The crowd at Marlins Park was chanting his name.
“I-chi-ro! I-chi-ro! I-chi-ro!”
And then, after stubbornly fouling off five pitches in a row, Ichiro Suzuki brought fans to their feet. The 41-year-old Suzuki, the oldest position player in the majors, broke open a tight game with a three-run homer in the eighth as the Marlins defeated the Mets 7-3.
It was a dramatic moment for a beloved baseball icon. Suzuki may be in the twilight of a great career, but he continues to show he can still perform. Afterward, he said the moment nearly caused him to weep.
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The home run was his first as a Marlin; his first as a National League player.
Suzuki was mobbed by his teammates after circling the bases and arriving in the dugout.
“Obviously, I heard [the fans] during the at-bat,” Suzuki said. “But when I hit the home run, just to see my teammates so happy and the fans so happy, I was very moved. I almost cried.”
Said manager Mike Redmond: “What an exciting at-bat. It was so fun. I was fired up, not just for us, but for him, too.”
After being swept by the Mets in a four-game series in New York, the Marlins cooled the red-hot Mets — and portly Bartolo Colon — by taking two out of three in their series at Marlins Park.
Wednesday’s feel-good win for the Marlins came at a price, though.
Marlins starter Mat Latos left the game in the fifth with a strained left hamstring he sustained while limping out a base hit and is listed as day-to-day. With Henderson Alvarez already on the disabled list, the Marlins can ill afford to suffer another loss to their rotation.
His status in terms of his next start remains uncertain. Latos missed the first half of last season with the Reds after undergoing surgery on his left knee.
“I can walk on it,” Latos said. “I just can’t straighten my leg. It’s real tight.”
Latos said he would have an MRI on Thursday to determine the full extent of the injury.
“My best guess is, it’s just a little tight and hopefully everything’s all right,” he said.
Latos represented what proved to be the tying run after Giancarlo Stanton came up later in the fifth inning and drove in pinch-runner Donovan Solano with an infield single to the right side against a Mets infield that had shifted left.
Stanton’s RBI carried none of the thunder of his first at-bat, when he clobbered a Colon pitch to deep left for a two-run homer, giving him six so far on the season.
But as mighty as Stanton’s clout was in the first, it didn’t stack up to Suzuki’s blast in the eighth in terms of pure drama.
With the Marlins clinging to a 4-3 lead, Suzuki went to the plate with one out, runners at the corners, and lefty specialist Alex Torres on the mound for the Mets. Suzuki said he was just trying to find a way to score the runner from third, to give the Marlins an insurance run.
Of the five consecutive pitches Suzuki fouled off, four were with two strikes and one struck the inside of his right foot.
The crowd got into the at-bat with every swing, chanting his name.
“I was just trying hard,” he said. “I was trying my best in that situation.”
And then he came through, hitting a towering fly ball to right that landed several rows up in the bleachers.
Bedlam in the stands.
Bedlam in the Marlins dugout.
“Hitting the home run, I was very happy about,” Suzuki said. “But I was happier because my teammates were there, and they were happy. To me, that was way bigger actually hitting the home run. Special moments, I don’t think, is created by the player. It’s created by others, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Redmond called it a special moment by a living legend.
“That’s Ichiro right there,” Redmond said.