TOKYO - The Seattle Mariners rode a wave of 'Ichiro-Mania' in Tokyo to beat the Oakland Athletics 3-1 in extra innings on Wednesday in the opening game of the Major League Baseball season.
|Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki (L) is chased by Oakland Athletics shortstop Cliff Pennington after hitting a single for one RBI during eleventh inning of their American League season opening MLB baseball game in Tokyo March 28, 2012. Photo by Toru Hanai, Reuters.
Ichiro Suzuki, Japan's most successful sporting export, finished 4-5 batting third for the first time after playing lead-off nearly all his career, driving in Seattle's third run.
Dustin Ackley drove in the go-ahead run at the top of the 11th inning for Seattle, who had the worst offensive record in the majors last season.
Seattle's victory means Oakland have now begun the last eight MLB seasons with a loss, the longest active opening day losing streak in the league and the worst since 1992.
"I've never been that nervous before," Ichiro told reporters. "The warmth of the fans almost made me want to cry.
"I felt the significance of the occasion. I knew it would only happen once in my life. I wanted to share a special moment and give something back to them.
"Even Oakland's players were raving about the incredible atmosphere. I felt very proud," added the 38-year-old. "To get four hits and a win in Japan is obviously very special.
"I don't enjoy the pressure but I know it's something I have to live with. Tonight my nerves were really off the scale."
As the teams were announced, Ichiro doffed his cap as a sell-out crowd of 44,000 paid homage on his first appearance in his home country for the Mariners since he joined them in 2001.
His face staring down from giant advertising boards, Ichiro's famed hitting wind-up triggered an explosion of camera flashes every time he came to the plate.
Ackley smashed a solo home run at the top of the fourth but Oakland pegged the Mariners back when Kurt Suzuki drilled an RBI into left field at the bottom of the inning.
After Ackley's go-ahead single, Ichiro cracked a line drive to centre to add the insurance run. He got a standing ovation when he took his position in right field in the final inning.
Felix Hernandez pitched eight innings for the Mariners, striking out six while surrendering one run and five hits in the first of two back-to-back games at Tokyo Dome.
"It was an honour to open the season in Tokyo," said Hernandez. "We played unbelievable and the atmosphere from the crowd was awesome."
Reliever Tom Wilhelmson was credited with the win, while Andrew Carignan took the loss for Oakland.
Seattle and Oakland were scheduled to meet in Tokyo in 2003, but the series was called off because of the threat of war in Iraq.