Thank you Daisuke, and otsukare

Tokyo Sox

Baka Gaijin
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Feb 16, 2006
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I moved to Tokyo on August 31st, 1998. It was...not the most remarkable thing that happened in Japan that summer. Less than two weeks earlier, on August 22nd, a young right hander from Yokohama High School named Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown a no-hitter in the final of the Summer Koshien High School Tournament. It was just the second no-hitter in a championship game in the 80+ year history of the tournament, and he instantly became a household name across the country. Over the last four (consecutive) days of the tournament he threw:

- A 148 pitch shutout
- A 250 pitch 17 inning complete game
- A scoreless 9th inning to get the W, after starting the game in LF as the team came back from a 6-0 deficit late
- The no-hitter to win the Final, and the legend was born.

A few months later he was drafted 1st overall in the NPB draft, and signed with the Seibu Lions. In 1999, after going 16-5 with a 2.60 ERA in 180 IP, he won the Pacific League Rookie of the Year award (the Central League RoY award that year went to a young Yomiuri Giants pitcher named Koji Uehara.) Matsuzaka was decent if unspectacular for the next few seasons, until he began to really put it together in 2003. Because of a connection I had to the Red Sox at the time, when Sox scout Craig Shipley came to Japan to scout Seibu Lions' superstar Kazuo Matsui late in 2003, I ended up having dinner with him in Tokyo one night. A buddy and I were a bit star struck as Shipley regaled us with tales of facing Nolan Ryan, and then the conversation turned to the reason he was here. Matsui is probably not for the Red Sox, he told us, but there was one Lions player that caught his eye - their young pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Fast forward to late 2006 and Matsuzaka is going to be posted. Over the 2005-06 seasons he threw a total of 400 innings of sub-2.30 ERA ball, with 426:83 K:BB. Which is to say, I was giddy with hope the Sox felt the same as Shipley had a few years earlier, but it's not like he'd been keeping me in the loop, so I just had to cross my fingers and wait. I think we all know the rest -- the Sox spent over $100 million to win the posting bid and sign him to a six year deal. I was living in Hong Kong by 2007 but happened to be back here in Tokyo on a business trip when he was scheduled to make his first career MLB start. I excused myself early from a fairly large client night out, and got back to my hotel by the 2am game time. 7 IP, 1 ER, 10 K. He was brilliant, and I was ecstatic.

As you folks may remember, in 2007 the Red Sox went to the World Series. I did too, flying from Hong Kong to Denver for Games 3 and 4. Here's what I wrote to friends and family about Game 3 at the time:
Just a bit about Game 3 other than to say it was sheer unbridled awesomeness: Daisuke. He was up and down all year, and while I'm probably his staunchest defender, I'll admit he was more than a little frustrating to watch sometimes. Saturday October 27th was not one of those times. He was awesome. Let me refresh everyone's memory as to how the 3rd inning went down:

Ellsbury doubles. Pedroia singles. Papi doubles, Ellsbury scores. Manny intentionally walked. Eventual Series MVP Mike Lowell singles, Pedroia and Papi score. Normally this is where a stadium would get very quiet when the home team is down. But not when the visiting team is the Sox, and not when our lineup is this locked in. Walking around outside Coors before the game we estimated that maybe half the people there were Sox fans. Once we got inside it seemed a lot lower, maybe 20%. But 20% of 50,445 is still a crapload of Sox fans. In fact it's 10,089 Sox fans, I just did that on a calculator. And ten thousand Red Sox fans can make a lot of noise when their team goes up 3-0 in a World Series game. Coors is a nice stadium, and to us was at its finest when it was rocking AND no white towels were being waved around. The 3rd inning continued: Drew popped out, Tek singled (aaaaand Manny is out at home...by a mile), Lugo walks. Then up comes Daisuke. He singles through the hole at short, scoring Lowell and Varitek. 10,000 Red Sox fans make even more noise. Holy crap that was unbelievable. Then Jacoby Ellsbury comes up and hits his second freaking double of the inning, this one scoring Lugo. Daisuke then went out in the bottom of the 3rd and struck out Morales, struck out Kaz Matsui, and got TU-LO! to GROUND-OUT! 1-2-3, and we're up 6-0 after 3. Let it suffice to say I enjoyed the 3rd inning. A lot.
In 2008 he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and sure sure, he led the league in walks, but he also had the lowest H/9, and finished 4th in Cy Young voting!

Then ahh, you know, there was the rest of it.

In 2015 he returned to Japan, signing with the Softbank Hawks. Across the 2015-17 seasons, injuries limited him to just one game, where he pitched 1 inning, facing 10 batters and giving up 5 R (2 ER), including 2 BB and 2 HBP. He was on the Chunichi Dragons in 2018-19, and in 2018 pitched 50+ innings of sub-4.00 ERA ball to earn the NPB comeback player of the year award. In a feel-good story he even started one of the two 2018 All-Star games. In 2020 he went full circle, signing with his original club, the Seibu Lions. Spinal surgery meant he missed the entire 2020 season, and this year he hasn't made an appearance for either the big club or the AAA (ni-gun) squad where he spends most of his time. In July he announced he'll retire at the end of this season, which brings me to the point of the thread.

On Friday the Seibu Lions called him up to the big club for the first time this season. He hasn't made a single appearance this year in either AAA or the bigs, and revealed that after all the various arm, neck, and spine surgeries, he can't really feel the fingers in his throwing hand anymore. But as is the "fan service" custom here for longtime fan-favorite pitchers, Seibu gave him the "start" tonight -- allowing him to face the first batter of the game, before pulling him. Earlier in the day he gave an emotional hour long press conference, towards the end of which he battled through tears when someone asked him about discussing his decision to retire with his family. A condensed version is here:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_Hlx-40AYw


...as he struggles with the question at the 8:50 mark, he says "Man, this is why I didn't want to do a press conference."

Ahead of the game it seems all of Saitama was with him - the local train station closest to the stadium was decked out in Matsuzaka pictures, and the #5 platform was temporarily re-numbered as the #18 platform, after his uniform number:

View: https://twitter.com/Fullcountc2/status/1450370314521624576?s=20


As for his lone batter, well friends, he walked the guy. But he threw five straight fastballs, topping out at 73mph and given the numb fingers thing, I don't think anyone was too surprised. Here is the final chapter in the saga of Daisuke Matsuzaka, professional baseball player:

View: https://twitter.com/PacificleagueTV/status/1450386812472475649?s=20


Daisuke, thanks for all the memories, and taihen otsukare sama deshita.
 

Manuel Aristides

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Apr 7, 2009
102
I loved Daisuke. It was never what we hoped for, but we'll always have 2007. I don't speak any Japanese really but because of him I know Ganbatte, try your best, and it seemed he always did. Thanks Dice-K for inspiring a thousand horrible t-shirts and one world title.
 

Bozo Texino

still hates Dave Kerpen
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Thank you for this. I can't tell you how excited I was for Matsuzaka's posting. There was a blog out there - run by a Yankees fan, I believe - that chronicled all of the stories about where he might end up. It almost felt like a forgone conclusion that he'd end up in pinstripes.

I read Robert Whiting's You Gotta Have Wa shortly before the whole saga began, so I was somewhat familiar with the importance of the Summer Koshien. Experiencing the tournament firsthand is definitely on my bucket list.
 

Bunt4aTriple

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Jul 15, 2005
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I sought out some Asahi Super Dry after seeing his ad. I actually looked for the video just now, but stopped when I got to a 14 year old Eric Wilbur article. Fuck that guy. I can't even remember why I hate him; I only know that I do.

Yeah, he never lived up to the completely unreasonable expectations, but I still loved him.
 

Bergs

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Jul 22, 2005
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I remember going out and finding a 6-pack of Asahi for his first start.
 

Bergs

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Jul 22, 2005
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I sought out some Asahi Super Dry after seeing his ad. I actually looked for the video just now, but stopped when I got to a 14 year old Eric Wilbur article. Fuck that guy. I can't even remember why I hate him; I only know that I do.

Yeah, he never lived up to the completely unreasonable expectations, but I still loved him.
Dude. The only reason you posted before me was because I was looking for the same video. lol
 

mikeford

woolwich!
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Aug 6, 2006
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There's something extremely poetic about him walking the last batter of his career, haha.

That 2008 season for him was something we'll never see again I think. Tightrope walking doesn't even describe it. He was fun and he was AGONIZING and I'm glad to see he looked really happy coming off for the final time.
 

AlNipper49

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Apr 3, 2001
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That night / few days when there were thousands of us were tracking John Henry's plane was insane. That was so awesome
 

Pitt the Elder

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To share my own brief Daisuke memory - my brother and I went to see game 2 of the 2008 ALDS in Anaheim and Dice-K had the start. It was a tense game, which saw the Sox get an early 4-0 lead, only to have the Angels chip away at it and tie it 5-5 going into the 9th. JD Drew hit a 2-run homer in the 9th, sealing the win for the Sox. Dice-K had a yeoman's outing, going 5 ip 8 h 3 b 5k 3R. But what I remember the most was that my brother and I were stopped by a Japanese reporter with a video camera as we were going into the stadium and she wanted to get a clip of us on camera shouting Dice-K's name. I have no idea if she was reporting for a news station or something much stranger than that, but I like to think that millions of Japanese people saw me and my brother shouting "Dice-K! Aaaaaah!" at the top of our lungs on some 5-second news clip.

Thanks for the memories, Daisuke. Long live the Gyroball.
 

kartvelo

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OMG, yes... THROW STRIKES! He was effective, but agonizing to watch.
Glad to hear he got a nice sendoff and will be able to enjoy his family.
 

Leather

given himself a skunk spot
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Jul 18, 2005
27,420
That night / few days when there were thousands of us were tracking John Henry's plane was insane. That was so awesome
It's hard to convey, now 15 years or so in the past, how big of a deal it was that the Red Sox got Daisuke.

It was still in the Post Pedro period, where Boston was struggling to fill the gap that Pedro had left behind, and so every major pitching acquisition was invariably compared to Pedro, either explicitly or implicitly. In the winter of 2006, the Sox had come off of an epic bummer of a season where they appeared competitive until losing 5 games in a row to the fucking Yankees (Boston Massacre, Part II), putting them 6.5 games back in late August and effectively ending their season in an extremely shameful way.

The pitching staff was a mess. Schilling was old but effective, but beyond that there were just question marks. Tim Wakefield was his old self; reliable innings eater but aging and not someone you wanted in your top 3. Josh Beckett had been signed as the next #1 but put up a 5.01 ERA with his lowest K/9 and most HR of his career and looked like a possible boondoggle. Matt Clement, signed before 2005, had been promising (an All Star!) in his first year but then got hit in the head with a line drive and was never the same. Jon Lester was a promising rookie who was diagnosed with cancer later in the 2006 season and whether he could pitch effectively again wasn't something most fans even cared to think about, given the larger issue.

So then there's this race to sign a guy, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who allegedly has a literally *unhittable pitch.* Called the "Gyroball." And both the Red Sox and Yankees wanted him. Badly. There was serious talk that this guy was the Next Pedro. The real deal. There were articles (back when written media, albeit online, was the currency of information) about Gyroballs, and whether they were real, and we all learned about how "posting" worked. And in the back of every Red Sox fan's mind was the time Theo missed out on Jose Contreras, which was the last time we were all so invested in a foreign pitcher.

And then the day came, and we learned the Red Sox had nabbed him (by using, IIRC, a posting bid of $51,111,111 just to ensure that there were no ties to the Yankees, or that they got scooped by a dollar. Or ten. Or a hundred.)

And then, yes, the flight over, which we tracked throughout the day until he landed and waved from a limo window in his puffy winter coat.

It was insane.

EDIT: my favorite Daisuke oddball moment was seeing him, in person, pitch to the Twins in Minnesota and throwing a pitch that went straight up and landed halfway between the mound and home plate. Everyone in the stadium just went "what the fuck?"
 

Van Everyman

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Apr 30, 2009
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It's hard to convey, now 15 years or so in the past, how big of a deal it was that the Red Sox got Daisuke.

It was still in the Post Pedro period, where Boston was struggling to fill the gap that Pedro had left behind, and so every major pitching acquisition was invariably compared to Pedro, either explicitly or implicitly. In the winter of 2006, the Sox had come off of an epic bummer of a season where they appeared competitive until losing 5 games in a row to the fucking Yankees (Boston Massacre, Part II), putting them 6.5 games back in late August and effectively ending their season in an extremely shameful way.

The pitching staff was a mess. Schilling was old but effective, but beyond that there were just question marks. Tim Wakefield was his old self; reliable innings eater but aging and not someone you wanted in your top 3. Josh Beckett had been signed as the next #1 but put up a 5.01 ERA with his lowest K/9 and most HR of his career and looked like a possible boondoggle. Matt Clement, signed before 2005, had been promising (an All Star!) in his first year but then got hit in the head with a line drive and was never the same. Jon Lester was a promising rookie who was diagnosed with cancer later in the 2006 season and whether he could pitch effectively again wasn't something most fans even cared to think about, given the larger issue.

So then there's this race to sign a guy, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who allegedly has a literally *unhittable pitch.* Called the "Gyroball." And both the Red Sox and Yankees wanted him. Badly. There was serious talk that this guy was the Next Pedro. The real deal. There were articles (back when written media, albeit online, was the currency of information) about Gyroballs, and whether they were real, and we all learned about how "posting" worked. And in the back of every Red Sox fan's mind was the time Theo missed out on Jose Contreras, which was the last time we were all so invested in a foreign pitcher.

And then the day came, and we learned the Red Sox had nabbed him (by using, IIRC, a posting bid of $51,111,111 just to ensure that there were no ties to the Yankees, or that they got scooped by a dollar. Or ten. Or a hundred.)

And then, yes, the flight over, which we tracked throughout the day until he landed and waved from a limo window in his puffy winter coat.

It was insane.

EDIT: my favorite Daisuke oddball moment was seeing him, in person, pitch to the Twins in Minnesota and throwing a pitch that went straight up and landed halfway between the mound and home plate. Everyone in the stadium just went "what the fuck?"
Great post. But, what did actually happen with that pitch?
 

Leather

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Jul 18, 2005
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Great post. But, what did actually happen with that pitch?
I tried to find it on youtube but couldn't. It was This Game.

EDIT: Aha! Proof!

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Has Daisuke Matsuzaka's mythical gyroball finally made an appearance stateside?
The Japanese right-hander had a pitch slip out of his hand in the third inning and land about five feet from the mound before rolling to the plate..."That's that gyroball," manager Terry Francona cracked. "It's finally emerged. That was interesting." ..
On Saturday night, he twice fanned Joe Mauer, who entered the game with an AL-leading .343 batting average, and used that gyroball to "set up" the first strikeout. After the ball trickled to catcher Jason Varitek, Matsuzaka came right back with a fastball to strike Mauer out.
"Nice changeup, huh?" Matsuzaka quipped.
 

rodderick

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Apr 24, 2009
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Belo Horizonte - Brazil
Daisuke was excruciating to watch at times, but the dude was absolute nails in the 2007 playoffs and had a pretty good 2008 as well. Maybe he didn't revolutionize pitching, but he gave the Sox all he had and was worth his contract and then some for '07 alone. Easy guy to root for, remarkable career.
 

chrisfont9

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Thank you Tokyo Sox! I saw the full at-bat posted on Twitter. It's probably for the best that he walked the batter, who could then save face by not taking a 68mph strike. I lived in Kyoto for a year ages ago and have a fledgling appreciation for NPB, even took my kids to a Hanshin game a few years ago. When you think of the "hit rate" of high school sports stars actually fulfilling the potential that we assign them, Matsuzaka can be very proud of his accomplishments. He contributed to a world champion and was probably 90% of what we expected of him. I am glad Seibu made this gesture to their old ace. Maybe now I will associate their name with this class act, and not the insufferable victory song they used to play in the department store.
 

CaptainLaddie

dj paul pfieffer
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Sep 6, 2004
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I drove 350 miles, twice, 11 days apart, to see Daisuke's first two starts at Fenway. First one was against the Mariners and King Felix, who I believe took a perfect game into the 8th? Second one was against the Yankees, and I dragged the girl I just started dating to come with me (we got married eventually), and I called in a favor from a family friend -- who has first row season tickets behind the visiting side camera well. That night, Daisuke wasn't great, but it was the night that the Sox went back to back to back to back. Just an awesome Sunday night. I loved the guy, as infuriating as he could be at times. So much fun at others.
 

SumnerH

Malt Liquor Picker
Dope
Jul 18, 2005
28,579
Alexandria, VA
I loved Daisuke. It was never what we hoped for, but we'll always have 2007. I don't speak any Japanese really but because of him I know Ganbatte, try your best, and it seemed he always did. Thanks Dice-K for inspiring a thousand horrible t-shirts and one world title.
And one magnificent “Chasing the Demon Sphere” image.

gyroball_masthead2.jpg