Ichiro Suzuki played the role of homecoming king, but it was a familiar song and dance for the Seattle Mariners on Sunday at Tokyo Dome.
Tomoaki Kanemoto homered and Minoru Iwata kept the Mariners scoreless over five innings as the Hanshin Tigers humbled Seattle 5-1 in front of a packed house on hand for the first warmup for the two-game Major League Baseball Opening Series starting Wednesday.
The Mariners, who struggled mightily scoring runs last season, only managed a solo blast in the ninth inning on the last of their eight hits to avoid a shutout.
Hanshin's Craig Brazell had two doubles and a single, and Iwata scattered six hits and a walk with five strikeouts for the victory.
But the rock star red carpet was mostly for Suzuki.
When the popular M's outfielder dug in for his first at-bat, a multitude of flashbulbs popped throughout the stadium. Suzuki lived up to the moment, poking a single down the line in left in his first game and at-bat at Tokyo Dome with Seattle.
His presence as a fan favorite trumped the homecoming for former Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks infielder Munenori Kawasaki, who doubled in his only at-bat after coming on for the second half of the game, and former Tohoku Rakuten Eagles starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who is scheduled to start today's game against the Yomiuri Giants.
"It's great for all these guys--Kuma, Mune, Ichi--all of them have an opportunity to come back and play where they played for so long...and were so popular," said Seattle skipper Eric Wedge.
"Obviously, Ichiro's been on another level for a lot of years. I think it was evident when all those guys were introduced today that it was special for the fans, and it was special for them [the players], too."
"When you saw all those flashbulbs firing when he came up to home plate, I think says it all right there," the skipper said.
Iwata said he was aware of the flashes--and the fact that the stadium was quiet with no horns and drums playing when the Mariners were at-bat--but he was able to maintain his poise.
"When Ichiro was batting, there were so many flashes going off, and while I could see that, I just wanted to enjoy facing Ichiro," said Iwata, who allowed Suzuki's single in the first inning, but got him to line out in the fourth.
The heart of the order helped the Tigers put together a rally in the bottom of the second inning off M's starter Hector Noesi, acquired from the New York Yankees along with Jesus Montero in the offseason deal for pitcher Michael Pineda.
Takahiro Arai led off with a hard single to right and Craig Brazell split the gap in left center for a double to put runners at second and third.
Former Mariner Kenji Jojima hit a smash to third to drive in a run and 43-year-old Tomoaki Kanemoto showed he could still get around on a fastball, ripping his first longball of the spring deep into the seats in right for a 3-0 Hanshin lead.
"I hadn't hit a homer all spring, and although I wasn't concerned about that, it's better to have hit one out than to not have any, so I'm glad about it," said Kanemoto, who has 470 career homers and entered the game batting .192 in the preseason.
He said he did notice a difference between the MLB balls, which the Mariners' pitchers threw, and the low-impact balls from Nippon Professional Baseball used by the Hanshin pitchers.
"Today, after hitting the ball I hit for a home run, I felt the ball really carries well," Kanemoto said.
The Tigers padded their lead in the seventh inning as Hayata Ito singled and scored when Kohei Shibata cracked a double to right center. Shibata came home when Takashi Toritani sliced a single to left to make it 5-0.
The Mariners avoided a shutout when Casper Wells took Kyuji Fujikawa deep to left center to open the ninth inning. Fujikawa retired the next three to close it out.