The year was 2004, and Paul Molitor was a first-year hitting coach with a star pupil. So when Ichiro Suzuki arrived at Mariners training camp, Molitor persuaded him to try his approach to hitting: Take more pitches, try to draw more walks.
"Shows you how great a hitting coach I was," Molitor joked on Tuesday. "That lasted about three weeks. Then I said, 'Forget everything I told you in spring training.' It wasn't working. And then he took off."
Yes, the record book shows that Molitor was the hitting adviser to the most prolific single-season hitter in history. Ichiro collected 262 hits that season, breaking a record that had stood for 84 years — George Sisler's 257 hits — and leading the league with a .372 average. It put the Japanese superstar on a road that eventually will lead to the Hall of Fame.
This week, that road leads to Target Field, where Ichiro is 42 years old, the oldest position player in the majors, and only 32 hits from 3,000 for his career after going 2-for-5 Tuesday. "I have an incredible amount of respect for him. … A 50-hit month is a rarity for a baseball player, and he did it three times that season," Molitor said. "To come over here as late as he did [at age 27], after playing all those years in Japan, and still be riding in on the opportunity to get to 3,000 here, it'll be pretty special."
Perhaps a little less special to Ervin Santana, who will start Thursday's series finale. Ichiro has collected 11 extra-base hits over the years off the veteran righthander — no pitcher has allowed more — and he has 30 hits off Santana overall, more than all but three other pitchers.
Santana has faced no hitter more frequently than Ichiro, so he has a strategy: Accept your fate.
"You might as well throw it down the middle against him. If you throw it away and down, he's just going to put it in left field," Santana said. "When I was with the Angels, we'd play left [field] and right [field close] to the lines, and center field toward right, and he'd always shoot it to left-center. An easy double or triple for him."
Another Suzuki, the Twins' catcher Kurt, also has faced Ichiro dozens of times, and he's equally wary of a player who still has the ability to lead off at 42.
"You've got to try to mix it up on him, and hope he hits it in the air," Suzuki said. "He was so good at, when you think you've got a putaway pitch, he'd chop it into the ground and beat it out."
Even at 42?
"It wouldn't surprise me," Suzuki said. "From the stories I've heard, his [training] regimen is pretty insane. He looks like he's still in great shape."
Ichiro collected 1,278 hits in Japan before coming to the majors in 2001 — he was Rookie of the Year and MVP that season — so he is only 10 hits shy of Pete Rose's professional record of 4,256. Will surpassing Rose make him the new Hit King?
"No offense to my friend, but no," Molitor said. "It's right to acknowledge the combination, but I do think there has to be something separate. I don't know how you compare the leagues and say they are the same."
•Kyle Gibson pitched six strong innings in Louisville on Sunday for Class AAA Rochester. Gibson will start Saturday against the Red Sox, six days after his third rehab start, Molitor said.
•Glen Perkins "threw and threw well" in his second bullpen session Tuesday, General Manager Terry Ryan said, which lasted about 30-35 pitches. The Twins' closer, out because of a shoulder strain, will throw again Friday, and then the team will decide upon a rehab schedule.
"I hope it's close, but realistically, I feel there's going to be some time needed here," Molitor said.
•Danny Santana, sidelined because of a hamstring injury, did some running drills "which is a good thing. He was about 70 percent," Ryan said. "He's making pretty good progress."