Ichiro Suzuki stepped into the batter’s box on Friday night to a standing ovation from the crowd at Busch Stadium.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina even stepped away from the plate to let the future Hall of Famer take in the accolade.
“I thought the fans were amazing with him right there,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “The St. Louis fans over the years have been known as some of the best in the country and to have that knowledge of Ichiro and that respect I thought was really cool.”
Those same fans probably weren’t happy with what Ichiro did next.
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His single in the top of the eighth inning kick-started the second of two Marlins comebacks during Friday night’s 7-6 victory. The hit pulled Ichiro within nine of the 3,000-hit career milestone.
Ichiro came around to score the tying run moments later on a two-out single by Martin Prado.
Performing primarily in the role of late-inning pinch-hitter and reserve outfielder, the 42-year-old Ichiro continues to be clutch for the contending Marlins.
Ichiro, who was hitting .339 in 165 at-bats this season going into Saturday, recorded his ninth pinch hit of the season, which entering Saturday’s game was tied for the third-most in the majors. Ichiro grounded out to third as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning on Saturday night.
“I’ve seen him hit over the years and just watching his routines and his work ethic, it’s really incredible what this guy is able to do right now,” Mattingly said. “It’s been fun to watch.”
Mattingly said the Marlins won’t change Ichiro’s role in upcoming games just to speed up his chase of the record.
Ichiro has started 31 games, mostly of them earlier in the season when Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich were out with minor injuries. He’s started only one of the past 10 games he’s played in.
“Ichiro knows his role on our team, and he’s going to be a valuable part of what we do,” Mattingly said. “We don’t have to force anything. We’re playing him within the context of winning games.
“No one has told me that he has to play or we have to get this done. The best thing with Ichiro is he’s always saying he wants to keep playing. It’s not like he’s said we need to get this done so I can go home.”
Miguel Rojas believes if the Marlins are to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2003, it will take all 25 players on the roster — and maybe more.
“It’s going to take every guy we have, even [the ones] called up from the minors,” Rojas said. “I’ve been that guy, and I know how important it is to be ready from the bench this time of year when everything really starts to count.”
Rojas, usually brought into games late for his defensive prowess, drove in the game-winning run with a go-ahead single in the ninth inning on Friday night.
Rojas, who came through with clutch hits as a rookie reserve in 2014 for a Mattingly-managed, division-winning Dodgers team, delivered his third game-winning RBI of the season.
The Marlins came back twice, the first time from an early 4-1 deficit, and won despite allowing four home runs. The Marlins rallied to win after trailing past the seventh inning for only the second time in 35 such situations this season.
“That was huge for us because everybody did great [Friday night] and tried to fight back,” Rojas said. “We tried to maintain the lead, but if we can’t we just have to battle back, and that’s what we’ve done all season. It’s huge to start the second half like this.”
Mattingly said first baseman Justin Bour (right ankle sprain) will likely be scheduled for a rehab assignment soon, which would likely keep him out of action until after the current seven-game trip.
▪ Sunday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley (6-5, 3.62 ERA) at St. Louis Cardinals RHP Michael Wacha (5-7, 4.36), 2:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (11-4, 2.52) at Philadelphia Phillies RHP Aaron Nola (5-8, 4.69), 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park.