SEATTLE – Around the All-Star break, Ichiro Suzuki made the difficult decision that it was time to move on from the Seattle Mariners.
In a surprise trade Monday, he got his wish.
Going from worst to first, Suzuki joined the New York Yankees in a deal that sent two marginal young pitchers to Seattle.
"I am going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins," he said. "It's hard to contain my excitement for that reason."
Wearing a pinstriped suit, Suzuki joined his new teammates in the visitor clubhouse at Safeco Field and, several hours after the trade, was cheered by Mariners fans when he took his position in right field — in place of the injured Nick Swisher.
In the third inning, he was given a standing ovation before his first at-bat against the only team he played for in 11½ major league seasons. Suzuki tipped his batting helmet and bowed twice to the more than 29,000 in attendance.
The 38-year-old Suzuki slapped a single to center field then stole second base. He went 1 for 4 in his Yankees debut and caught the final out.
"I was worried about my first at-bat," Suzuki said after the Yankees' 4-1 victory. "I was really relieved with the standing ovation. It was a special day today."
The Yankees also got cash in the deal that sent 25-year-old righties D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the last-place Mariners.
The Yankees made the trade a few days after learning that speedy outfielder Brett Gardner would likely miss the rest of the season because of an elbow problem, and manager Joe Girardi said Suzuki will mostly play left field.
"We're very excited with the caliber of player we are getting. We feel that he brings the speed element. He's a tremendous hitter. That speed element is what we lost when Gardy had surgery," Girardi said. "So this is a big day for us."
Suzuki was given No. 31 because the number he wore his entire career with the Mariners, No. 51, has not been worn since four-time World Series champion Bernie Williams last played.
"No. 51 is a special number to me, but when I think about what 51 means to the Yankees, it's hard for me to ask for that number."
Mitchell made his major league debut this season and pitched four games for the Yankees. Farquhar made his big league debut last year with Toronto and was claimed last month on waivers by the Yankees from Oakland.
Suzuki had spent his whole big league career with Seattle. The 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner is batting .261 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases this year.
Suzuki is a career .322 hitter, a former AL MVP and holds the record for most hits in a season. He had batted over .300 in every season until dipping last year.
The only thing missing on Suzuki's resume is an appearance in the World Series, and he may get a chance with the Yankees.
Suzuki was the AL MVP and rookie of the year in 2001 after a stellar career in Japan, and the Mariners reached the AL championship series that season before losing to the Yankees. Seattle has not been back to the playoffs since then.
He said he hasn't played in left field since those 2001 playoffs.
In the final year of a five-year contract that's paying him $18 million this season, Suzuki's return to a young Seattle team next year was not assured.
Suzuki put an end to any speculation about what would happen in the offseason when he approached management around the All-Star break and asked to be traded.
"Several weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki, through his long time agent, Tony Attanasio, approached (team president) Chuck Armstrong and me to ask that the Mariners consider trading him," said Howard Lincoln, the team's CEO.
"Ichiro knows that the club is building for the future, and he felt that what was best for the team was to be traded to another club and give our younger players an opportunity to develop."
The Yankees certainly hope this trade with the Mariners works out better than the previous big deal between the teams. New York sent prized young catcher Jesus Montero to Seattle before the season for All-Star pitcher Michael Pineda, who was later injured and is out for the year.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has long admired Suzuki, saying, "he's been consistent throughout his career."
"They're been a lot of guys that have come here over the years, starting my first year with Cecil Fielder," he added. "It's been unexpected, sort of out of the blue. That's why you don't ever listen to rumors. Getting someone like this is unbelievable."
Said Suzuki about playing with Jeter: "I noticed that he's not only a guy who has performed for a long time but consistently performed for a long time. And for a team that has the highest expectations of demand to win. To do what he has done there makes me see that he's exceptional, not just potential wise as a talent but also as a human being."
Suzuki, usually stoic on and off the field, became emotional at times during the news conference, especially when talking about his admiration for the Mariners fans.
"When I think about this long period, it is difficult to express precisely my feeling," Suzuki said of his time in Seattle. "When I imagined taking off a Seattle Mariners uniform, I was overcome with sadness. That made it a very difficult decision to make."