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Suzuki's Feat Has Japan Revved Up

Associated Press
Sunday, October 3, 2004; Page E06

TOKYO, Oct. 2 -- Former players, politicians and everyday office workers basked in the glory Saturday after Ichiro Suzuki broke one of the longest-standing records in major league history.

In an outpouring of national pride, Japan enthusiastically celebrated after the Seattle Mariners star broke George Sisler's 84-year-old major league mark for hits in a season.

_____The Playoff Races_____

Games of the Day

There are too many important games to pick just one.

In the AL, the playoff berths are decided but home field advantage is not. If Minnesota beats Cleveland twice (see below) and Oakland beats Anaheim in their otherwise meaningless game, the Twins will get home field advantage. If any of those three outcomes do not occur, the Twins play the Yankees in the first round and Anaheim gets home-field advantage against Boston.

The NL wild-card berth could be decided today. With their 9-3 win over Colorado, the Houston Astros (91-70) are a game ahead of the Giants (90-71), who lost 7-3 when the Dodgers scored seven runs in the ninth inning.

If the Astros win or the Giants lose today, the Astros will win the wild-card spot. If Houston loses and San Francisco wins, they will be tied for the wild-card spot and the Giants will host the Astros in a one-game playoff tomorrow.

News & Notes

HOLD UP!: Yesterday's Minnesota-Cleveland game was suspended after 11 innings with the score 5-5 because the Metrodome field needed to be changed over for the Penn State-Minnesota football game.

The game will resume at 1:10 today, followed by the regularly scheduled season finale.

"We're in the middle of a mess now," said Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire, who couldn't contain his anger.

INJURY UPDATES: Atlanta starter John Thomson and cleanup hitter Chipper Jones, left, left yesterday's game against the Cubs with injuries. Thomson, slated to start Game 2 of the divisional series next week, pitched three innings before leaving with a stiff back. Jones exited in the fifth inning after being hit with a pitch near his right wrist. He suffered a contusion and no X-rays were needed. . . .

ROTATION NOTATIONS: If the Giants need to play a one-game playoff tomorrow, left-hander Noah Lowry would start. . . .

Woody Williams has the fewest victories of any Cardinals starter. But he, and not Matt Morris, will get the honor of starting their playoff opener.

"More than anything else, he's feeling physically the best he's felt all year," Manager Tony La Russa said yesterday. "We think it gives us the best shot in case there's a Game 5."

The rotation had been aligned to give Morris (15-10, 4.72) the nod in Game 1, and Williams (11-8, 4.18) had been scheduled to pitch in the regular season finale today and then go in Game 3 on the road. Instead, Dan Haren will fill in today and Morris moves to what had been Williams's playoff slot.

Jason Marquis (15-6, 3.66) will pitch in Game 2 and Jeff Suppan (16-9, 4.16) will work in Game 4. The Cardinals are without Chris Carpenter (15-5, 3.46), who's been sidelined with nerve damage in his right biceps since Sept. 18. . . .

Manager Terry Francona said right-hander Curt Schilling will start Game 1 of Boston's first playoff series, followed by right-hander Pedro Martinez. He has yet to decide his Game 3 starter.

TORRE SITS: Yankees Manager Joe Torre was suspended for one game and fined yesterday because one of his pitchers threw at a batter after umpire warnings during a game against the Red Sox last Sunday. Torre served his suspension yesterday.

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On Friday, Suzuki chopped a leadoff single in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field to tie Sisler, then made history with a grounder up the middle in the third -- his 258th hit of the season.

"He's superhuman," said Daiei Hawks Manager Sadaharu Oh, who holds Japanese baseball's all-time record of 868 home runs. "It's amazing that he has been able to stay focused during all of this."

Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, was duly impressed.

"I would like to give him my heartfelt congratulations," Koizumi said. "He has made extra efforts in addition to having a natural gift."

On the streets of Tokyo, Japanese fans scrambled to get their hands on special edition newspapers published in honor of Suzuki's remarkable achievement.

"He's incredible," said Shigeru Uchida, who joined other fans in front of a downtown Tokyo electronics store that was showing the game on TV. "Baseball is America's game and for him to go over there and do that is truly amazing."

Suzuki's feat was especially satisfying for Japanese fans who for decades have seen American players come here to make it big. Only in recent years have some of their own players made a mark in the major leagues.

Suzuki has long been admired in Japan for qualities many here consider to be quintessentially Japanese -- a scrappy, hard worker who beats out infield hits, does his duty to the utmost without complaint or fuss, and displays excellence in all areas of the game.

The setting of the record also resonated deeply in a country that, for all its economic prowess, still sees measuring up to the West -- especially the United States -- as a national goal.

"You can tell how happy and proud I am just by looking at me," said Suzuki's father, Nobuyuki. "The tears just won't stop flowing."

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