(Reuters) - While the New York Yankees were playing the finale in a four-game homestand against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, the entire team was still savoring the memory of Ichiro Suzuki's 4,000-hit milestone the previous night.
In the bottom of the first inning on Wednesday, outfielder Ichiro laced a line-drive single to left field off R.A. Dickey to become only the third player ever in professional baseball to reach the 4,000-hit plateau.
His team mates poured out of the first-base dugout to congratulate the 39-year-old Japanese and the crowd gave Ichiro a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium after he joined the elite company of Pete Rose and Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.
"It's an amazing feat," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters. "It's a testament to how hard he's worked, how long he's been in the game, how he stays healthy, the way he goes about his business.
"He's a great player, and he's been a great player for a long time."
Even Dickey paid tribute to 10-time All-Star Ichiro, who collected 1,278 of his 4,000 hits during a standout nine-year career in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan that began in 1992.
"You never want to be the guy that gives up the milestone, at least I don't," Dickey said. "That being said, what an incredible achievement, and the manner in which he has done it is equally as impressive. It couldn't have happened to a more professional hitter."
Ichiro, who has logged 2,722 hits in Major League Baseball with the Seattle Mariners and Yankees since 2001, was taken aback by the reaction of both his team mates and the crowd.
"It was supposed to be a number that was special to me, but what happened, I wasn't expecting," he said through an interpreter. "When my team mates came out to first base, that was very special.
"The fans, I wasn't expecting so much joy and happiness from them. That's what made it very special; not just the number, but all the things that came with it were very special."
Ever humble, Ichiro played down his own achievement after earning membership in the elite 4,000 club where he joins Rose (4,256) and Cobb (4,191).
"It is a record that is adding two leagues into one; those guys did it in one league," said Ichiro, who won the Gold Glove Award 10 times with the Mariners. "I don't think you have to put me in that same category as them."
Helped by Ichiro's milestone hit, the Yankees completed a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday and were aiming for a fourth straight win over the opponents at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Evans)