Wed, March 25, 2009
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Ichiro says 'God' descended on him for triumph

2009-03-25 07:35:04 GMT2009-03-25 15:35:04 (Beijing Time)

The Japanese team celebrates their win

Ichiro Suzuki

Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki has declared "God" finally descended on him after leading Japan to a second straight World Baseball Classic title.

For better or worse, the 35-year-old outfielder remains the Samurai's top drawcard with his erratic batting and amusing remarks.

He was lavishly praised by media here Wednesday for his tie-breaking two-run single in the extra 10th inning that powered Japan to a 5-3 win over arch-rivals South Korea in the Classic final in Los Angeles.

"I've got it, you know. God descended on me," an exalted Suzuki told Japanese television after the nail-biting showdown at Dodger Stadium on Monday night.

"I knew everyone in Japan was focused on me and I was making play-by-play comments to myself at the plate," he added, all smiles.

"It produced a result and I felt I had cleared the barrier."

The winning two-out hit helped Suzuki put behind him a roller-coaster batting record which had led some media and fans to speculate that age was taking its toll, even accusing the star of being a liablity.

"God descends on Ichiro! World two-peat for Samurai!," the Tokyo Chunichi Sports daily cried as the baseball-crazy nation went into party mode.

While the country is gripped by recession and political turmoil, the winning campaign was estimated by one economist to have generated 50.6 billion yen (516 million dollars) worth of economic spin-offs at home.

These include merchandise sales, television rights and tourism.

"Asian baseball may be increasingly reconsidered as the birthplace of baseball," economic daily Nikkei said in an editorial. "The United States, said to be not serious about the event, may feel agitated."

Suzuki -- who paced Japan to the inaugural Classic title in 2006 with twelve hits, seven runs, four stolen bases, and one homerun -- had struggled with his form and entered the title showdown with a .211 batting average.

But he went 4-for-6 against Olympic champions South Korea. The Samurai had trailed their Asian neighbours 5-9 in head-to-head encounters in Olympics and Classic games in the past decade.

"Personally, I had kept dragging down the team until the last game," admitted the left-handed batter who has had eight consecutive 200-hit US Major League seasons since moving to Seattle in 2001 from Japan's Orix Blue Wave.

He set a Major League record of 262 hits in 2004.

"I had worn South Korea's uniform, Cuba's uniform and the uniforms of various other teams. But finally I wore Japan's uniform," he added in another example of cryptic remarks that have captivated media, with some comparing them to the riddles of Zen masters.

He meant that his poor batting had helped Japan's opponents during the Classic.

Japan lost twice to South Korea in earlier double-elimination rounds. But they beat Cuba to stay alive in the second round and knocked out the United States 9-4 in the semi-finals.


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