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Suzuki’s 4,000th hit earns praise in Japan

August 22, 2013

TOKYO (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000th hit of a career split between Japan and the major leagues drew praise back home from politicians, former players and people on the street.

The 39-year-old Suzuki hit a liner off Toronto’s R.A. Dickey that bounced just beyond diving third baseman Brett Lawrie in the first inning Wednesday night for his 2,722nd hit in the majors, adding to the 1,278 he had over nine years with the Orix BlueWave in Japan.

“It’s an astronomical number,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “He’s set a new standard in baseball and I offer Ichiro my heartfelt congratulations.”

Pete Rose with 4,256 hits and Ty Cobb with 4,191 are the only two players that have reached the number solely in the major leagues.

“It’s an achievement that could only be reached by Ichiro, who has racked up the hits at an overwhelming pace in Japan and in the major leagues,” former New York Yankee outfielder Hideki Matsui said. “I hope he keeps giving the fans something to cheer about.”

Suzuki’s hit helped the Yankees win 4-2 for their fourth straight victory.

Suzuki made his professional debut in 1992 with Orix, winning three Pacific League MVPs, seven batting titles and hordes of individual honors before heading to the major leagues in 2001.

His smooth transition to the majors helped reshape the image of Japanese baseball players in the U.S.

“Ichiro was the first everyday player from Japan to succeed in MLB and because he succeeded so spectacularly — he is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame — he almost singlehandedly altered the US-Japan equation,” said author Robert Whiting, whose 2004 book “The Meaning of Ichiro,” detailed Suzuki’s impact at home and in the United States.

“His success helped seriously diminish and perhaps eliminate a complex Japan had had vis-a-vis Americans in sports and at the time he also gave new respect for Japanese in the eyes of Americans,” Whiting said. “You could say that he became the first true Japanese cultural icon in the United States.”

While Suzuki’s hit happened as many Japanese were commuting to work Thursday morning, many paused to watch the accomplishment on TVs in train stations and public viewing areas.

“It’s a remarkable accomplishment,” office worker Junichi Takemoto said. “Ichiro has brought a lot of pride to regular Japanese people over the years.”

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