Baseball: Joy in Japan as hero Ichiro Suzuki tops Pete Rose hit record

Miami Marlins batter Ichiro Suzuki of Japan reacts during an at-bat against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park in San Diego, California, on June 15, 2016.
Miami Marlins batter Ichiro Suzuki of Japan reacts during an at-bat against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park in San Diego, California, on June 15, 2016.PHOTO: EPA
A man reads an extra edition of a local Japanese sports newspaper reporting on Major League Baseball player Ichiro Suzuki's record setting hits at a railway station in Tokyo on June 16, 2016.
A man reads an extra edition of a local Japanese sports newspaper reporting on Major League Baseball player Ichiro Suzuki's record setting hits at a railway station in Tokyo on June 16, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan exploded in joy on Thursday (June 16) after Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki smacked his 4,257th career hit - surpassing by one the total held by the legendary Pete Rose.

Rose garnered his Major League record 4,256 hits over a 24-year career, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds.

Ichiro's total is divided between his early years in Japanese professional baseball and subsequent stints with several MLB clubs.

That difference has resulted in some US voices, including Rose, saying the total is not in the same class as that of the player known as "Charlie Hustle" for his hard-charging style.

But Japanese fans have largely shrugged off that view and given Ichiro - widely referred to in Japan by his given name - their full backing.

Public broadcaster NHK sent a news flash immediately after the 42-year-old took his total to 4,257, one past Rose's longstanding MlB mark of 4,256 set between 1963 and 1986.

He had tied the total earlier in the game against the San Diego Padres, which Miami lost 6-3.

Television footage showed a crowd in Osaka grabbing "extra" editions published by national newspapers, who later made it front page news for their main evening editions.

Tokyo Sports splashed the headline "Ichi" - an abbreviation of the star's name but that can also mean the number "1" in Japanese, on its front page, with "4,257 hits" underneath.

"This is an incredible record," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his official residence "A Japanese player built a milestone," he said. "I am truly proud as a Japanese."

Sadaharu Oh, Japan's retired home-run king, hailed Ichiro's drive to push himself to new heights even at the age of 42.

Ichiro "has been attracting baseball fans around the world, including me", said Oh, who managed the national team when Ichiro led it to the inaugural World Baseball Classic title in 2006.

Suzuki's father Nobuyuki, 73, admitted to having cried watching his son on TV at his home in Aichi, central Japan.

"I shed tears naturally," the elder Suzuki said, told reporters. "He made it."

Suzuki moved to the United States in 2001 after playing nine years for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific League. He hit 118 home runs and batted 1,278 hits in the Japan league.

As the first Japanese-born everyday position player in the MLB, he helped open the door for other local stars including Hideki Matsui to join North American baseball clubs.

Ichiro belted a league record 262 hits in 2004 and his 10 consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits is also a MLB record.

Currently with 2,979 MLB hits, Ichiro is fast approaching the 3,000 mark, considered a major milestone and likely to be widely lauded in North America.

Most Japanese brushed off the controversy, describing Ichiro's achievement a singular one requiring no justification.

"Baseball is baseball," said Masako Kadota, a 51-year-old hardware store worker in the western Japanese city of Kochi.

"Ichiro did a great job. That's what it's all about."