9:45 am Sep. 21, 2012
It's been said many times that Ichiro Suzuki, the best singles hitter of his generation, could really be a home run hitter, if only he wanted to be.
The evidence is available to anyone who watches Suzuki hit in batting practice. His results there don't match a career that includes just three double-digit home run seasons in 12 years, with a season-high of just 15.
Of course, Suzuki is facing pitching in batting practice that isn't close to major league caliber. Knocking down-the-pipe fastballs over the wall is far different than identifying pitches and driving them in game conditions.
Still, after Suzuki crushed a pair of extra-base hits in Thursday night's 10-7 Yankees win over the Blue Jays, the ludicrous almost seemed plausible: that he was simply saving his power for his 12th major league season, following a decorated, non-power career in Japan.
But calling him a singles hitter doesn't quite capture Suzuki, either. He's slugged above .425 in seven full seasons, and his numbers with the Yankees mirror this. He's up to .439 slugging after his power display Thursday night. This is after dropping below .400 in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with the Mariners, prior to a late-July trade bringing him to the Yankees.
His overall line of .317/.337/.436 with the Yankees is very similar, in total O.P.S., to his career line of .322/.365/.418. The Yankees are getting peak-level Ichiro Suzuki, even though he is now 38.
This was exactly the resurgence the Yankees were hoping for, and not without cause. Great players don't usually cease being great all the time; they simply do great things less frequently, driving down their overall numbers. The Yankees needed Suzuki to play like peak Suzuki for a couple of months. Now, with the playoffs near, that's exactly what he's doing.
He probably won't keep hitting home runs every night. Then again, Suzuki's moments of greatness seem to be coming at the most opportune times.