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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ichiro goes deep, keeps roots secret

Seattle Times staff reporter

PITTSBURGH — Ichiro turned a question Monday about the Mariners' inconsistent first-half performance into something of a Zen riddle that hinted of underlying issues.

Speaking at the All-Star media session, Ichiro began by noting, through interpreter Ken Barron:

"Even though we lost this many games, we still have a good opportunity to win it [American League West]. That has been a saving grace. A lot of other teams in our division have been going through tough times and good times like we have."

When asked what the Mariners needed to do to rid themselves of the tough times, Ichiro — who hit several balls over the right-field bleachers during batting practice — went deep.

"If there is a problem," he said, "we need to notice it, what creates the problem. The problem usually isn't just on the cover. You need to look much deeper.

"For example, if we're taking about a tree, and the tree has a problem, you need to look at the root. But you cannot see the root. The mistake is to keep watering the fruit. That's not going to solve anything. You need to find where the problem is first."

Unfortunately, Ichiro offered no revelations on the source of Mariners' woes en route to a 43-46 record that has left them last in the AL West, albeit just 2- games out of first place.

When their games-behind figure was noted to make the point that the Mariners would be playing meaningful games in the second half, unlike in past years, Ichiro deflected again.

"I didn't even know that number, 2.5," he said. "If you just look at the numbers, you can think that way. But until your team reaches a certain level and becomes a winning team, those numbers are not important.

"You need to look past that and care more about being a winning team. For a team that's not going good, the order is wrong, to look at the 2.5. You need to take care of other things, and then look at the numbers. That's actually related to the root thing I was talking about."

The Mariners had appeared to be on the verge of becoming a winning team in June, when they went 18-8. But they have lost six of their first eight games in July, and Ichiro seemed to discount the merits of the winning stretch.

"During that time [in June], most of our games were interleague games," Ichiro said. "We weren't facing American League teams. Basically, we were playing in an environment where we don't have much information on each other, so it's hard to give a good evaluation under those circumstances. Until you really play American League teams, you can't really speak."

Anticipating the expiration, after next season, of the four-year, $44 million contract Ichiro signed after the 2003 season, he was asked if there is anything he would like to see the Mariners do before he began talking about a new deal.

"No way I can answer that," he said. "No matter what I see, you guys [the media] will make it into a problem, make it bigger and bigger, and create a big mess."

The reporter replied that he was just trying to find the roots under the tree.

"If I answer that, basically, what I'm doing is ruining the fruit," he replied.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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AL West W L Pct. GB Div. Streak
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