With the right fielder’s batting average having dipped from .372 to .303 from 2004 to 2005, the Tacoma News Tribune’s John McGrath alleges that Ichiro Suzuki is in rapid decline and oughta be traded. More offensive to McGrath, however, is Ichiro’s ‘tude.

After the Mariners on Saturday lost their 92nd game of the season “ their 191st defeat since the 2004 opener “ Ichiro Suzuki talked of how the weight of œa giant man on my body was lifted Friday night.

He had accomplished his quest to record 200 hits for the fifth consecutive season.

œOnce I got within 10 hits of 200, Ichiro said, œI felt the pressure.

During a summer as bleak and joyless as this one, perhaps it™s only natural for a gifted player to dwell on personal achievements. But Ichiro takes the stat-watch vigil to another level: The more obscure the number, the more he stews and frets.

œWhen your goals are almost there “ when you can see them within reach “ that™s where the fear comes, he said Saturday. œThe fear of not reaching them.

I realize foreign-language nuances can be lost in translation, and that there are cultural differences between Japan and the United States. In an American pro baseball clubhouse, œfear is as likely to be enunciated as œstrudels or œGinger Rogers.

But a ballplayer who fears falling short of 200 hits is a ballplayer whose priorities are whacked.

Does anybody care that Ichiro got 206 hits in 2005 instead of, say, 199? Or that he hit .303 instead of .299? Did Ichiro™s avoidance of personal humiliation ease the long season™s journey to a last-place record of 69-93?

Were a power hitter to ponder the importance of finishing with 40 homers instead of 39, or 50 homers instead of 49, he™d be labeled a self-absorbed prima donna. And yet Ichiro recites his statistics as if they were dollar figures in a disaster-relief telethon and he™s perceived to be the essence of a competitor.

œI felt this was the year where he really had to grind it out, and he did that, manager Mike Hargrove said Sunday.

A grinder, Skip? Really? Ichiro has a multitude of athletic skills, some of which he occasionally puts to use in an effort to help the Seattle Mariners win baseball games. But he™s no more a grinder than the Prince of Wales is a gamer.