After a nine-year career in Japan, where he won an unprecedented seven consecutive batting titles, seven consecutive Gold Glove awards, and three consecutive MVP awards, Ichiro Suzuki became the first position player from Nippon Professional Baseball in the major leagues in 2001.
Over the next 12 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, he amassed 2,533 hits, which included an unprecedented 10 consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits.
The Mariners traded Ichiro to the New York Yankees in July 2012, and he added 311 hits during his three-year stint with the Yankees. One of those hits, a single off R.A. Dickey on August 21, 2013, gave him 4,000 total hits during his career in Japan and the United States.1 Ichiro joined the Miami Marlins for the 2015 season, and he collected another 91 hits that year to increase his career total to 2,935, just 65 hits short of 3,000.
In his prime, Ichiro could have reached 65 hits within a couple of months; he produced an amazing 56 hits in August 2004. By 2016, however, the 42-year-old veteran was often used as a pinch-hitter or late-inning defensive replacement. When he appeared in the field, it was as a replacement for one of Miami’s trio of talented young outfielders: 24-year-old left fielder Christian Yelich, 25-year-old center fielder Marcell Ozuna, or 26-year-old right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
Still, Ichiro made the most of his limited opportunities to get closer to the milestone. Ten hits in April 2016 were followed by 18 in May, 25 in June, and 10 in July. His pinch-hit double against St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jonathon Broxton on July 28 gave him 2,998 hits. In 214 plate appearances, his batting average was .335 and his on-base percentage .409.
The Marlins began August with a six-game road trip to Chicago and Colorado. Ichiro didn’t get a hit in the first four games of the trip, but pinch-hitting for Stanton in the eighth inning on August 6, he singled off Jordan Lyles of the Colorado Rockies for his 2,999th hit.
A day later, on the final game of the road trip, Marlins manager Don Mattingly put Ichiro into the lineup batting sixth and playing center field, giving Ozuna an afternoon off. It was Ichiro’s first start since July 29 and only his sixth since the beginning of July. The 40,875 Rockies fans at the game hoped to witness history.
Entering play that day, the second-place Marlins had a 58-52 record, and were seven games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East but tied with the Cardinals for the NL’s second wild-card spot. The Rockies, with a 55-55 record, were in third place, eight games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. The Rockies started 24-year-old second-year right-hander Jon Gray, with an 8-4 record, against the Marlins’ 26-year-old second-year southpaw, Adam Conley, who was 7-6.
Ichiro’s initial opportunity to get to 3,000 came in the first inning. With the Marlins leading 2-0 on Yelich’s two-run double, Ichiro came to bat with one out and men at the corners. Gray struck him out swinging, but a single by catcher Jeff Mathis scored two more runs to put the Marlins ahead 4-0.
The score had not changed when Ichiro came up again in the third, and he grounded out to pitcher Gray on an 0-and-2 count. The Rockies registered a tally when Charlie Blackmon singled in a run in the bottom of the third, which made the score 4-1.
In the top of the fourth, Martín Prado’s two-run double and Stanton’s two-run homer boosted Miami’s lead to 8-1. Gray was replaced by Chris Rusin, and Ichiro came to the plate for his third chance at history with none on and two outs. His grounder back to the box deflected off Rusin’s glove, but shortstop Cristhian Adames picked up the ball and his throw just beat Ichiro to the bag.
The adage that no lead is safe at Coors Field held true in this game. The Rockies soon made it a close game. Nolan Arenado, headed for his second consecutive NL home-run crown, led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run, his 28th of the season. Three batters later, Adames drove in Mark Reynolds on a force out to narrow the Marlins’ lead to five runs.
Rusin retired the Marlins in order in the top of the fifth. In the bottom half of the inning, Arenado put another ball over the fence with two men on to make the score 8-6.
After a scoreless sixth inning, Rusin registered the first out of the seventh inning, which brought Ichiro to the plate for the fourth time. The first two pitches to him were balls, but Ichiro turned on the third pitch he saw and lined it to the right-field wall.
The ball bounced off the wall past right fielder Gerardo Parra, and Ichiro sped around the bases for a stand-up triple. His 3,000th hit brought the crowd to its feet and his teammates ran out of the dugout to congratulate him. With a giant smile on his face, Ichiro tipped his hat to the fans.
Ichiro scored when Mathis singled, making the score 9-6. Arenado doubled in the seventh to drive in his fifth run of the day, but Yelich ended the scoring with an RBI single in the top of the eighth, for a final score of 10-7 in the Marlins’ favor.
Ichiro became the 30th major leaguer with 3,000 hits, and just the second, after Paul Molitor, to reach the milestone with a triple. He was the first to manage 3,000 hits after beginning his career in a foreign league.2 At 42, he was the second oldest player, after Cap Anson (45 years old), to reach 3,000 hits.3 He was the fourth player with 3,000 hits and 10 Gold Glove Awards, joining luminaries Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline.4
Ichiro also joined Clemente (Puerto Rico), Rod Carew (Panama), and Rafael Palmeiro (Cuba) as the only members of the 3,000 Hit Club born outside the Continental United States.5 Albert Pujols, Adrián Beltré (both born in the Dominican Republic), and Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela) entered the club after Ichiro.
The Marlins scheduled an event for September 25 to celebrate Ichiro’s achievement. But the game that day was canceled due to the death of pitching phenom José Fernández early that morning. The postponed celebration was held on April 30, 2017, when the Marlins celebrated Japanese Heritage Day. To commemorate Ichiro, the team presented him with a large collage containing a picture from each of his 3,000 hits. The artistic rendering was 4 feet tall and over 8 feet in length with a weight between 200 and 300 pounds. Noting Ichiro’s reaction to the collage, Marlins President David Samson said, “It’s the most emotional I’ve ever seen him.”6
Ichiro collected 30 more hits in 2016 and 59 hits in his final three seasons, giving him a total of 3,089 for his major-league career. Adding the 1,278 hits he achieved during his nine-year career in Japan, he had 4,367 hits in his 28-year professional career. This number of hits exceeds the 4,256 hits that major-league leader Pete Rose accumulated during his time in the big leagues.
Many thanks to John Fredland for his careful reading of the first draft of this story. His suggestions significantly improved the final product. The article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copy-edited by Len Levin.
I wrote an account of this game as an offshoot of my SABR biography of Ichiro written for the Biography Project.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used Baseball-Reference.com for team, season, and player pages and logs and the box scores and play-by-plays for this game.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpOSRbSp4uE—Video of Ichiro’s 3,000th hit
1 Jay Jaffe, “Ichiro on 4,000: ‘I Wasn’t Expecting So Much Joy and Happiness,’” SI.com, https://www.si.com/mlb/2013/08/22/ichiro-suzuki-reacts-to-4000-hits (last accessed July 2, 2022).
2 Jay Jaffe, “Ichiro Suzuki Closing In on 3,000 Hits Amid Outstanding Season at 42,” SI.com, https://www.si.com/mlb/2016/07/22/ichiro-suzuki-3000-hits-club-marlins (last accessed February 23, 2022).
3 Baseball Almanac, “3000 HITS CLUB, Major League Baseball Players With 3,000 Hits,” https://www.baseball-almanac.com/hitting/hi3000c.shtml (last accessed February 23, 2022).
4 ESPN.com News Services, “Ichiro Suzuki Triples to Join MLB’s 3000-Hit Club,” https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17241243/ichiro-suzuki-miami-marlins-notches-triple-join-3000-hit-club (last accessed February 23, 2022).
5 Jaffe, “Ichiro Suzuki Closing In on 3,000 Hits Amid Outstanding Season at 42.”
6 Craig Davis, “Marlins Honor Ichiro Suzuki for 3,000 Hits; Tribute to Baseball’s Most Disciplined Player,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, April 30, 2017, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/miami-marlins/fl-sp-marlins-notes-sun-20170430-story.html (last accessed February 23, 2022).