KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The home run Ichiro Suzuki hit to start the game paled in comparison to his great sliding catch that ended it.
In between, the Seattle right fielder reached base two more times and scored two more runs, leading the Mariners to a hard-fought 7-6 victory over a bunch of Kansas City Royals who could only stand and admire the nine-time All-Star.
“Ichiro is one of the elite players in the game,” said Royals bench coach John Gibbons, who managed in place of the absent Trey Hillman for the second straight game.
Trailing by a run, the Royals loaded the bases against closer David Aardsma with two outs in the ninth. Pinch-hitter John Buck lifted a high fly ball toward right field that looked like it would probably twist into the stands.
But Ichiro came flying in and went into a feet-first slide, skidding toward the wall and ending up in a spot that most people in the stadium, including both dugouts, could not see.
After about two seconds of aching suspense, he raised the ball high above his head while laying on his back and the umpire signaled the game was over.
“Fantastic,” Seattle shortstop Jack Wilson said. “The concentration level, running that hard and knowing the wall is there, it’s a pretty awesome play.”
Ichiro, after taking some pregame ribbing from teammate Ken Griffey Jr. about not hitting many batting-practice home runs, slammed Luke Hochevar’s second pitch for his 30th leadoff homer, making him third all-time. He also singled and reached on a walk and an error as the Mariners snapped a five-game losing streak against Kansas City.
“I’m guessing probably the entire stadium didn’t have a good view of that play,” he said through an interpreter. “I did catch the ball. But even if I didn’t, I probably could have scooped the ball up and put it in my glove and say, ‘Hey, I caught it,’ and probably nobody would have known about it.”
Making such a play is even tougher in an unfamiliar stadium, he said.
“It’s a play where I didn’t know if I’d be able to get to the ball in time. At the same time, it’s not the home stadium for us so I don’t know how far the wall is,” he said, addressing the media. “But I think it still was easier to do than have to talk to you guys after the game.”
The catch enabled Aardsma to earn his 26th save in 28 opportunities.
Russell Branyan’s RBI single off Ron Mahay put Seattle on top 7-6 in the seventh. No. 9 hitter Michael Saunders had three hits for the Mariners, who beat Kansas City for the first time since July 13, 2008.
Shawn Kelley (3-1) got the win with two innings of one-run relief. The loss went to Jamey Wright (1-4), who gave up two hits and one run while pitching one inning plus one batter.
Ichiro’s major league-leading average stayed at .364 as he went 2 for 5.
“The second pitch of the game was a pretty good fastball under his hands that he turned on,” Hochevar said. “He’s a good hitter. You’ve got to make your pitches to him. That’s why he’s where he’s at.”
The only Mariners starter without a hit was third baseman Adrian Beltre. Making his first appearance since going on the disabled list on June 29, Beltre was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and had a throwing error that led to an unearned run.
Billy Butler, Brayan Pena, Alex Gordon and former Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who was traded this season, all had two hits for the Royals.