Home runs from Ryon Healy and Mitch Haniger assist the Mariners in a 5-4 extra innings win to finalize a two-game sweep over the A’s. But that was rightfully overshadowed by a much more important moment in Mariners/professional baseball history.
What an emotional and crazy two days it has been. After an offensive thriller in yesterday’s 9-7 Opening Day win for the Mariners, no one could have properly prepared themselves for what happened today.
Here are the four biggest takeaways from a jam-packed series finale in Tokyo.
1. Ichiro wraps up a legendary career
No mid-March baseball game will ever be as emotional as this one. Today, Ichiro Suzuki capped off a 19-year MLB career that will undoubtedly land him in Cooperstown when eligible. The future Hall of Famer unfortunately did not post the ideal results of a career-ending game, finishing 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
Scott Servais, however, allowed Ichiro to walk away on a high note, pulling him in the bottom of the eighth inning to an extended ovation from teammates, opponents, and the sold out Tokyo Dome crowd alike. Every single person in the Mariners’ dugout came out to greet Ichiro with hugs and handshakes, even evoking tears from Yusei Kikuchi and Dee Gordon.
Those tears were shared by fans both in attendance at the game and around the world, myself included. Ichiro’s career in professional baseball touched the lives of many and will continue to inspire countless generation of young fans and aspiring athletes.
2. Rollercoaster debut for Yusei Kikuchi
Ichiro’s retirement wasn’t the only major storyline heading into this series finale. This was also the MLB debut for 27-year-old starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, who finished the day after 4.2 innings of work, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and one walk, striking out three.
Kikuchi struggled with his command at times, skyrocketing his pitch count from the jump. At 91 pitches, Kikuchi was finally pulled after failing to put Marcus Semien away in the bottom of the fifth. Roenis Elías took over, but a second run came across on a comebacker after Jay Bruce dropped what would have been the final out on the throw attempt from Elías.
It’s remarkable how well Kikuchi handled himself in this game. Not only was Kikuchi making his MLB debut in his home country, but did so in the final professional game of his childhood hero, Ichiro. Those high emotions finally came to a head when Ichiro was eventually removed and the two embraced. Cameras remained locked on Kikuchi afterwards, whose tears understandably continued to flow well after Ichiro’s send-off.
3. Defensive improvements from Narváez, Healy
Both teams dealt with an inconsistent strike zone from home plate umpire Bill Welke all game, but Narváez managed to win a few close calls with some well-executed framing. This has been one of the biggest knocks on Narváez for the entirety of his career, but he’s already displayed signs of improvement.
Healy checked in with a pair of nice plays in the bottom of the sixth, making a leaping grab to snag a hot liner off the bat of Khris Davis, then ending the inning with a sliding grab near the Mariners’ dugout. He also produced on the offensive side of things, sending a two-run shot into the left field stands in the second inning.
4. Despite blowing lead, another solid day for bullpen
The Mariners held a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, but the A’s mustered a threat after Roenis Elías quickly retired the first two hitters. Dan Altavilla was unable to hold them off, walking Stephen Piscotty then allowing a two-run single to Khris Davis.
Elías was tagged for both runs, but had an otherwise impressive 2019 debut, featuring a nasty changeup that helped him cruise through his first six batters faced. He finished the day with two-plus innings logged, giving up the two aforementioned runs, walking one, and striking out a pair.
Brandon Brennan survived a leadoff walk to pitch a scoreless eighth inning in his MLB debut, then Matt Festa dominated through two innings of work, allowing just a two-out single to Piscotty in the ninth.
Zac Rosscup notched a well-earned win in his second appearance in as many days, striking out the first two batters he faced before surrendering a single to Marcus Semien and a pair of walks to Piscotty and Matt Chapman. Rosscup, however, came back with a quick strikeout of Davis to keep the Mariners’ hopes alive.
After a botched double play attempt put the go-ahead run across for the Mariners in the top of the 12th, Hunter Strickland stepped in for a fairly easy save, retiring the A’s in order. In his first two appearances of the year, Strickland has looked dominant—a really good sign for a questionable bullpen.
The successes of Festa, Elías, Rosscup, and Strickland are especially encouraging. All four have looked impressive to start and will hopefully take that momentum heading into next week.
Now it’s back to the Emerald City for the Mariners, who exit the Tokyo Opening Series with a sweep of the division rival Athletics.
Though the Mariners won’t play another regular season game until the 28th, this will still be a busy week for them with the festivities of FanFest over the weekend and a pair of exhibition games against the San Diego Padres on the 25th and 26th, all at T-Mobile Park.
Baseball is back, and the season couldn’t have been kicked off in a more memorable way. This series will forever remain prominent in Mariners lore, and the sweep makes it all just a little bit sweeter.
Enjoy the week. Your Seattle Mariners are 2-0. And as always, Ichiro forever.