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Originally published July 23, 2012 at 10:16 PM | Page modified July 24, 2012 at 12:05 AM

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Ichiro gets hit in first at-bat on 'big day' for his new team

How can we replace what we lost? That was the pressing question for the New York Yankees upon the news that outfielder Brett Gardner will...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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How can we replace what we lost?

That was the pressing question for the New York Yankees upon the news that outfielder Brett Gardner will likely miss the rest of the season after his scheduled elbow surgery this week.

Turns out there was an athletic, contact-hitting veteran on the market, who — oh yeah — just happens to be a 10-time All-Star and former league MVP. And while trading for Ichiro cost New York pitching prospects D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar, the American League leaders held high hopes after Monday's big move with the Mariners.

"We believe that this is a player that can certainly assist our team in its efforts," general manager Brian Cashman said of Ichiro before New York's 4-1 win over Seattle. "Obviously we wouldn't do it if we didn't think that. ... I do think that he can really help us, and I look forward to seeing if that's the case or not."

Manager Joe Girardi called it "a big day for us."

"We're very excited with what has happened today, and the caliber of player we're getting," he said.

Following the deal, the Yankees rode a three-run fourth inning en route to a series-opening win between the trade partners. Alex Rodriguez homered in the eighth inning and starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda struck out nine while allowing just three hits in seven strong innings.

But all the attention was fittingly on Ichiro, who went 1 for 4 as a Safeco Field crowd of 29,911 cheered his every action — from a first-inning catch to end a potential Seattle rally, to a third-inning single and subsequent stolen base, to ultimately lining out sharply to second base in his final at-bat in the ninth. He also caught the final out.

"It became a special day for me because of the fans," Ichiro said through an interpreter.

Familiarity with the spotlight is one reason the Yankees believe Ichiro will be able to make the transition to playing in New York. Girardi is also excited about the 38-year-old's speed. Teammate Derek Jeter praised Ichiro's personality and more.

"He can hit, he can play defense, he can run — what else do you want?" said Jeter. "Can he pitch? He can do everything. ... Regardless of what people think of what he's doing this year, he's been consistent."

Just the player the Yankees are hoping for, even if the deal came quickly. Cashman said last week the team's weren't close "on any level" to pulling off the trade.

That, however, was before injury news on Gardner.

"I wasn't sure whether we would do anything or not, but we were more open-minded at looking at what might be available," Cashman said. "This was something that was a surprise and an opportunity. I'm looking forward to seeing it play out for us."

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com

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