This time, it came against the knuckleball, a pitch that Ichiro had never hit exceptionally well. In 56 career at-bats against Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, two of the most prominent knuckleballers during Ichiro's tenure in the Majors, he had gone 14-for-56 entering Wednesday's game, for a mere .250 average. To others, maybe that's not so bad. Compared to Ichiro's career .320 average, .250 doesn't hold a candle.
But Dickey threw a 1-1 knuckler toward the outer half of the plate in Ichiro's first at-bat during the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday, and the outfielder took one of his iconic swings, smacking the spin-free baseball to left field for his 4,000th hit between the Japan and U.S. Major Leagues.
Even as play paused for a celebration on the field, Dickey couldn't help but appreciate the moment he had just surrendered.
"You never want to be the guy that gives up the milestone, at least I don't, maybe some people do, but I certainly don't," Dickey said. "That being said, what an incredible achievement, and the manner in which he has done it is equally as impressive. The longevity, the endurance, the durability, having played with him in Seattle [in 2008], it was a real treat to play with him, and it couldn't have happened to a more professional hitter."
After Ichiro reached first base, the Yankees dugout emptied to give him high-fives and hugs. Blue Jays shortstop Munenori Kawasaki was seen smiling and applauding from his position in the infield.
Dickey likes to work in a groove, but he had no problem stopping the game to honor a great one.
"No, they should take a moment to recognize that feat," Dickey said. "How many people have done that in the history of baseball? He certainly deserved a moment."
Ichiro has been said to have visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., many times. Perhaps it was fitting that the man who surrendered the milestone hit was one who also puts great value on the game's history.
Ichiro collected 1,278 hits in Japan as a member of the Orix Blue Wave and has 2,722 hits in the Majors. Only two Major Leaguers have reached the 4,000-hit plateau: Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,191).
Under contract with the Yankees through 2014, Ichiro has a chance to break the 3,000-hit mark in the Majors, needing 278 more.
"Well, I know one thing for sure, he's going to be in two hall of fames," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's amazing. His ability to miss defenders is unparalleled. He's got a unique style to him. Part of that, too, is the speed that he gets out of the box. He gets a lot of leg hits. Because of that, that works to his advantage, too.
"But I've often thought that when he was in his prime, he could look at the defense and hit the ball somewhere else. I've always thought that about him. He knew how to manipulate a baseball that much."
It's an interesting theory from a manager many often call new-age. But it's a theory shared by a 64-year-old with 20 years of managerial experience after spending 19 years as a player.
"He has a magic wand," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "That's a lot of hits. And that's a lot of hits from a guy that's a runner.
"Everybody thought he was kind of through in Seattle. But then they say, 'You put the pinstripes on and something happens to you.'"
The Mariners released a special statement commemorating Ichiro, who collected 2,533 hits in more than 11 years in Seattle.
"From Japan to the Mariners and continuing with the New York Yankees, Ichiro's historic milestone is testament to his position as one of the greatest hitters in the game of baseball," the statement read.
While Ichiro's career .320 average ranks 35th all-time among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances, his average in Japan was even higher: .353.
"As everyone knows and everyone thinks, he's a great hitter," said Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish.