Ichiro Suzuki really must enjoy irony.
On April 15 -- his first game after coming off the disabled list -- Ichiro produced career hit No. 3,085 to tie Isao Harimoto for the all-time hit lead among Japanese players. Ichiro, who has more than half his hits since leaving Japan to join Seattle, achieved the historic moment with an un-Ichiro-like feat.
Rather than lob a ball to left field or beat out a slapped grounder, Ichiro drove a grand slam against the Angels' Jason Bulger.
"A lot of time when I have a record on the line, I have a tendency to hit a home run in those situations," Ichiro said through interpreter Ken Barron. "So it crossed my mind that maybe it would happen. But a grand slam? That barely happens in any situation. So it definitely didn't cross my mind."
The thought of hitting for power should cross Ichiro's mind more often. That would make Seattle a better club and Ichiro a more Hall of Fame-worthy player.
No one disputes Ichiro's skills. He is a superb outfielder with excellent speed, although he lacks the daring of the elite basestealers.
The one flaw in Ichiro's game is a slavish devotion to singles at the expense of hitting for power.
When Ichiro debuted with the Mariners in 2001, he had 34 doubles, 69 RBIs and a .457 slugging percentage. All of those stats remain his career highs. He has reached double figures in homers only twice, most recently in 2005, and has had five consecutive seasons with fewer than 25 doubles.
Those numbers are OK for Juan Pierre, but not for a potential Hall of Famer.
Compare Ichiro with some recent Hall of Famers with similar profiles: Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.
Ichiro went into Tuesday's game against Tampa Bay with 3,089 career hits between Japan and the majors and a .330 career average in the majors -- two points better than Boggs and Carew, and eight points behind Gwynn. Ichiro's .376 career on-base percentage ranked behind the other three: Gwynn (.388), Carew (.393), Boggs (.415).
Ichiro had a .430 slugging percentage, one point ahead of Carew. Gwynn led in this category at .459. Boggs led in OPS at .858. Suzuki is last among the four in this category at .807.
What does it all mean?
If Ichiro can duplicate what Gwynn did in the second half of his career and pull pitches for power more often, he can join the Cooperstown club. The question is whether Ichiro is willing to do it. He is capable. Ichiro can turn on the ball. His batting-practice displays are the stuff of legend. He has hit batting-practice pitches to places where even the biggest of sluggers do not venture.
Once the game starts, however, Ichiro puts that swing away. And that is one of the causes of the clubhouse friction that recently has undermined the Mariners. According to a former club official, teammates saw Ichiro as more concerned about protecting his average than doing what would help the club most.
As a leadoff hitter, Ichiro never will drive in 100 runs. But asking for more extra-base hits to set up the middle of the lineup isn't asking too much. Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura had 30 doubles last season. Is he a better hitter than Ichiro?
How Ichiro responds to this will help determine whether the Mariners' new era of good feelings can continue.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
"They look different than last year," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter told reporters after the Mariners took a recent three-game series from L.A. "They look hungry. They've got new life with Griffey.
"And they still have Ichiro."
Which Ichiro will it be: the familiar singles hitter, or a leadoff hitter who can show power? The answer has long-term implications for the Mariners and Ichiro.
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