The 45-year-old Ichiro fouled out in his first at-bat. He got a loud cheer earlier at the Tokyo Dome when he caught a flyball to right field off the bat of Oakland’s Stephen Piscotty.
Seattle manager Scott Servais had hinted that, after Ichiro started in a season-opening victory against the Athletics on Wednesday, he might not start the final game of the brief series that opens the Major League Baseball season.
“I wasn’t quite sure,” Servais said. “I thought we’d give him the opportunity to go out there. And I’d love to see him get a couple of hits and finish on a high note here. I want to do the right thing.”
Ichiro has been swarmed over in games in Japan. On Thursday he signed caps, jerseys, photos and balls down the left field line with security guards on megaphones telling people to be careful.
He saluted the crowd taking his spot in the outfield, and tossed a half-dozen balls to fans behind the third base dugout. In batting practice, fans in that same spot wore shirts saying “Ichiro is Life”and “I believe 3,090.”
The future for Ichiro is unclear. Many expect him to retire after the Japan series, or when the Mariners return home for two spring training games with the San Diego Padres before the regular season resumes against the Boston Red Sox.
Ichiro has had a difficult spring, finding it hard to rebound after stepping aside in May to become a Mariners’ front office assistant.
He was 2-for-25 in spring training games, and then 0 for 6 in two exhibition games in Japan this week against the Tokyo Giants. The Japan exhibitions do not count as official games. If they did, Ichiro would be hitting .065.
He has 3,089 hits since joining the Mariners in 2001, and another 1,278 playing earlier in Japan — baseball’s all-time hits leader.
He was 0 for 1 with a walk and a popout in the 9-7 win over the A’s on Wednesday.
A sellout of 45,000 turned out again to watch Ichiro and Mariners rookie pitcher Yusei Kikuchi, who made his first start in the majors.