By the Numbers: MLB's 11 All-Japanese pitching matchups
Four is the wild number in that subsection of lore, as the Yankees have been involved in four of those 11 matchups, Kuroda and Darvish have each faced a countryman four times, and Darvish makes up half of both sets of rematches; he and Kuroda also faced off last April, and the Rangers’ righty has faced Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma in each of the last two seasons as well.
In the latest edition of By The Numbers, we take a look back at those 11 all-Japanese pitching matchups, in which the Yankees are now 3-1 after Tuesday’s win.
5/7/99: The first-ever battle of Japanese starters came at Yankee Stadium on May 7, 1999, as Hideki Irabu squared off with the Mariners’ Mac Suzuki. Irabu pitched seven innings of one-run ball to lead his team to victory, while Suzuki was roughed up for seven runs (four earned) in 5.1 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.
7/2/00: Suzuki got a second chance 14 months later, leading the Royals into battle with Hideo Nomo and the Tigers. Once again, however, Mac came up the loser; despite allowing just two runs over seven innings, Suzuki and the Royals lost 2-0 as Nomo held Kansas City to just three hits over seven shutout innings. Ex-Yankee Luis Polonia’s leadoff home run would be all the offense Detroit would need that day, but DH Juan Gonzalez added an RBI single in the sixth as insurance.
6/19/02: Third time the charm? Not for Suzuki, whose Royals lost to Tomo Ohka and the Expos 6-3 on June 19, 2002, in the first inter-league battle of Japanese hurlers. Three first-inning runs and four total off Suzuki paved the way for Montreal, and Ohka was able to make the lead stand up, allowing all three runs over seven strong innings.
5/9/07: Five years later, Ohka was part of matchup number four, as the then-Toronto hurler took the mound against Red Sox rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was brilliant in just his seventh Major League start, allowing one run over seven innings, while Ohka was touched up for three runs on six hits and five walks in 4.2 IP in what ended up as a 9-3 win for the Sox.
6/19/09: Matsuzaka’s second shot at a countryman was also the second interleague clash, as Dice-K and the Sox met Kenshin Kawakami and the Braves on June 19, 2009. Matsuzaka wasn’t as lucky this time, allowing six runs over just four innings, while Kawakami tossed six innings off two-run ball to lead Atlanta to an 8-2 win. After the game, Dice-K went on the disabled list with shoulder weakness, and ended up missing the next three months.
7/22/10: Hiroki Kuroda got his first of four tastes of intra-national when, as a Dodger, he battled the Mets’ Hisanori Takahashi on July 22, 2010. He was brilliant, allowing just five hits in eight shutout innings to best an equally-impressive Takahashi, who gave up just two runs on three hits in seven frames but took the loss in a 2-0 Dodgers victory.
4/24/12: The first Kuroda-Darvish battle 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.
9/14/12: Five months later, Darvish went to 2-0 in starts against countrymen, beating Iwakuma and the Mariners in a 9-3 Texas win. The two had faced off six times in Nippon Professional Baseball, and Darvish was the better on this day, allowing one run on two hits in seven innings. 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.
10/3/12: The final day of the 2012 regular season brought about a Yankees-Red Sox that saw Kuroda and Matsuzaka finally square off. Kuroda allowed a run in the top of the first, but from there, it was all Bombers; they touched up Dice-K for five runs over 2.1 innings, while Kuroda allowed just two runs over seven innings en route to the victory in a 14-2 Yankees win. Once again, this game featured a third Japanese national, as Junichi Tazawa pitched a perfect eighth inning for the Sox.
4/12/13: Darvish-Iwakuma II came about in the first fortnight of the 2013 season, and brought a different result; both made quality starts, but this time, Iwakuma (6.2 IP, 1 ER) outdueled Darvish (6 IP, 3 ER) at Safeco Field and the Mariners walked away with a 3-1 victory.
6/25/13: Much like Darvish-Iwakuma II, Darvish-Kuroda II had a different result. Neither man took a decision, as Darvish was lifted after allowing three runs in 5.1 innings and Kuroda gave up three in his 6.2 frames, but the Yankees won the game 4-3 – fittingly, scoring the final run courtesy of a ninth-inning walkoff homer by another Japanese superstar, Ichiro Suzuki.