Ichiro Suzuki's return to Japan was everything the fans at the Tokyo Dome could have asked for. Now he tries to help the Seattle Mariners to a series sweep when they conclude their brief two-game season-opening set against the Oakland Athletics.
Seattle, which lost 95 games last season, won its sixth straight Opening Day affair on Wednesday, as Dustin Ackley hit a solo home run and knocked in the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th inning, leading the Mariners to a 3-1 win.
But it was Suzuki who stole the show.
Suzuki, hitting third in the order this season, returned to his native land with a 4-for-5 performance at the plate for the Mariners and had an RBI single in the 11th.
"More than the four hits, it was more being able to enjoy the atmosphere with the fans," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "Being there with the same feelings, that was special to me. That's what will stay in my heart."
Felix Hernandez, making his fifth career Opening Day start, gave up one run on five hits over eight innings. He also fanned six batters. Tom Wilhelmsen (1-0) pitched two scoreless frames to pick up the win. Brandon League worked around a two-out single in the bottom of the 11th to record the save.
"Welcome home, huh?" said Wilhelmsen, the winning pitcher with two shutout innings of relief. "What a great show for the fans and obviously for us and the team. It's just amazing. Felix is the king of Seattle and Washington. But this is just something un-Godly. [Ichiro] was just amazing, and I'm happy he was able to get those four hits and put on the show he did."
Kurt Suzuki drove in the lone run for the Athletics, who went 74-88 last season. Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes also roped a double in the loss.
Brandon McCarthy allowed one run on six hits over seven full frames. Andrew Carignan (0-1) took the loss after giving up two runs in the 11th.
"We had some opportunities situationally," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We really didn't do as well as we liked. In games like that, you're always searching for silver linings, and we did hit some balls hard, but in the end, they had a couple more big hits than we did obviously."
To wrap up this set, Seattle will hand the ball to lefty Jason Vargas, who last season was 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA. However, he did show flashes of brilliance at times, tossing three shutouts.
Getting the call for the A's on Thursday will be veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon.
After not pitching in the majors in 2010, the 38-year-old former Cy Young winner returned last season with the New York Yankees and posted an 8-10 mark in 29 games -- 26 starts -- with a 4.00 earned run average and 135 strikeouts.
"To be pitching at the level he is at this age, he's been doing something right," Melvin said. "A lot of our guys can learn some things from a guy who has been able to maintain and further his career at an age where most guys are not pitching."
This series marks the fourth time MLB has opened its season in Japan and the first since the Red Sox and A's played in 2008 at Tokyo Dome. Since 1999, 10 clubs (Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Red Sox and A's) have participated in international openers.