Kuroda's gem helps Yankees win Ichiro's debut

Kuroda's gem helps Yankees win Ichiro's debut

Kuroda's gem helps Yankees win Ichiro's debut
SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki proceeded almost cautiously toward home plate for what would be his first big league at-bat wearing anything but a Mariners uniform, uncertain what he should be expecting.

The fans rose at Safeco Field to celebrate Ichiro, wishing him well in his new home, and there was something of an exhale. Ichiro was freed to do what he does best, lacing a single up the middle in the Yankees' 4-1 victory over the Mariners.

"I was kind of worried, getting up on that first at-bat," Ichiro said. "But with the standing ovation, I was really relieved. It was a special day today."

Ichiro played just a supporting role for his new club on Monday, singling in four at-bats and stealing a base. Hiroki Kuroda was the star of the game, turning in seven innings of strong one-run ball to halt New York's four-game losing skid.

"Going through that losing streak, we really needed this win," Kuroda said. "With the addition of Ichiro, we got a big win today and it was really good for me and good for the team."

Indeed, on the day that Ichiro's iconic run in Seattle came to a close with the 10-time All-Star trying on a road gray Yankees uniform, the 38-year-old's swap of clubhouses was clearly the story of the day.

"Ichiro is a rock star," said Alex Rodriguez, who slugged a solo homer in the victory. "He loves the bright lights. We have plenty of those in New York. I think he's going to love New York and New Yorkers are going to love him."

And so did Seattle. As the 29,911 on hand at Safeco Field saluted Ichiro -- some of whom, no doubt, were surprised to learn the star had been dealt to New York for pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar earlier in the day -- Ichiro doffed his batting helmet and bowed before entering the batter's box.

"It was definitely a tough, tough day for me," Ichiro said. "Now I can just focus on baseball. If you had said, 'Hey, I've got to play soccer tomorrow,' that might be tough. But it's baseball and I'm going to just focus on playing the game."

Ichiro took a strike and then singled off Mariners starter Kevin Millwood, quickly making use of the green light Yankees manager Joe Girardi promised to steal second base. Two groundouts short-circuited the rally, but Girardi said he can already see how Ichiro will make an impact.

"It just changes our lineup when you have a guy who can do the things that he can do," Girardi said.

Girardi said he spoke to Ichiro before filling out the lineup card, explaining that he sees the No. 8 slot as Ichiro's spot in the order.

"He was great. He didn't bat an eye," Girardi said. "He said, 'I'm ready to go.' And he seemed really excited. We're really pleased to have him. This is a guy that we feel can do a lot of things."

The Yankees scored three runs in seven innings off Millwood, doing all of their damage in the fourth as Mark Teixeira, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones each stroked run-scoring hits in the frame.

Millwood (3-8) scattered nine hits, walking two and striking out five. He was outpitched by Kuroda, who won his second consecutive start and remains undefeated in six starts since June 25.

"He's been really, really good," Girardi said. "I thought in the month of April he was putting too much pressure on himself, trying to validate coming over here. He's seemed to settle down and he's been really, really good for us."

The Mariners managed just three hits off Kuroda and scored their only run in the third. Dustin Ackley walked, stole second and scored on John Jaso's single, as Ichiro's throw skipped up the first-base line.

As Ichiro stood in right field, he couldn't help but feel odd about wearing 'NEW YORK' across his chest. At least the No. 31, which he selected out of deference to Bernie Williams' No. 51, wasn't visible to him.

"Obviously I'm going to get used to it, but it's going to take a while," Ichiro said.

Kuroda struck out nine and walked one in a 107-pitch outing. He said that he has known Ichiro for a long time, but they have never played on the same team, and only faced each other in Spring Training when Kuroda was with the Dodgers.

"I think emotionally he's going to be a real big support for me," Kuroda said. "Having another Japanese player is a big plus for me, so I think it will be great."

The Yankees are clearly hoping the same thing, for different reasons. The name value might help sell a few tickets, but the real appeal is that Ichiro can help provide the speed and defense they've lacked since Brett Gardner's season-ending injury.

For Ichiro, New York represents a fresh start and a veteran club with a chance to win a World Series.

"I told him, I haven't seen him smile this much in over three years," Rodriguez said. "He's going to have a great time. I think New Yorkers are going to fall in love with his style of play."

To be clear, as the high-profile owner of 3,812 combined hits between the Majors and Japan, Ichiro still promises to have moments of rock stardom. But the Yankees seem like they'll be more than satisfied if he just blends in with the band.

"I came over here wanting to be a help and wanting to help this team win," Ichiro said. "Whatever spot in the order that is, wherever position that might be, I'm here just to help the team win."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.