Embracing STL spirit, Ichiro raises hit total to 2,994

Veteran feels the love from Cardinals fans, caps weekend with 3 more knocks

Embracing STL spirit, Ichiro raises hit total to 2,994

ST. LOUIS -- In terms of the big picture, it was just three games and four total hits, but the Marlins' series at Busch Stadium turned into a memorable one for Ichiro Suzuki.

The 42-year-old outfielder moved three steps closer to reaching 3,000 Major League hits on Sunday in Miami's 6-3 win over the Cardinals, going 3-for-4 to give him 2,994 for his career. But what made the weekend special is how the St. Louis crowd responded each time the iconic outfielder from Japan stepped to the plate.

"It's a special place and special fans and a special experience," Ichiro said through his interpreter.

The warm reception started on Friday night, when Ichiro stepped in as a pinch-hitter. Catcher Yadier Molina walked away from the plate to give Ichiro his moment, and for a few seconds, the spotlight was on the veteran outfielder who was showered with cheers.

A similar situation occurred on Saturday when Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright stepped off the mound in a moment of respect, as fans again applauded Ichiro entering to pinch-hit.

On Sunday, Ichiro started in center field and led off, and the fans again responded favorably.

Ichiro's 2,992nd hit

"It's three games that I'll probably never forget," Ichiro said. "Obviously, the fans, and what Molina did and Wainwright did, I don't think I could have experienced something like this unless it was here in St. Louis.

"I got all that ovation, and the fact Wainwright would do that, it was hard for me to look at them as the enemy. It was an overall great experience."

On Sunday, Ichiro wasted little time continuing his pursuit of 3,000. Leading off the game, he set the tone for Miami with a single off Michael Wacha.

Ichiro didn't stop there, slicing an opposite-field double in the sixth and an infield single to short in the eighth to give him 2,994 MLB hits.

Suzuki's 2,993rd hit

Ichiro thought he had hit No. 2,993 in the third by beating out a tapper to shortstop. But the Cardinals challenged the safe call, and after a review of 57 seconds, it was overturned and Ichiro was ruled out.

Diaz throws out Ichiro

Ichiro made his first start since July 2 at Atlanta. The Marlins aren't forcing the issue with his playing time because Ichiro's ideal role is fourth outfielder, getting spot starts and pinch-hit opportunities.

Ichiro got the starting nod in place of center fielder Marcell Ozuna, who was given a day off. Ozuna started in center for the National League in the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard at Petco Park in San Diego on Tuesday.

But with a day game on Sunday, and the fact Ozuna competed in the All-Star Game, it was an opportunity to get Ichiro in the lineup.

"He's been doing this for us all year long," manager Don Mattingly said. "It's easier to give guys a day. Marcell, obviously, it's kind of funny giving him a day two days after the break. He's a guy who went to the All-Star Game and played in it. Obviously, a lot of activity, and he played it in for the first time."

Suzuki's 2,994th hit

Ichiro contributed in both Marlins victories in the series, delivering a pinch-hit single in Friday's 7-6 win, in addition to his two singles and a double on Sunday.

"Obviously, the wins are huge for us," Ichiro said. "The way we won, just the way we came back. Obviously, towards the end of the year, you're going to have to play those tough games. I don't think we've had games like this where we've won this type of way earlier in the year. So I think this was a great experience for us, just the way we were able to win the games."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.