Kuroda vs. Dice-K: History in the makingA look back at the first eight MLB matchups between Japanese-born pitchers
For the second time in three weeks, third time this season, and ninth time in MLB history, two Japanese-born starting pitchers will do battle in a Major League Baseball game when Hiroki Kuroda and the Yankees close out the regular season against Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Red Sox tonight at Yankee Stadium (6 p.m., YES).
Earlier this season, Kuroda became the second Yankees player to have that honor, following Hideki Irabu, who beat Seattle's Makato Suzuki in 1999 in the first-ever matchup of Japanese countrymen. When Kuroda faced off against Texas' Yu Darvish on April 23, it was also the second time in his career he had faced a countryman (the first coming in 2010 when his Dodgers faced Hisanori Takahashi and the Mets), but the righty downplayed it, telling the media through his translator that, “I try not to think about it. I don’t want to make it any bigger than it is… This is not a one-on-one game. It’s the Rangers against the Yankees.”
Whether or not he downplays it again today, the fact of the matter is that it the game couldn't be any bigger for the Yankees; a win clinches the AL East and the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs, while a loss means they must do some scoreboard watching. And, despite the fact that the game begins at 9 a.m. Thursday Japanese time, there will be millions of eyes glued to television sets across the island nation.
Back in April, we profiled what was then the previous six games featuring an All-Japanese pitching matchup...and with Hiroki and Dice-K just hours away from a ninth date with history, we present once again the history of matchups between Japanese-born pitchers in Major League Baseball.
No. 1: May 7, 1999 at Yankee Stadium –Mac Suzuki (Mariners) vs. Hideki Irabu (Yankees)
As mentioned above, the Yankees were part of the first matchup of Japanese-born pitchers. That day in the Bronx, Hideki Irabu pitched seven innings of one-run ball to lead his team to victory, while Mac Suzuki of Seattle was roughed up for seven runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 IP, the big blow coming courtesy of Derek Jeter’s three-run home run in the fifth inning. The Yankees won 10-1, giving Irabu the first of his 11 victories that season.
No. 2: July 2, 2000 at Kauffman Stadium – Hideo Nomo (Tigers) vs. Mac Suzuki (Royals)
Suzuki got a second chance against a countryman one year later, but his opponent was arguably the most successful of all Japanese-born pitchers to play in MLB. Although he was in the midst of a tough season, Nomo lived up to the hype that day, holding the Royals to just three hits over seven innings. Suzuki was solid as well, allowing just two runs in his seven frames, but Luis Polonia’s leadoff home run would be all the offense Detroit would need that day. DH Juan Gonzalez added an RBI single in the sixth, and the Tigers took a 2-0 road victory.
No. 3: June 19, 2002 at Olympic Stadium – Mac Suzuki (Royals) vs. Tomo Ohka (Expos)
The third time was unfortunately not the charm for Suzuki, as he allowed three runs in the first inning (and four overall) en route to this 6-3 loss to the Expos. Montreal’s hurler, Ohka, allowed all three Royals runs in his seven strong innings, but a quartet of Expos relievers was able to get through the final two innings unscored upon to end the first inter-league battle of Japanese pitchers.
No. 4: May 9, 2007 at SkyDome – Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox) vs. Tomo Ohka (Blue Jays)
Five years after dueling Suzuki, Ohka had moved back to the American League and was set to face off against recent import Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was making just his seventh Major League start. Dice-K was brilliant, allowing just one run in seven innings, that coming on a Lyle Overbay home run. Ohka, however, was not so lucky, as he struggled with his control, allowing three runs on six hits and five walks in just 4 2/3 IP. The Sox also teed off on the Blue Jays bullpen, scoring six runs off three relievers, but the Jays got two back in the ninth off Joel Piniero to cut the final to a 9-3 Boston victory.
No. 5: June 19, 2009 at Fenway Park – Kenshin Kawakami (Braves) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox)
Matsuzaka wasn’t as lucky in his second start against a countryman two years later, however. Kenshin Kawakami threw six innings of two-run ball for the Braves, but Dice-K lasted just four innings on the other side, allowing six runs on eight hits (five of which were for extra bases) in Boston’s 8-2 loss to Atlanta. There may have been good reason, though, as Matsuzaka went on the disabled list with shoulder weakness; he had been on the DL earlier that season with a shoulder strain, and this stint cost him the next three months.
No. 6: July 22, 2010 at Dodger Stadium – Hisanori Takahashi (Mets) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers)
As mentioned above, Tuesday’s start will be Kuroda’s second against a countryman – and he’ll be looking to go 2-0 in those starts. He was brilliant in the first one, allowing just five hits and one walk in eight shutout innings en route to the victory. Takahashi pitched well himself, giving up two runs on three hits over seven strong frames, but Matt Kemp’s two RBI were enough for the Dodgers to claim a 2-0 victory.
No. 7: April 23, 2012 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington – Hiroki Kuroda (Yankees) vs. Yu Darvish (Rangers)
This game was as much of a pitcher's duel as advertised. Kuroda surrendered just two runs on five hits over 6.2 innings, but Darvish was a tad better, shutting out the Yankees for 8.1 innings and recording more strikeouts (10) than baserunners allowed (seven hits, two walks). Ian Kinsler's leadoff homer was all Texas would need, but Josh Hamilton added an RBI single in the third and the Rangers won 2-0. The loss dropped Kuroda to 1-3 on the season, while Darvish improved to 3-0 to start his career.
No. 8: Sept. 14, 2012 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington – Yu Darvish (Rangers) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners)
In his second intra-country clash of the season, Darvish met Iwakuma, whom he had faced six times in Nippon Professional Baseball. Yu was 3-2 in those games, and he was stellar in their first American meeting, allowing just one run on two hits over seven innings in a 9-3 Texas victory. Iwakuma himself allowed just two runs in 5.1 innings of work, but the Rangers touched up the Mariners' bullpen, plating seven in the eighth inning to salt it away. The game also featured a third Japanese-born pitcher, as Koji Uehara relieved Darvish and struck out two Mariners in a perfect eighth inning.
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