posted on Sep, 24 2004 @ 08:33 AM
Up-close view of history
By Bob Finnigan
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ichiro begins his sprint toward first base after slapping another single against Anaheim this week. "His technique is so good he uses dropping the bat
as part of his takeoff," says Mariners teammate Randy Winn.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — In almost every game this year, Randy Winn has had a unique perspective on Ichiro.
No one else watches the Mariners' hitting wonder, day after day for six months, from the on-deck circle.
But like everyone else, the Mariners' No. 2 hitter behind Ichiro marvels at what he sees and, as a hitter who wants to improve, tries to pick up a few
"Of all the games I've watched, I'd say his style is at its best right now," Winn said of Ichiro, who has 10 games left after yesterday's off day to
get the 11 hits needed to surpass George Sisler's 1920 mark of 257 hits.
"It seems like — well, you can't really say perfected — but maybe he's as close to perfecting his approach as he has been."
The Seattle center fielder, who was the designated hitter the past two games because of a sore right knee, believes Ichiro goes to bat with a plan,
even if he won't admit it.
"He goes up figuring how the pitcher is going to pitch him," Winn said, "and with that knowledge he decides how he's going to get a hit."
Ichiro's style is often contrary. Bust him in, as Winn put it, "and he fights it off and goes the other way. Other times he looks to pull. He changes
pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat."
Winn used Ichiro's 5-for-5 game Tuesday as an example.
"He got a couple of ground-ball hits to the pull side in his earlier at-bats," he said of Ichiro's first and third times up. "And it's like he knew
they'd change the way they'd pitch him, so he decided to go the other way, and his last two hits were to left."
Overall, since his 5-for-5 performance on Sept. 4 left him with 223 hits with 27 games to play, Ichiro is hitting the ball on the ground a bit more.
Of 70 at-bats since, Ichiro is hitting .343 but only .286 (14 for 49) on the ground and .588 (10 for 17) when he gets the ball in the air. He has also
struck out four times.
At his current pace, he would wind up with 263 hits in 162 games and 250 hits for 154 games, the first player to do that since 1930, which should
satisfy even the strictest baseball traditionalists.
"It is starting to feel similar to Japan," Ichiro said after he had 11 hits in three games in Anaheim, including a Seattle-record nine in the last two
games and eight straight during one stretch to tie another team mark.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would be like Japan for me here, but it is starting to feel similar."
Winn laughed at the fact that his teammate has a phenomenal number of infield hits — about one quarter of his total — and has some seeing things.
Bret Boone is among those who swears Ichiro is off to a running start before he hits the ball.
"Two steps," Boone says for emphasis.
"That business of Ichiro being a step out of the box by the time he hits the ball is the biggest myth in baseball," Winn said. "But he has as quick a
first step as anyone, and he has instant acceleration once he gets out of the box."
In Winn's up-close analysis, he attributes Ichiro's now-you-see-him-now-you-don't starts to a quick first step.
"He gets that quick step because he has an amazingly short follow-through," he said of his fellow outfielder. "Once he makes contact, his hands stay
quick and keep his arms and bat close to his body rather than extended. His technique is so good he uses dropping the bat as part of his takeoff."
Like everyone else, he senses that Ichiro is going for the record
"It seems like he's making a push," Winn said. "Earlier this year he seemed to be just hitting, about as well as usual, which of course is very, very
"But I don't think he's focused on this until now. I know he says he doesn't pay attention to the record, but he has to be aware of it. For one thing,
reporters talk to him about it all the time.
"When it comes down to it, I think he has a realistic shot."
Winn looks at hits like other good hitters, appreciating the fact that "200 hits is a lot of hits. Compare Ichiro to the guy leading the other
That would be Juan Pierre of Florida, with 203 hits.
"Ichiro has more than 40 hits more than him. That's better than one more hit every four games than the best guy in the National League.
"What's he got over the second half? It seems like he's hardly been stopped since the All-Star break. His norm is two or three hits, his week goes
something like 3, 0, 2, 3, 0, 3, 4.
"You say it seems like he's been struggling for a few games and you find out he's hit .333 for the week. But at his level maybe that isn't so good.
For a .370 hitter, .333 is struggling.
"I can't imagine a big-leaguer who wouldn't want to struggle like Ichiro."