A consensus pick to finish last in the AL West, the Seattle Mariners will spend at least one day of the 2012 season in first place after opening the season with a 3-1, 11-inning triumph over the Oakland A's in the Tokyo Dome. Dustin Ackley drove in two runs with a home run and an RBI single, but the show belonged to Ichiro.
Japan's greatest baseball export thrilled his countrymen with a four-hit night, only the second such performance in an Opening Day game in Mariners history, as Seattle extended its streak of Opening Day wins to six, a franchise record.
The Mariners and Athletics entered the 11th inning tied at 1-1, Seattle having gone hitless since the fifth inning. But No. 9 hitter Brendan Ryan opened the frame by driving a fastball from Andrew Carignan into the gap in left center for a double. Chone Figgins then deposited a perfect bunt down the third-base line, sacrificing Ryan to third.
Ackley, who had given the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning with a leadoff home run, stroked a single to center, scoring Ryan and staking Seattle to a 2-1 lead. After Jerry Blevins replaced Carignan, Ichiro laced a shot through the box for his fourth single of the night, scoring Ackley. That made Ichiro the first Seattle batter to produce four hits in an opener since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1990.
Closer Brandon League, taking over for Tom Wilhelmsen, the eventual winning pitcher, then worked an almost flawless bottom of the 11th for his first save of the season.
For the Mariners, the only downside to the game was that starter Felix Hernandez (0-0, 1.13 ERA), did not factor in the decision. Hernandez, 14-14 a year ago, allowed just one earned run — an RBI double by Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the fourth — on five hits over eight innings. He whiffed six, did not walk a batter, and was the primary reason why the Athletics went a paltry 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Wilhelmsen delivered two perfect innings in relief of Hernandez, striking out two, and then made way for League, who allowed one hit, but fanned two, sending the Mariners into first place.
Offensively challenged in 2011, the Mariners had nine hits to Oakland's six, seven of the nine coming from the top of the order, Figgins (1), Ackley (2), Ichiro (4). Ryan's 11th-inning double was Seattle's only hit for extra bases. Seattle stranded 11 runners, but Oakland left 18 men on.
Chad Pennington had two of Oakland's six hits and scored the A's only run in the fourth on Suzuki's double.
The Mariners and Athletics play the second game of their two-game Tokyo series Thursday at 2:10 a.m., Pacific time. The Mariners will send LHP Jason Vargas (10-13, 4.25) to the mound to contest RHP Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.00).
Following that game, the Mariners will return to Peoria, Arizona, to complete spring training. The Mariners and Athletics resume the regular season with a two-game series April 6-7 at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Seattle plays its home opener April 13, also against Oakland.
MARINERS NOTES: Hernandez made his fifth Opening Day start, joining Randy Johnson as the only pitchers in club history to make five or more . . . Hernandez is now 3-0 on Opening Day with two no-decisions, including Wednesday . . . Hernandez threw 104 pitches, 66 for strikes. He also plunked two batters . . . Ichiro made his 11th Opening Day start, third most in club history behind Edgar Martinez's 15 and Ken Griffey Jr.'s 13. Ichiro missed the 2009 opener with an injury . . . Ichiro's four hits give him 17 in Opening Day games, a franchise record. Ken Griffey Jr. held the previous mark with 14. For his career, Ichiro is now 17-for-47 on Opening Day, a .362 average . . . Ichiro batted in the No. 3 slot for just the 14th time in his major league career. He batted leadoff in 1,733 of his first 1,749 major league games ... The Mariners opened on the road for the fourth consecutive season and for just the 11th time in franchise history. Seattle is now 6-5 all time in road openers and 21-15 in all opening games.