It is easy to forget that the Miami Marlins lost two of three games in their recent road series against the Seattle Mariners. That is because there were big moments from the Marlins in each game.
The biggest moments came from two players who entered the MLB as free agent signings from Asian countries. One returned to the city that hails him as one of greatest players in franchise history, while the other one strung together the best outing of any pitcher in the young season.
While not official, especially since Ichiro has said he wants to play until he is 50, the Japanese legend might have played his final game at Safeco Field. It does not take a baseball junkie to know the importance of Ichiro in Seattle. After signing with the Mariners, he was the Rookie of the Year and AL MVP in 2001, and he broke the MLB record for most hits in a season with 262 in 2004. He is a big reason why there is at least one signed Japanese player each year.
After being honored with a emotional tribute video (expect another one when his number gets retired there) and two historical plaques, one representing his first MLB hit and the other representing both his record-setting 258th hit in 2004 and his 3,000th hit from last season, in the first game, Ichiro got a massive standing ovation in his first at-bat. He then robbed Taylor Motter with a leaping catch near the left field wall.
That was nothing compared to what he did on Wednesday, which will likely be the last game he plays in Seattle. After hitting a weak single that he did a lot while in the Pacific Northwest, he hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth inning. With the Mariners doubling up the Marlins, the home run did not affect the final result. It did, however, represent one of those magical moments that had last been seen in 2014, when Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single in his final game at Yankee Stadium. Unsurprisingly, Ichiro got another loud ovation from the Seattle fans as he rounded the bases.
For someone who is basically immortal in Seattle, Ichiro had a series to remember. Regardless of how long his career lasts, he will undoubtedly get another ceremony after retirement. Perhaps he will get another plaque for that home run on Wednesday, as well.
Ichiro’s return to Seattle seemingly made everyone in Safeco Field happy, but Mariners fans may be forgiven for being upset on Tuesday. Not only did Ichiro not play, but Wei-Yin Chen, who is in his second year with the Marlins after beginning his MLB career in Baltimore, almost landed in the history books…sort of.
The Marlins have not had a complete game since Henderson Alvarez, who has not been in an MLB game since May 22, 2015, due to two shoulder surgeries, shut out the Rays on June 3, 2014. That drought continued after Chen was pulled after seven innings and 99 pitches. Despite stumbling with two walks and a hit batter, he did not allow a single hit. Chen looked on as the bullpen attempted to finish just the combined no-hitter since the Mariners did it in the same building in 2012.
Like many situations beforehand, Miami heartbreakingly lost it with one out in the ninth inning. There was no controversy, either, as Mitch Haniger corked a long double off Kyle Barraclough to continue his hitting streak, which now stands at 14 games. Miami still won in a shutout, 5-0, to take their only win against the Mariners.
Chen struggled for much of 2016 and finished with an ERA of 4.96, so this performance, along with his start in Queens on April 7, is a welcome sight for the Marlins. The Marlins pitching has had moments of being completely untouchable at times, including twice in a three-game span, but the inconsistency is still glaring. If Chen can extend his strong start to the season for at least half of the season, then the Marlins could find themselves in an even more favorable position than they did last season, when they stayed in the wild card race well into September.
Overall, it was a fantastic series for the two Asian players in the Seattle series, and the Marlins look to build on Ichiro’s and Chen’s play with winnable visits to San Diego and Philadelphia before returning to South Florida.
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