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Originally published July 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 19, 2007 at 4:10 PM

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Ichiro MVP as Americans beat Nationals, 5-4

Instead of a Barry Bonds splash shot, the defining hit at Tuesday's All-Star game was Ichiro's inside-the-park home run, the first in the game's history as the Americans beat the Nationals, 5-4.

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – Ichiro Suzuki is closing in on a contract extension with the Seattle Mariners — and he showed his club why it would want to keep him around for the long haul.

Suzuki hit the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star game history Tuesday night, winning MVP honors and helping the American League to a 5-4 victory. His go-ahead, two-run drive off San Diego’s Chris Young took a crazy bounce off the right-field wall — he’s never hit one during the regular season.

"That was sweet,” Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. “That ball is a double and he turns it into more.”

By the sixth inning, Suzuki already had all three hits.

While Barry Bonds was the talk of this All-Star game, Suzuki’s new deal in the works brought him some added attention on the AL side before the game.

Then, the inside-the-park homer became one of the highlights in San Francisco’s typically pitcher-friendly park.

“Man, that was fun,” AL teammate C.C. Sabathia of the Cleveland Indians said. “It was exciting to see.”

The Mariners just might be eager to get Suzuki signed as soon as possible considering the show he put on for the baseball world Tuesday night.

"We’re still talking but we’re not at the point where we have anything to announce,” said Suzuki’s agent, Tony Attanasio.

Suzuki, who started in center field and batted leadoff for the AL, would not say when a deal might be reached. The Mariners had no comment.

"Whatever happens, everybody will know in the future, whenever that might be,” Suzuki said through an interpreter before batting practice. “Maybe three hours from now, maybe after the season. I’m done for today (on the topic).”

The Seattle Times reported on its Web site Tuesday that the extension could pay the two-time AL batting champion and 2001 AL MVP close to $100 million over five years.


"Much dinero,” said Suzuki’s AL teammate, Victor Martinez. “Lots of money.”

The 33-year-old Suzuki is in the final year of a $41 million, four-year contract. The seven-time All-Star said during spring training that he planned to test his value on the free agent market this winter.

But he has changed his stance in recent weeks, certainly in part because the Mariners are playing well. They put together a strong and surprising first half, entering the All-Star break with a 49-36 record and just 21/2 games back of the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

Suzuki is hitting .359 with 61 runs, 128 hits, 39 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases in 25 attempts.

Suzuki set the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004. He has gotten at least 200 hits in each of his first six years in the majors.

His willingness to stay in Seattle also might have become stronger since the abrupt resignation of manager Mike Hargrove on July 1. Hargrove said his “passion has begun to fade.”

The relationship between Suzuki and Hargrove was tenuous at times, but both insisted their differences were in the past. Hargrove insisted his decision to step down had nothing to do with any disputes with players or the front office.

The Mariners promoted bench coach John McLaren for the rest of the year. He and Suzuki get along well and developed a strong relationship during Suzuki’s rookie year in 2001. Seattle matched a major league record with an AL-best 116 wins that year, and Suzuki was named AL Rookie of the Year and MVP.

This season marks the first time in his professional career — either with Seattle or the Orix Blue Wave in Japan — that Suzuki has played in the final season of a contract. In spring training, he sounded ready to test the market and see what his value would be to another team.

"I’ve played 15 years of professional baseball and I have never filed for free agency. I have never had the choice, to choose for myself which road I want to take,” Suzuki said in February. “So if you ask me is it possible that I will go to free agency, yes, it is possible.

"But if you ask me what are my feelings toward it, at this point I cannot express it. I am not even sure myself. But what I can say is my mind is full of having the best season possible.”

Suzuki had a club-record 25-game hitting streak in June and hit safely in 55 of his last 59 games before the All-Star break.

On Monday’s media session, Suzuki was reveling in the Mariners’ success of late — a big improvement from recent years.

"The team is completely different than last year ... the mental state is different and how everyone is taking it is totally different than last year,” he said. “There have been seasons in the past where the season would already be over at this point.”

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