Ichiro Suzuki has spent a decade of Octobers watching the baseball playoffs, shouting at his TV like so many fans.
Celebrating an AL East championship Thursday night with his new teammates, he noticed life is different now that he's with the New York Yankees.
"Usually that would be the end of my season," Suzuki said Friday night before a workout at Yankee Stadium. "What I've realized is here, for the Yankees, is that it's the starting point."
Acquired from the Seattle Mariners in late July, Suzuki helped spur the Yankees to their 13th division title in 17 years with a special September. On Sunday, he most likely will be playing in the outfield for Game 1 of the division series against the Texas Rangers or Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees were 9-9 against the Orioles 9-9, who finished two games back in the division, and held a 4-3 advantage over the two-time AL champion Rangers.
Manager Joe Girardi has until Sunday at 10 a.m. to submit his playoff roster and on Friday night all he would guarantee — giving a thumbs up — is that CC Sabathia (15-6) will start Game 1 on the road. But it's safe to say he will give plenty of action to Suzuki, the Japanese star who will turn 39 on Oct. 22. When making the trade, the Yankees planned to rest Suzuki against left-handers.
"We had talked to him about that he might sit against some lefties for us. But he got so hot that it was almost impossible to take him out of the lineup," Girardi said. "He played the last 15 days in a row, 16 games, and he was huge for us during that time. I don't anticipate us sitting him."
The 10-time All-Star came to New York hitting a career-low .261 and with a reputation for being a malcontent in the Seattle clubhouse. He dismissed all that immediately, impressing the Yankees with his knowledge of English, sense of humor and a remarkable stretch at the plate.
He helped carry the Yankees through a thrilling September run — hitting .385 (35 for 91) with 11 RBIs for the month — and New Work won the division on the last day of the regular season.
He's fun," Derek Jeter said last week. "In order to do what he has for that many years, you have to have fun."
The Yankees had some fun Friday night, working out in an eerily quiet stadium under the lights after a day and a half off to celebrate.
"Crazy to be out here at night time," Sabathia said walking onto the field. "Weird."
After stretching, pitchers took fielding practice (PFP) just as they do during spring training. The only sounds were the popping of balls in gloves, some chatter and the rumbling of the elevated 4 train beyond the right-field wall.
During batting practice, the Braves-Cardinals wild-card game played on the video board and players in the outfield turned and watched as fans in Atlanta littered the field with trash after a controversial infield fly call.
Center fielder Curtis Granderson said it was tough to tell if the call looked correct seeing it on TV, but as an outfielder on the play, his thought was "catch the ball."
Due to a one year scheduling change, the Yankees will start the division series on the road, even though they have the No. 1 seed throughout the AL playoffs because their league-best 95-67 record. There were two travel itineraries on each player's chair in the clubhouse. First baseman Mark Teixeira said it doesn't matter.
"We're going to have to win some games on the road to get to the promised land anyway," Teixeira said.
Teixeira took at-bats in a simulated game to work on his timing. He played in only one game in September because of a left calf strain, then went 2 for 16 in three games in October.
Another player who missed considerable time to injury was Andy Pettitte (5-4). Back in the big leagues after taking a year off, he broke his lower left leg when he was hit by a hard drive on June 27 and didn't return until Sept. 19. The lefty made three starts in September and gave up only three runs in 16 2-3 innings.
The winningest pitcher in postseason history said he had an idea when he would pitch but wouldn't say if he'd be in road grays or pinstripes.
"That might be a dead giveaway," he said.
NOTE: INF Jayson Nix ran the bases after batting practice and hit in the simulated game with Teixiera. He's been out with a strained hip and likely will be left off the first-round roster.