TOKYO — Ichiro Suzuki gave his fans in Japan a performance to cheer about.
Suzuki had four hits in his return home, Dustin Ackley homered and singled in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 3-1 on Wednesday night in baseball’s season opener.
“It was very special to open in Japan,” said Suzuki, who spent nine seasons in Osaka with the Orix Blue Wave. “I wanted to have fun and give the fans something at this special time and wanted to share a special moment with them.”
Major League Baseball and the players’ association are using the series to assist rebuilding in Japan after last year’s earthquake and tsunami. A group of players and coaches traveled to the disaster zone Tuesday to conduct a baseball clinic.
Felix Hernandez combined with two relievers on a six-hitter as MLB opened its season in Tokyo for the fourth time. The continent switch didn’t help the A’s, who became the first team to lose eight consecutive openers since Philadelphia from 1985-92, according to STATS LLC.
Seattle and Oakland complete their two-game series today. The rest of the big league teams start April 4, when the renamed Miami Marlins open their new ballpark against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
A capacity crowd of 44,227 spectators at Tokyo Dome was a sea of flashbulbs every time Suzuki came to bat. He got a standing ovation when he took his position in right field in the final inning.
Suzuki has been dropped from leadoff to third in the batting order for his 12th big league season.
“We’re trying to stretch out the lineup and have the guys feed off each other,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “I think Ichiro hitting in the third spot is the right place. We’re going to be a very offensive ballclub this year.”
The 38-year-old Suzuki set a big league record with 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons before falling short last year.
“He’s a hitting machine,” said Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who managed Suzuki with the Mariners in 2003 and 2004.
“It doesn’t matter where he bats in the lineup. That’s what he does – hit.”