Mariners, A's Split MLB Opening Series in Japan

Tokyo Dome hosted the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics of MLB for a total of six games as the 2012 season began in Japan. After playing exhibition games against the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball, the Mariners and the A’s spit their two-game series on Wednesday and Thursday.

The pregame ceremony on Wednesday was a moving tribute to the victims and survivors of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that spawned the horrific tsunami and triggered an ongoing nuclear crisis in Northeastern Japan. A video with Derek Jeter, Bobby Valentine, and Cal Ripken Jr. profiled three people connected to that devastated region: Shinji Takai, a farmer in Kesennuma who restored photographs that were damaged by the tsunami; Naho Hozumi, a housewife and stay-at-home mom who became the program manager of the volunteer organization Hands on Tokyo; and Taylor Anderson, a native of Midlothian, Virginia, and a teacher in the JET Program who was one of the more than 19,000 people to perish in the disaster. Anderson’s parents, along with Takai and Hozumi, threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

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Members of the 296th Army Band and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces

Members of the 296th Army Band based at Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture performed on the field, and Spc. Amanda Tetreault of the 296th sang the National Anthem of the United States. Japanese actor and singer Ryotaro Sugi performed the Japanese National Anthem.

It was no surprise that Ichiro Suzuki received the most applause during the player introductions. He’s the reason the majority of the 44,227 fans jammed into the Tokyo Dome for the MLB Opening Series. He didn’t disappoint, going 4 for 5 with an RBI as the Mariners won the first game 3-1 in a briskly played 11-inning game that lasted just over three hours.

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Ichiro readies for one of his four hits on Opening Night

Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy and Mariners ace Felix Hernandez practically matched each other pitch for pitch. McCarthy went 7.0 innings, giving up six hits and one run, walking no one and striking out three; Hernandez threw 8.0 innings, allowing a run on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts. Tom Wilhelmsen recorded the win for the Mariners, and Brandon League, a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American), got the save.

Seattle second baseman Dustin Ackley had a 2-for-5 night with a solo home run in the 4th inning and the game-winning RBI in the top of 11th. He scored an insurance run in the same inning on Ichiro’s RBI single.

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The crowd came for Ichiro

While Ichiro stroked four hits in the first game, the entire Mariners team could manage only three hits in game two against A’s starter Bartolo Colon. It was a pitchers’ duel between Colon and Jason Vargas; the game was scoreless until Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak lead off the 7th inning with a home run. The A’s followed suit with three home runs of their own, including a two-run blast off the bat of Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, the first of his young major league career. Josh Reddick and Jonny Gomes added solo shots, giving Oakland all the runs it would need.

On this night Ichiro would go 0 for 4, but he was still a delight for the Japanese fans who were grateful to see the superstar play in Tokyo. Those fans are now sorting through thousands of pictures of their favorite player while the Mariners and A’s play more exhibition games in the States.

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Recording Ichiro’s at-bat