The Yankees ended their season-high four-game losing streak Monday, but this one was all about Ichiro Suzuki.
Facing his old teammates in the ballpark in which he spent 11 1/2 seasons, Ichiro got a huge ovation in his first at-bat for the Yankees and responded by bowing towards the Safeco Field crowd. He then promptly lined a single to center field and stole second base. It was his lone hit in four at-bats as the Yankees won 4-1.
Ichiro hit eighth and started in right field in his Yankees debut. Manager Joe Girardi said before the game that Ichiro would play mostly left field, but with Nick Swisher still nursing a hip flexor strain, Ichiro was able to start in his traditional spot tonight.
The eighth spot in the order was something new. Ichiro never hit lower than third in 1,844 games for the Mariners. However, given that he came into Monday batting .261/.288/.353 on the season, eighth or ninth is probably where he belongs in the Yankees lineup.
Ichiro also gave up his customary No. 51 and chose to wear No. 31 for the Yankees. No. 51 was Bernie Williams’ number, and while the Bombers haven’t retired it yet, they also haven’t issued it since he ended his career. Ichiro’s new No. 31 is the number Dave Winfield wore for the Yankees.
Taking over for Ichiro in right field for the Mariners tonight was Carlos Peguero. He went 0-for-3 and struck out twice, giving him 12 strikeouts versus just five hits in 24 at-bats for Seattle. The Mariners as a whole had three hits on the night.
Following the Astros’ decisive 4-0 shutout over the Yankees on Saturday night, Justin Verlander was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series. Hall of Fame outfielder and former MLB manager Frank Robinson handed the award to Verlander, who was beaming as he thanked his teammates and members of the Astros’ organization.
“I’ve got to say, it came down to the wire, and one thing kept going off in my head was Dallas,” Verlander told the crowd gathered at Minute Maid Park. “When he called me, he said that I won’t regret my decision to join the Houston Astros. And here we are right now, it’s the best feeling in the world. We’ve got four more wins to win a World Series, and I do not regret my decision to come here. This is the best feeling a player can have. So, thank you.”
Among a cast that boasted the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel, among others, Verlander was spectacular. He locked down a complete game win in Game 2, holding the Yankees to one run on five hits and a walk and striking out a postseason-high 13 batters. In Game 6, he saved the Astros from elimination with seven scoreless innings, helping propel the club to their eventual 7-1 finish that set up their series-clinching finale on Saturday.
The 34-year-old righty also took his place among some postseason greats. Thanks to an eight-strikeout outing on Friday night, his collective 136 postseason strikeouts are good for sixth-most in MLB playoff history, just a smidgen shy of Tom Glavine (143), Mike Mussina (145), Roger Clemens (173), Andy Pettitte (183) and John Smoltz (199). He also joined Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Sandy Koufax as one of just four hurlers to strike out 20+ Yankees in a postseason series.