Vintage Ichiro

Many viewed the trade of outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees as a low risk, high reward move. The perennial all-star and gold glove winner had exhausted his stay on a bad Seattle team, the oldest player on a club that’s laden with young, undeveloped talent. It was time for a change of scenery, and a move to a first place team, the Yankees thought, would revive the talents of one of the best hitters in baseball history. Well, the Yankees were right.

In 95 games (423 plate appearances) with Seattle this season, Ichiro hit just .261 with 28 RBIs, a .288 OBP and 15 steals. Since the trade (53 games, 173 PA) coming into tonights game with the Yanks, Ichiro is hitting .317 (career average is .322) with three homers, 19 RBIs, .337 OBP and 10 steals.

Clearly, the pennant race and change of scenery has awoken Ichiro. At best, the Yankees thought they were getting an upgrade from Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez – a player who still played good defense and had good speed. Both of those tools were on display yesterday, in what I think is one of the best days EVER had by a Yankee in the team’s 109 year history.

Ichiro made a great catch on a knuckling line drive in the eighth inning of the first game of yesterdays twin bill. The catch ended the inning, and stopped the bleeding and preserved a two-run lead for New York. In that game offensively, Ichiro went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. In the night cap, the Ichiro Show continued. He went 4-for-4 with an RBI, albeit a big one, as it gave the Yankees the lead in the 8th that they wouldn’t relinquish. He also added four stolen bases, keeping pressure on the Toronto defense all night.

At the end of the second game, Ichiro said he wished the day never ended. Who can blame him? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first Yankee in history to record seven hits in one day AND swipe four bases. He was the first Yankee since Dave Winfield in 1983 to collect seven hits in a doubleheader, and the first Yankee to have four hits and four SB’s in one game since Rickey Henderson in 1988. He has certainly gained the trust of Yankee fans and Joe Girardi to come through in tough situations. As I’m writing this, he just hit a two-run double to give the Yanks the lead against the Blue Jays. With that double, Ichiro is 9-for-his-last-10, making him the hottest hitter on the Yankees, maybe in the American League.

With the reemergence of Ichiro, it’s definitely hard to tell if he is back “for real.” After 10 straight seasons of having a batting average of .300 or better, 200 hits or better (all-time record), Ichiro recorded seasons of .272/184, .277/157 – his age clearly catching up to him (he’ll be 39 in October). Since his contract is up after this year, should the Yankees resign him to a minimal deal? What would his role be? Brett Gardner will be healthy next year and back in left. If the Yankees don’t resign Swisher, and I don’t think they will, maybe they’ll resign Ichiro to a one year deal and have him play right-field, as the free-agent market won’t be anything to write home about in the winter. He’s certainly been a fan favorite, as every time I go to a Yankee game, I see more and more Ichiro shirts. The Yankees should strongly consider bringing him back for 2013.

In 2009, an aging Hideki Matsui propelled the Yankees to a World Series Championship. With Ichiro being a vital cog in the lineup thus far in a pennant race, the Yankees hope he too can push the Yankees to championship number 28.

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