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June 20, 2012 at 12:03 AM

Ichiro reflects on 2,500th hit, his legacy and using criticism to motivate himself

Pretty boisterous clubhouse tonight, as you can imagine. Plenty of Mariners contributed with hits and late-inning relief work. Ultimately, the game will be remembered for Ichiro notching his 2,500th hit on a four-hit night that brought back memories of what he used to do a little more frequently.
I asked Ichiro about how he’ll view reaching the milestone.
“I’ve broken many records over the past 12 years,” he said, thorugh interpreter Antony Suzuki. “But now, if you look at me when I first got here in 2001, if I’d said on my first day that my goal was to hit 2,500, people would have said I was crazy.
“But now, if you look back, things do come true. That’s how I see myself now and I still look back to how I felt the first day here because there’s that passion inside that’s all the same.”
What about that passion inside?
“I think there are two things that come to mind,” Ichiro said. “There’s that passion, that love to the game that kept me motivated until this day. And there is also the criticism that came along with that. That keeps burning in my heart and brought me to this day.”
Ichiro was asked whether he’s talking about recent criticism over his numbers and playing time. No, he replied. He’s talking about criticism throughout his career. He uses it as a motivator to do positive things on the field.
Ichiro talked some more about his motivations. I asked him whether the pressure of topping milestones gets easier as he nears them — given how much practice he’s had at it — he told me that’s not how he’s wired. That he actually welcomes the pressure.
“I have my own belief and I like to put pressure on,” he said. “Because with that, you overcome that and you achieve something bigger.”

Back to the criticism part. Why does Ichiro choose to hear it and not put it out of his mind the way some other athletes do?
“Because that’s just my style,” he said. “That’s just how I show my playing attitude. Some guys say this sport is entertainment, but then I take it to a different level. I don’t take it as entertainment. I love this game, obviously. But then there’s more to that than just entertainment. That’s how I like to build my life and transfer it over to my friends.”
The Mariners needed all of Ichiro’s hits tonight. But the biggest hit of the game came from Casper Wells, fresh off the bench to pinch-hit. I spoke with Wells pre-game about why he’s been pegged as a guy who hits lefties when he’s actually got better overall numbers versus righthanders.
You were supposed to see that conversation as a notebook item in Wednesday’s paper, but it mainly got cut in favor of Ichiro getting his 2,500th hit. The stuff about Wells and his numbers is at the bottom of the notebook.
Anyhow, pregame, Wells told me he didn’t know why he was pegged as a guy who only hits lefties. He figured it’s just part of the numbers game here and previously in Detroit, where competition among outfielders meant his best playing opportunities were when a left-hander was on the mound.
Makes sense, because some other guys he was vying for time with haven’t always hit lefties as well as he has. “It’s not that I can’t hit righties,” he told me. “I’ve always been able to hit them. I just happen to hit lefties very well.”
Part of that was his father — the fourth generation of Caspers in his family — being a left-hander and throwing him BP until his college years.
“Until I got into pro ball,” he said, “I haven’t really met any lefties that seemed overpowering.”
But he still could hit righties well.
Look at his MLB numbers. He’s hitting .297 overall and .333 versus righties.
For his career, coming into the game, he was hitting .269 with an .811 OPS against right-handers and .265 with a .794 OPS against lefties.
Can’t get much more balanced than that.
Tonight, he hit the game-winning single in the 10th off right-handed sidearmer Brad Ziegler. Wells had been in the batting cages earlier preparing to possibly face a southpaw. But he made the mental adjustment later and came through when needed.
“I’ve been doing a lot of watching the games and trying to feel how the game is progressing and anticipating a situation where I might come in and hit,” Wells said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way and they’re like ‘Hey!’ so you’ve got to go out there and grab a bat.
“I try to just anticipate and have the mindset that I’m going to get the job done when I get in there. That way, you don’t get too amped up and you can stay relaxed in a situation like that.”
So, there you go. Wells is looking more and more like a guy who needs to get more playing time to see what he has to offer. I asked Eric Wedge about that before the game and he agreed that he wants this to happen and is impressed by what he’s seen from Wells.
So, we’ll see how that shakes down.
Great bullpen efforts tonight from Charlie Furbush, who gets the win by retiring six in a row on four strikeouts. Tom Wilhelmsen then struck out the side in the 10th. So, that’s seven of the final nine batters whiffed the final three innings.
I’d say the M’s bullpen overwhelmed their opponent when it mattered.



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