Ichiro Suzuki was the center of attention from the time the Seattle Mariners arrived in Japan.
On the opening night of the Major League Baseball season however, he shared the spotlight with Dustin Ackley.
Ichiro finished with four hits and an RBI, Ackley homered in the fourth inning and drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th, and the Mariners defeated the Oakland Athletics 3-1 in front of 44,227 fans at Tokyo Dome in the first game of the 2012 MLB season.
“I’m glad to get off to a good start, I’m glad our team is off to a good start,” Ackley said
Much of the hype surrounding the game centered around Ichiro playing with the Mariners for the first time in Japan. He didn’t disappoint, finishing 4-for-5 with an RBI.
Ichiro singled in his first three at-bats, then hit an RBI single his fifth time up. Ichiro, who has played in 11 openers for the Mariners, had a four-hit Opening Day for the first time in his career.
The four hits also made him the club leader in Opening Day hits. Ichiro now has 17, surpassing the previous record of 14 set by Ken Griffey Jr.
The game was knotted at 1-1 entering the top of the 11th.
Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan led off the inning with a double, and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Chone Figgins.
With Ichiro on deck, Ackley lined an RBI single up the middle to drive in the go-ahead run.
“With a runner on third and less than two outs, what we have to do is get that run in,” Ackley said.
Not to be outdone, Ichiro lined a ball into the outfield to bring Ackley home and make the score 3-1.
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who entered the game 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in four career Opening Day starts, pitched a good game, but wasn’t able to add to his Opening Day total.
Hernandez threw eight innings of one-run ball, allowing five hits and striking out six. A’s starter Brandon McCarthy lasted seven frames and gave up one run on six hits and struck out three.
Mariners pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen (1-0) earned the win in relief. Oakland’s Andrew Carignan took the loss.
Neither team could’ve been confused with an offensive juggernaut during the 2011 season, and there wasn’t much in the way of offense in the 2012 opener.
Seattle scored first, taking a 1-0 lead on a Ackley’s solo homer in the fourth.
“I’m glad I was able to put our team on the board and get an early lead,” Ackley said.
Cliff Pennington led off the Oakland half of the frame with a double to left. Kurt Suzuki tied things up later in the inning with a two-out RBI double to left.
The teams will play again on Thursday before heading back to the United States to resume spring training. The MLB season begins in earnest April 5.
Jason Vargas will get the start for the Mariners in the second game, while Bartolo Colon will take the mound for Oakland.
Magic group OKs deal
One Los Angeles institution is buying another.
A group that includes former Lakers star Magic Johnson and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten agreed Tuesday night to buy the Dodgers from Frank McCourt for a record $2 billion.
The price would shatter the mark for a sports franchise. Stephen Ross paid $1.1 billion for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2009, and in England, Malcolm Glazer and his family took over the Manchester United soccer club in 2005 in a deal then valued at $1.47 billion.
Mark Walter, chief executive officer of the financial services firm Guggenheim Partners, would become the controlling owner.
The deal, revealed about five hours after Major League Baseball owners approved three finalists for an intended auction, is one of several steps toward a sale of the team by the end of April. It is subject to approval in federal bankruptcy court.
“I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles,” Johnson said in a statement.
As part of the agreement, the Dodgers said McCourt and “certain affiliates of the purchasers” would acquire the land surrounding Dodger Stadium, including its parking lots, for $150 million.
“If they invested that much money, I’m sure they’ll invest to get us a winner,” said Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ retired Hall of Fame manager.