After it left his bat, the ball hung in Colorado’s thin air for so long — went so far — that for a brief moment it looked as if Ichiro Suzuki’s 3,000th major league hit would be a homer.
“Obviously I wanted it to go over the fence,” Suzuki would say later.
But it didn’t.
The ball eluded the outstretched glove of Rockies right fielder Gerardo Parra, struck the fence, and bounced back onto the field. As the crowd of Rockies fans stood and roared as if he were one of their own, Suzuki raced around the bases for a stand-up triple.
And baseball history was made Sunday at Coors Field.
The 42-year-old Suzuki became the 30th player in major league history — and first from Japan — to record 3,000 career hits. Marlins players raced out of the dugout to congratulate their oldest teammate, who doffed his helmet to the cheering crowd.
Later, inside the clubhouse, they toasted him with champagne.
“I had some champagne,” Suzuki said through his translator. “I’m feeling a little bit good right now. Sorry if I say something funny.”
Several times during his post-game comments, Suzuki’s eyes welled with tears as he spoke about a milestone few have achieved in more than a century’s worth of major league baseball. At times, he was personal and deeply reflective.
“As a professional, you don’t have fun like you used to play when you were in Little League,” he said. “That fun is not there now. It’s when you have those moments, where you get to share the happiness and joy with your teammates and the fans, that’s when I feel the joy.”
Suzuki become only the sixth player in big-league history to collect at least 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases. Each of the others -- Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock -- are in the Hall of Fame.
He recorded his first hit while with the Seattle Mariners on April 2, 2001, a single off Oakland’s T.J. Mathews.
“I felt like today, when I first got my hit as a big leaguer, I was happy for myself,” Suzuki said. “But today, when I got my 3,000th hit, I was happy but also I was more happy for the people around me, for the people who have supported me and cheered me on. I really felt that today.”
Needing only one hit to reach join the 3,000 hit club, Suzuki went hitless in his first three at bats.
“My first three at bats, my body felt like Justin Bour’s, just heavy,” Suzuki said, referring to the Marlins’ burly first baseman. “But after that hit, the burden was lifted off.”
With one out in the seventh, Suzuki lit into a 2-0 slider from Rockies reliever Chris Rusin, sending it off the wall.
Suzuki became the second player to triple on his 3,000th hit. The other: his former hitting coach with the Mariners, Paul Molitor. Suzuki said he didn’t feel so bad about not homering when he found out about that.
“After I heard that Paul Molitor was the other person to do it, I’m glad that it didn’t go over and I was able to get a triple,” Suzuki said.
Ironically, Suzuki reached 3,000 hits on the same day that the last player to do it, Alex Rodriguez, announced that Friday would be his last game with the New York Yankees.
Earlier this season, Suzuki set an unofficial record for career hits when, combining his numbers from Japan, he surpassed Pete Rose’s major league record of 4,256 hits. Suzuki has 1,278 hits in Japan.
Suzuki had 2,533 hits with the Mariners, 311 with the Yankees, and 156 so far with the Marlins.
To become the first player from Japan to collect 3,000 made it even more special.
“It hasn’t been too long since Japanese players started coming over here to play,” Suzukis said. “There are still just a very few. I’ve been able to get some hits. We’re not there yet, and there’s still more that we need to do as Japanese players. But, hopefully, this 3,000th hit will bring that bridge closer, and maybe we’ll be able to have Japanese players and the fans understand that Japanese baseball is good baseball. Hopefully this did that.”