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Ichiro calls victory ‘greatest moment’

by Stephen Ellsesser

SAN DIEGO — For Team Japan to be No. 1, Ichiro Suzuki had to bat No. 3.

News photoIchiro Suzuki pours champagne over Japan manager Sadaharu Oh during celebration.

And Ichiro is higher than he’s ever been.

“This is probably the biggest moment of my baseball career,” the superstar said following Japan’s victory in the WBC final over Cuba on Monday night.

Ichiro has come far in the WBC since saying that he should retire if he was pleased with his sub-.300 early-round batting average.

He has been mocked and booed by Korean fans who didn’t like his saying that he “wanted to beat Korea so bad the Koreans wouldn’t want to play Japan for 30 years.”

And now that he has finally won a championship on American soil, Ichiro really likes champagne.

“You have to respect the old guy,” shouted Ichiro, hat on backward and covered in champagne in the clubhouse.

He himself, Ichiro said, was the old guy, and although he is not the oldest guy on Team Japan’s roster, his numbers sure looked that way after the first two rounds, when he hit .291 through the first two rounds.

Not terrible for a power hitter, but far below Ichiro’s expectations and what Sadaharu Oh had expected from his leadoff batter.

No problem, just take him out of the one-hole.

“I’m no magician, so I wasn’t expecting us to score more runs with Ichiro batting third,” Oh said. “Our lineup wasn’t scoring many runs, so I was taking a gamble by putting Ichiro at the No. 3 spot. I thought it would be better to do something than nothing.”

With luck like that, Oh should take his show to Las Vegas.

Ichiro was 6-for-9 at the plate in the final two games, and Japan’s offense ran like a brand new Corvette, plowing through the semifinals and finals without much peril.

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