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MLB opener in Tokyo brings huge welcome for Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki

By
Matt Loede
Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki got a hero's welcome in the MLB opener Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome in Japan as his native country welcomed him back home. The legendary hitter went 0-for-1 with a walk. File Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI
Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki got a hero's welcome in the MLB opener Wednesday at the Tokyo Dome in Japan as his native country welcomed him back home. The legendary hitter went 0-for-1 with a walk. File Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo

March 20 (UPI) -- All eyes were on Mariners legend Ichiro Suzuki playing in his home country Wednesday, as more than 47,000 fans gave him a hero's welcome during the Major League Baseball season opener between Seattle and the Oakland A's.

Suzuki, playing in his 19th season, received a thunderous ovration from fans at the Tokyo Dome during his pregame introduction, and again when he came to bat in the top of the third inning.

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In his two trips to the plate the 45-year-old popped up to second and then walked in the fourth inning in his second and final appearance at a hitter.

Ichiro came out to his spot in right field in the bottom half of the inning, but was pulled from the game. He left the field to a huge ovation and was hugged by teammates.

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"The fans in Japan probably aren't used to the reception I got from my teammates, but it's not that unusual in the majors," Ichiro said via ESPN.

Ichiro became the second-oldest position player to start an opener, only trailing long time Major leaguer Julio Franco, who was a few months older when he played for the Atlanta Braves in the 2004 season opener.

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Wednesday's opener started at 5:35 a.m. EDT, and for those who missed the opener, Thursday's second game will again feature Ichiro getting a chance to play in his home country in front of a rabid fan base.

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Mariners manager Scott Servais confirmed that Ichiro will play again in that final game of the series. He did not say if he would start the game or come off the bench.

"We certainly want to give him an opportunity to go out and play, but we also want to get some other guys in the game," Servais said via MyNorthwest.com..

"I understand everybody wants to see him go all nine innings. We're trying to do the best thing for the team, and Ichiro understands."

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This is not the first time that a regular season opener in Japan focused on Ichiro, as he and Seattle opened the 2012 season in the same Tokyo Dome against Oakland to the same type of reception. In the four games, he went 6-for-19 (.353)m including a four-hit game to start the season.

As for Wednesday's gamef, Ichiro's Mariners built an early 9-4 lead, thanks in part to a grand slam in the third inning by Domingo Santana, and Seattle defeated Oakland 9-7.

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Mariners starter Marco Gonzales went six innings to earn the win, allowing three runs on seven hits.

Gonzalez is the first pitcher in 10 seasons other than Felix Hernandez to start a season opener for Seattle.

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