I don’t have words for how wonderful that is for them to show that and support me,” he said. “To have that special moment to share with the fans there, I don’t have any words how grateful I am.”
Hitting coach Barry Bonds gave him a hug as the celebration at third base ended, and Suzuki got another round of applause when he scored on Jeff Mathis’ single, as well as a hug from manager Don Mattingly.
“For me, it’s been an honor to watch him play, an honor to have managed him,” Mattingly said. “He honors our game the way he plays, the way he prepares. Everything he does is a tribute to the game of baseball. He shows our guys how you’re supposed to do it.”
Suzuki gave the crowd a wave as he went into the dugout. He batted again in the ninth and drew a walk.
Suzuki is in his 16th season in the majors. He got 1,278 hits while playing nine years in Japan before becoming the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP with Seattle in 2001.
Greeted with cheers every time he came to bat, Suzuki struck out in the first inning, hit a comebacker in the third and grounded out to short in the fourth.
“I’ve been feeling this for the last two weeks, not getting an opportunity to get in there and getting a pinch hit every night, that was tough,” he said. “I feel like I should have gotten this two years ago. It took a longer time than I thought it should have.”
At 42 years, 290 days he is the second-oldest player by three days over Ricky Henderson to reach the milestone. Only Cap Anson, who was 45 when he got his 3,000th hit in 1897, was older.
Suzuki said he hopes his milestone helps more Japanese succeed in the majors.
“It hasn’t been too long since Japanese players have started to come over here to play in the major leagues. There are still very few. I’ve been able to get some hits. We’re not there yet. There’s still more that we need to do as Japanese players.
“Hopefully this 3,000th hit will bring that bridge closer and maybe we’ll be able to have the Japanese players and have the fans understand Japanese baseball is good baseball. Hopefully this did that and bring that closer.”