Suzuki stars in Japan, M’s beat A’s in MLB opener
AP Sports Writer
TOKYO (AP) – Ichiro Suzuki looked perfectly at home, putting on the kind of show that made him so popular in Japan.
Too bad most fans across America couldn’t follow along.
Suzuki got four hits and plenty of attention as the Seattle Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 3-1 in 11 innings Wednesday night in the Major League Baseball opener.
A capacity crowd of 44,227 lit up Tokyo Dome with camera flashes every time Suzuki came to bat. He drew a standing ovation when he took his position in right field in the final inning.
“It was very special to open in Japan,” said Suzuki, a star for 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.”
“The festivities for opening day were awesome, the detail, the time they put into it. I loved every minute of it. I love being in Japan,” he said.
A lot of big leaguers arriving early at camp wanted to enjoy it, too, but couldn’t.
The game began at 6:09 a.m. EDT and was televised live only to the Seattle and Oakland markets. The MLB Network showed it on tape delay at 9 a.m. – the game already was in extra innings when the nationwide telecast carried the first pitch.
“I got here at 5:15 in the morning and went in to turn on the game and couldn’t find it anywhere,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez complained in Kissimmee, Fla., where the Braves hosted the New York Yankees in an exhibition.
“I tried everything, MLB, ESPN, and I still don’t know who won. I got here early to check it,” he said.
In Tampa, Fla., Yankees manager Joe Girardi kept switching channels and seemed a bit frustrated he couldn’t find the game on his clubhouse office TV. Hours later in Peoria, Ariz., San Diego manager Bud Black and some of the Padres tuned in before their spring training game.
Asked whether he watched, Houston Astros closer Brett Myers turned sarcastic.
“Was there a game on?” he said.
Later in the day, the MLB Network changed its programming schedule for Thursday’s wrapup of the two-game series between the Mariners and A’s. A live telecast was added at 5 a.m. EDT to go with the previously planned replays, network spokeswoman Lorraine Fisher said.
Felix Hernandez combined with two relievers on a six-hitter as MLB opened its season in Tokyo for the fourth time. Dustin Ackley homered and singled in the go-ahead run in the 11th.
The continent switch didn’t help the A’s, who became the first team to lose eight straight openers since Philadelphia from 1985-92, according to STATS LLC.
MLB and the players’ association are using the series to assist rebuilding in Japan following last year’s earthquake and tsunami. A group of players and coaches traveled to the disaster zone on Tuesday to conduct a baseball clinic.
The rest of the big league teams start to get going April 4, when the renamed Miami Marlins open their new ballpark against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. In the meantime, the A’s and Mariners will resume playing spring training games this weekend.
Dropped from leadoff to third in the batting order as he started his 12th big league season, Suzuki singled in the first when be beat shortstop Cliff Pennington’s throw after his grounder over the mound was deflected by Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy.
Suzuki singled on a grounder to shortstop in the fourth, singled to center in the sixth and had an RBI single to center in the 11th.
“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.”
Ackley homered in the fourth off McCarthy, and Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki doubled in a run in the bottom half. The score remained 1-all until the 11th, when Brendan Ryan doubled against Andrew Carignan (0-1), Chone Figgins sacrificed and Ackley singled to center.
“I was able to put a good swing on that one,” Ackley said. “Our team is off to a good start, and that’s all that matters.”
Jerry Blevins relieved, Ackley stole second and Ichiro Suzuki singled for a two-run lead. Brandon League closed it out for the save.
Tom Wilhelmsen (1-0) got the win with two hitless innings.
Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a $36 million, four-year contract with Oakland, was 1 for 3 with a seventh-inning double and two strikeouts in his major league debut.
Oakland slugger Manny Ramirez did not make the trip. He must sit out the first 50 games for a second violation of MLB’s drug policy. He’s eligible to return on May 30, his 40th birthday.
Hernandez, coming off a 14-14 season, allowed five hits in eight innings, struck out six and walked none, throwing 104 pitches.
McCarthy gave up one run and six hits in seven innings with three strikeouts and no walks.
While Oakland threatened repeatedly, the A’s were 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position. “They got bigger hits than we did at the end,” Melvin said. “We hit some balls hard, but they just didn’t get in.”
NOTES: Bartolo Colon starts Thursday the A’s, opposed by Jason Vargas. … The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs opened in Tokyo in 2000, followed by the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay (2004), and Boston and Oakland (2008). Seattle and Oakland had been scheduled to play at the Tokyo Dome in March 2003, but the series was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq. … A pregame video presentation honored victims and survivors of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. The video was narrated by Derek Jeter, Bobby Valentine and Cal Ripken Jr. … The eight straight losses in openers is an A’s record, one shy of the major league mark shared by the New York Giants (1893-1901) and Atlanta (1972-80).