SEATTLE – Carrying one of the worst batting averages in baseball, particularly at their home ballpark, the Seattle Mariners traded the best hitter in franchise history.
Ichiro Suzuki switched teams at Safeco Field after a momentous trade and singled his first time up with the New York Yankees during their 4-1 victory over the Mariners on Monday night.
"It was obviously different with Ichi being on the other side," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "I think everyone felt that way, but that's baseball. What's done is done and from our standpoint we were out there trying to win a ballgame."
In a surprising deal about 3½ hours before the game, Seattle sent Suzuki to the Yankees for a pair of young pitchers. After leaving the only major league team he'd ever played for, the 10-time All-Star held an emotional news conference and then joined his new teammates in the other clubhouse.
Just like that, Suzuki went from last place in the AL West to first in the AL East. And he helped New York beat his former club by going 1 for 4 with his 16th stolen base.
"Obviously, it looks different being over here," Suzuki said through a translator. "I was worried about my first at-bat. I was really relieved with the standing ovation. It was a special day today."
Sayonara, Seattle. Hello, Yankees.
The crowd of 29,911 gave Suzuki a 45-second standing ovation when he came to bat for the first time in the third inning. He doffed his helmet and bowed twice to the fans before hitting a single and stealing second base.
"My 11½ years here is a long time and I was thinking what I would feel like in my first at-bat," Suzuki said. "I really didn't think anything. Nothing came to me. It was just a wonderful day to experience that."
It was a lack of offense that again held back the Mariners, who managed only three hits. They are batting just .230 overall and .194 in 45 games at Safeco Field.
After the game, the Mariners made another move in an effort to shake up the lineup. They sent slumping first baseman Justin Smoak to Triple-A Tacoma and will bring up outfielder-designated hitter Mike Carp. Smoak, acquired two years ago in a trade deadline deal with Texas, was hitting .189.
"This is for him," Wedge said. "This is what we feel is the right thing to do for him right now to give him a break, get him in a different environment without the pressure of being in the big leagues."
Smoak went hitless in three at-bats and was riding an 0-for-19 streak.
"I think everybody has seen what's going on. It's one of those things, go down there, get work in and get back to where I was a couple months ago," he said.
Hiroki Kuroda (10-7) allowed three hits over seven sharp innings to help the Yankees bounce back from a four-game sweep in Oakland. The right-hander struck out nine and walked one.
Alex Rodriguez hit his 15th home run this season — the 644th of his career and 299th as a Yankee — in the eighth. He also had a double in the fourth and scored twice. It was his 40th homer at Safeco Field but first since Aug. 22, 2006.
Mark Teixeira had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and an RBI.
David Robertson worked a hitless eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for his 25th save in 27 chances. Fittingly, Suzuki caught the final out in right field.
Kevin Millwood (3-8) went seven innings, allowing nine hits and three runs.
Suzuki showed up in Seattle's clubhouse in the early afternoon wearing a fine suit with thin pinstripes. By the end of the day, he had a different sort of pinstripes on his mind.
"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."
The Yankees also got cash in the deal that sent 25-year-old righties D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners.
Suzuki, in the final year of his contract, started in right field in place of injured Nick Swisher and batted eighth. It was the first time the 2001 AL MVP and Rookie of the Year started a game batting anywhere other than the top three spots in the lineup.
"Several weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki, through his longtime 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 made the deal 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.
Suzuki hit .272 last season and was at .261 this year — 62 points below his career average — before the trade. When he trotted out to right field in the first, fans stood and applauded. He tipped his hat and waved it in a half-circle.
"It was nice to see the fans give him that type of recognition and respect with an ovation like they did," Wedge said.
NOTES: It was the eighth time in club history that the Mariners played at home the day after the longest flight in the American League (2,510 miles) from Tampa Bay. They are 4-4 in those games. ... Millwood has given up 32 hits to Suzuki, more than any other pitcher.