A Sox nemesis joins the rivalry

NEW YORK -- Ichiro Suzuki's first hit off the Red Sox was a broken-bat infield single that went over the head of pitcher Pedro Martinez and died on the grass in front of shortstop Craig Grebeck.

That was on May 1, 2001, when Ichiro was a rookie with the Seattle Mariners and was the only Mariners hitter in the lineup Martinez did not strike out that night.

The Red Sox went nearly three full seasons before holding Ichiro without a hit for an entire game. He batted safely in his first 20 games against the Sox, hitting .458 (38-for-83) while successfully stealing bases on 30 of 39 attempts, before taking an 0-for-4 on Aug. 17, 2003.

On Friday night in Yankee Stadium, Ichiro will play his 100th game against the Red Sox, first in pinstripes, when the Yankees play Boston for the first time this season in the Bronx. He's 38 years old now and figures to be a part-timer for the Bombers, who acquired him from Seattle earlier this week. But while he is not quite the threat he once was, he continues to display a knack for hitting against the Sox.

He has hit safely in 10 of his past 12 games against the Red Sox, batting .324 (23-for-71) with 14 runs scored, nine stolen bases (in 10 attempts), a home run and three doubles. And he comes to New York with an incentive: He has never played in a World Series.

"I need to prove myself and I need to play to the level that the fans can really enjoy and really think highly of my play," Ichiro told New York reporters through an interpreter. "I really feel like when I get there, I want to show the fans what I can do."

The Sox actually have had more success against Ichiro, a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glover, than most American League teams have. Remarkably, with the Mariners Ichiro hit .300 or better against every team in the AL, batting .304 against the Red Sox. The only AL team that "held" him to a lower average is Tampa Bay, against which Ichiro is batting an even .300.

Since his incredible three-season run to start his career, Ichiro is hitting a far more modest .265 (87-for-328) against the Sox.

When he was managing the Mets, Bobby Valentine lobbied for the team to sign Ichiro, but the Mets were outbid for negotiating rights by Seattle.

"He's world class," Valentine, who first saw Ichiro play during his first stint managing in Japan (1995), said during the 2000 National League playoffs. "He's one of the top-five players in the world."

The Red Sox were not involved in the original bidding for Ichiro. They had traded the year before for Carl Everett, an All-Star in his first season with Boston when he posted a .300/.373/.587/.959 batting line with 34 home runs. Everett imploded in 2001, and the Red Sox acquired Johnny Damon, one of the pillars of the 2004 World Series team.

"He's one of the great players that have ever played the game, and they like to have great players," Valentine told reporters in Texas this week when asked about the Yankees acquiring Ichiro. "It seems like he fits in quite nicely there."

For what it's worth: How great was Everett's first season with the Sox? Only five outfielders in Red Sox history had seasons matching Everett's numbers in home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage: Ted Williams (five times), Manny Ramirez (four times), Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Carl Yastrzemski.