April 6, 2001: Ichiro’s first major-league homer gives Mariners 10-inning win over Rangers

This article was written by Thomas J. Brown Jr.

Ichiro Suzuki (Trading Card DB)Baseball history was made when 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki signed with the Seattle Mariners in November 2000 as the first position player from Japan in the major leagues.1 The Mariners had pursued Suzuki—a career .353 hitter in nine seasons with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Orix Blue Wave—because Seattle’s principal owner, Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi, loved watching Suzuki play in Japan. Yamauchi had even added several million dollars of his own money to the bid for the rights to negotiate with Ichiro.2

 “Today is the best day of my life. It has been my dream to wear a major-league uniform for several years,” said Ichiro when he was introduced to the press after signing. “I’m so excited to sign with the Seattle Mariners. It’s the team I like best.”3

Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said the team planned to have Ichiro play right field and bat first or second. “He can do everything except hit with power,” Gillick said. “In the United States I think he’ll be a contact-type hitter.”4

Seattle had reached the postseason for the third time in six seasons in 2000, falling to the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Shortstop Álex Rodríguez—already a four-time All-Star and a four-time Silver Slugger at age 25—had declared free agency and signed a record-setting 10-year, $252 million contract with the AL West-rival Texas Rangers in January 2001.

Seattle opened the 2001 season at home with a three-game series with the Oakland A’s. The Mariners won twice, with Ichiro batting leadoff, getting four hits, and scoring three runs. Seattle then went on the road for a three-game series against Texas starting on April 6.

The Rangers had opened their season with an 8-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in Puerto Rico. They returned home to play the Anaheim Angels in a three-game set, winning twice to enter the series with the Mariners at 2-2.

Right-hander Rick Helling was making his second start of the season for the Rangers after allowing four runs in six innings on Opening Day. He had pitched well against the Mariners in 1999 and 2000, going 3-0 during that span.

This time, Seattle scored four runs in the first inning. Ichiro led off with a double, his first extra-base hit in the majors, and Mark McLemore followed with a two-run homer over the right-field wall.5

After Helling walked Edgar Martinez, John Olerud’s single put runners at the corners. One out later, Al Martin walked to load the bases.

Martinez scored when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro couldn’t handle Carlos Guillén’s sharp groundball. With the bases still loaded, Tom Lampkin’s single brought Olerud home to give the Mariners a 4-0 lead.

The Mariners’ Jamie Moyer took the mound for his first start of the season. The 38-year-old left-hander, in his sixth season in Seattle, was coming off a 13-10 season.6 Moyer retired the Rangers in order, but after the Mariners failed to score in the second, Texas scored a run in the bottom half on a single, a double, and a sacrifice fly to make the score 4-1.

Lampkin’s two-out home run in the third made the score 5-1, and the Mariners continued their attack in the fourth. After Helling walked McLemore and gave up a double to Martinez, Pat Mahomes was called in from the Rangers’ bullpen.

“I didn’t have good stuff or good location. Put those two together and it’s a bad combination,” said Helling afterward.7

Mahomes had signed with the Rangers after two years with the New York Mets, where he went 13-3 with a 4.74 ERA, used primarily as a middle reliever. Mahomes gave up a double to his first batter, Olerud, that scored McLemore. Mike Cameron’s sacrifice fly brought Martinez home for a 7-1 Seattle lead.

From that point, Mahomes retired 14 straight batters, giving the Rangers the chance to rally. Moyer ran into to trouble in the sixth when Álex Rodríguez led off with a single and scored on Palmeiro’s double. When Moyer walked Iván Rodríguez on five pitches, Jeff Nelson was brought in as relief.

The right-handed Nelson had started his career with Mariners. He was traded to the Yankees in 1996 and spent the next five years in their bullpen, compiling a 22-19 record with a 3.41 ERA. Nelson returned to the Mariners when they signed him as a free agent in the 2000-01 offseason.

Nelson stopped the Rangers in the sixth by getting Andrés Galarraga to ground into a 5-4-3 double play and striking out Ken Caminiti. But he ran into trouble in the seventh after hitting Rubén Mateo with one out. Randy Velarde’s two-out single and Álex Rodríguez’s walk loaded the bases.

Seattle manager Lou Piniella went back to his bullpen, calling on 38-year-old left-hander Norm Charlton to face the left-handed Palmeiro. The move didn’t work: Palmeiro hit Charlton’s second pitch for a grand slam over the right-field wall.

It was the 36-year-old Palmeiro’s 401st career homer and ninth big-league grand slam. The Mariners’ lead was cut to one run, 7-6.

“Hanging slider,” said Charlton after the game. “I threw him a good one on the first pitch and he nibbled. I tried to come back and hung it.”8

Piniella brought in José Paniagua, who got the final out. When Paniagua returned in the eighth, with Seattle still holding onto a one-run lead, he walked leadoff batter Galarraga. Bo Porter ran for Galarraga.

Caminiti hit a groundball to second baseman McLemore, who tried to get Porter at second, but his throw was wild, putting Rangers at first and third.

Mateo hit a groundball toward third. Third baseman David Bell’s only play was to first as Porter was running on contact. Porter scored, tying the game at 7-7.

Arthur Rhodes, the fifth Seattle pitcher, replaced Paniagua on the mound. Rusty Greer singled and Caminiti tried to score from second. Cameron fielded the ball and his throw home just skimmed the top of the mound. But Lampkin held on to the ball as Caminiti slid into home and was called out.

“Ball hits off the back of the mound like that, usually don’t bounce right to the catcher but it did,” said Texas manager Johnny Oates. “Lampkin made a nice play holding onto the ball.”9

Neither team scored in the ninth, sending the game into extra innings.

Jeff Zimmerman, who had gotten the last out of eighth and blanked the Mariners in the ninth, stayed on the mound for Texas in the 10th. He walked Lampkin to lead off the inning, and Piniella sent in pinch-runner Charles Gipson. Bell lined out to third for the first out.

As Ichiro stepped to the plate, Mariners bullpen coach Matt Sinatro told the pitchers, “This would be a good time for his first home run.”10

Ichiro promptly sent Zimmerman’s first pitch over the right-field wall for his fourth hit of the game and his first home run as a Mariner. Seattle had gone back in front, 9-7.

“He hadn’t seen me before and I didn’t think that he’d be sitting ‘dead red’ [looking for a fastball],” said Zimmerman. “It’s unbelievably frustrating and I’m sure he feels the exact opposite. I got it a little bit up and he splashed it.”11

Kazuhiro Sasaki, who had 37 saves in 2000 and was voted AL Rookie of the Year, came in to close out the game for the Mariners. Sasaki retired the side in order, striking out the last two batters for his second save of the season.

Ichiro was asked later what was running through his mind when he hit the homer. “More than anything I was glad the home run helped us win the game,” he said.12

Oates complimented Ichiro, saying, “Ichiro played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. If the situation called for going the other way, he did. But he went up there to pull the ball into the seats and he did. That was the first time that he tried to pull the ball all night.”13

When his home-run ball was returned to him, Ichiro said, “I thought it was gone for good but someone in the other clubhouse got it. It’s very special to me.”14

Reporters wanted to know if this was just like a typical game for him when he played in Japan. “I haven’t had that many four-hit games. I haven’t hit that many game-winning home runs,” Ichiro responded.15

Ichiro finished 2001 with a league-high .350 batting average and 242 hits. He earned the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year honors, started the All-Star Game in center field, and received the first of his 10 Gold Gloves and the first of three Silver Slugger Awards. It was the beginning of a spectacular 19-season run in the majors for Ichiro, with 3,089 hits, two batting titles, and 10 All-Star selections.16

Ichiro’s rookie-year efforts contributed significantly to the Mariners having one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history in 2001. The team’s 116 wins are tied with the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the major-league record.17



This article was fact-checked by Mike Huber and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting logs, and other pertinent material.






1 All previous players from Japan who played in the majors were pitchers. The first was Masanori Murakami, who pitched in 54 games, mostly in relief, with the San Francisco Giants in 1964-65. The second pitcher was Hideo Nomo, who debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, received NL Rookie of the Year honors, and pitched for 12 years with seven teams. Eight other pitchers were signed to major-league contracts before Ichiro became a Mariner. The most recent pitcher was Kazuhiro Sasaki, who signed with the Mariners in 2000 and became their closer.

2 Ichiro had been playing in Japan since he was 18 years old. When Orix became financially strapped, the club decided to “post” Ichiro, allowing US teams to bid on his services. Seattle’s $13 million bid earned the Mariners the right to negotiate with Ichiro and they quickly signed him to a three-year, $14 million contract. Yamauchi was the principal owner of the Mariners because he had put up 60 percent of the money when an ownership group purchased the team in 1992.

3 Jim Cour, “Seattle’s New Outfielder from Japan Checks Out Safeco Field,” Longview (Washington) Daily News, December 1, 2000: B7.

4 Murray Chass, “Mariners Gain Rights to Sign Suzuki,” New York Times, November 10, 2000: D1.

5 McLemore had signed with the Mariners after spending five years with the Rangers.

6 Moyer would pitch for five more seasons in Seattle before being traded to the Phillies in August 2006. He pitched for the Phillies through 2010, was idled by Tommy John surgery in 2011, and signed with the Colorado Rockies in 2012. After two months and 10 starts for the Rockies, Moyer retired at the age of 47.

7 T.R. Sullivan, “Suzuki’s Homer Ruins Comeback,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, April 7, 2001: D1.

8 Larry LaRue, “Suzuki Sasaki,” Tacoma News Tribune, April 7, 2001: C1.

9 Sullivan.

10 Larue.

11 Sullivan.

12 Larue.

13 When Ichiro was asked how it felt to be the hero in Seattle’s win over Texas and former Mariners star Rodríguez, he said, “I don’t want to upstage Álex because he is such a wonderful player.” Sullivan.

14 Larue.

15 Larue.

16 Ichiro finished with 117 major-league home runs, with a career high of 15 in 2005.

17 The Mariners defeated the Cleveland Indians in the AL Division Series but lost the ALCS to the Yankees.

Additional Stats

Seattle Mariners 9
Texas Rangers 7
10 innings

The Ballpark in Arlington
Arlington, TX


Box Score + PBP:

Corrections? Additions?

If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.


2000s ·