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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 7, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Ichiro-mania hits Phoenix

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As you can see from the pre-game pictures above, a large contingent of Japanese media is on hand today at Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the first meeting this spring of Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. Ichiro is shown here chatting with Yutaka Sudo, former manager of the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan, who attended the game.

Ichiro and Matsui are still the biggest names among the Japanese players in the major leagues — by a long shot. And it’s still a story when they face each other, even in spring, and even though they have done so innumerable times since Matsui signed with the Yankees in 2003. The twist this year is that Matsui has moved on to the Oakland A’s after a season in Anaheim with the Angels.

The spotlight will be magnified on April 1 when the A’s and Mariners meet in Oakland on Opening Day. Not only that, the A’s will be the opponent on April 8 at Target Field in Minnesota — the home debut of Twins’ second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, this year’s high-profile free agent signee from Japan.

Leading off the game today, Ichiro grounded weakly to first base. Facing Felix Hernandez in the bottom of the first, Matsui dropped a popup just fair behind third base for a single. Ichiro then made a nice running catch on a drive into the right-field corner by Kevin Kouzmanoff. Hernandez then struck out Chris Carter to get out of a two-on, one-out jam without giving up a run.

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