Hideki Okajima

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Hideki Okajima
岡島 秀樹
Hideki Okajima on March 13, 2012 (1).jpg
Okajima with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks – No. 37
Pitcher
Born: (1975-12-25) December 25, 1975 (age 38)
Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Bats: Left Throws: Left
Professional debut
NPB: October 6, 1995 for the Yomiuri Giants
MLB: April 2, 2007 for the Boston Red Sox
NPB statistics
Win–loss record 34–32
Earned run average 3.36
Saves 41
MLB statistics
(through 2011 season)
Win–loss record 17–8
Earned run average 3.11
Strikeouts 215
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Hideki Okajima (岡島 秀樹 Okajima Hideki?, born December 25, 1975) is a Japanese professional baseball pitcher. He is currently with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. He played with the Boston Red Sox from 2007-2011, and was elected to the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game as a first time All-Star via the Monster All-Star Final Vote.[1] He became the first Japanese-born pitcher to play in the World Series in Game 2 of the 2007 series.

Career in Japan[edit]

Okajima attended Higashiyama High School and pitched in the 1994 Koshien National High School Tournament.[2] He was drafted in the third round in 1993 by the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Okajima pitched mostly as a setup man, but sometimes played the role of a starter until 1999. When he played with the Giants in Japan, Okajima chose to go by the nickname "Okaji" instead of "Hideki" because there was Hideki Matsui, who preceded him on the Giants.[3] Okajima's entrance song with the Giants was the Dixie Chicks' version of The Supremes' hit, "You Can't Hurry Love."[4]

Okajima became the team's closer in 2000–2001, before returning to his setup role in 2002. He was traded to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right before the start of the 2006 season for two position players, and was a valuable lefty setup man for the team, pitching in 55 games, with a 2.14 ERA. The Fighters won the championship that year. In Japan, Okajima had a career record of 34–32 with a 3.36 ERA.[5]

MLB career[edit]

Okajima became a free agent in 2006, and signed a two-year, $2,500,000 deal with the Boston Red Sox.[6] The deal included a $1.75m club option for a third year. During spring training in 2007, Okajima was asked what he felt about being relatively anonymous while his teammate and countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka's every move was scrutinized. Okajima stated, "I'm willing to be a hero in the dark."[7]

Okajima allowed a home run to John Buck on his very first pitch in the major leagues.[8] It was the 7th time in MLB history a pitcher gave up a home run on his first pitch.[9] However, Okajima then proceeded to hold opponents scoreless for nearly two months until the Yankees scored a run off of him via a fielder's choice on May 22.[10] At the start of the 2007 Red Sox season, injuries and poor performances limited the effectiveness of anticipated setup relievers Mike Timlin and Joel Piñeiro. Okajima stepped into the role of primary setup man for closer Jonathan Papelbon and quickly became one of the most dominant relievers in the major leagues. Through the first two months of the season, Okajima cemented himself as the top setup man in the Red Sox bullpen garnering the American League Rookie of the Month for April.[11] Okajima's scoreless streak from April to May 2007 was the longest by a Red Sox left-hander since Bruce Hurst 20 years prior.[12]

Okajima earned his first MLB save on April 20, 2007, against the New York Yankees.[13] After getting a save in his first appearance during a Red Sox–Yankees series, Okajima compared the experience to winning the pennant.[14]

For all of his early success, Okajima remained relatively anonymous in his forays around Boston. While Okajima was taking a cab ride with his wife to a local restaurant, his cab driver gushed about the amazing performance of the Red Sox's newly acquired lefty without knowing that the reliever was in the cab with him.[15]

In Japan, Okajima was known as a gloomy man.[16] However, Okajima has revealed more of his humorous side in the United States. On May 17, 2007, Okajima faced the heart of the Detroit Tigers order for the second time in one day to earn his second major league save. When Japanese reporters asked him about facing the same three batters in both games of the doubleheader, he answered with a smile, "I did?"[17]

Okajima made the All-Star team as the winner of the final vote, but did not play in the game; he is the third Red Sox player to make the team this way.[18] Following the All-Star break, Okajima continued to pitch solid and reliable relief innings occasionally closing games for the Sox as they held their place at the top of the AL East. However, the rigors of the MLB season began to catch up with Okajima in the later stages of the season and he began to struggle culminating in a career-high four-run meltdown in a game against the Yankees on September 14, 2007. Red Sox management decided to shut him down following this outing to allow Okajima to relieve the physical and mental fatigue of the longer American season.[19] On his return during the final stages of the regular season, Okajima regained his sharp early season form, pitching scoreless frames to establish himself again as an integral part of the dominant Red Sox bullpen as they headed into the post-season. He was selected to the 2007 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team. The selection was the result of the 49th annual Topps balloting of Major League managers.[20]

Okajima pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2011.

Okajima returned with his performance in Game 2 of the World Series against the Colorado Rockies, in which he pitched 2⅓ perfect innings in relief of Curt Schilling, striking out four at Fenway Park. He became the first Japanese born pitcher to play in the World Series.[21] He closed the 2007 post-season with a home run to Garrett Atkins.[22] Okajima helped win the opening game in the MLB Japan Opening Series 2008.[23]

On December 3, 2010, he was non-tendered by the Red Sox, making him a free agent. However, both parties agreed on a one year deal on January 2.[24] Okajima did not make the 2011 Opening Day roster, starting the season in Triple-A Pawtucket. On April 18, he was called up to the Red Sox. On May 20, 2011, Okajima was designated for assignment.[25] On May 24, 2011, Okajima cleared waivers, and he accepted his assignment to the Red Sox's AAA affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox.[26]

The New York Yankees signed Okajima to a minor league contract on December 28, 2011. He also received an invitation to spring training. However, Okajima failed his physical at the beginning of spring training resulting in his release.[27]

He agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on February 26, 2012.

Return to MLB[edit]

Okajima was granted his release from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on January 29, 2013 to pursue opportunities in MLB.[28]

Oakland Athletics[edit]

Okajima inked a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training pending a physical on February 11, 2013.[29] He was optioned to Triple-A to begin the 2013 season. He had a 2.16 ERA with 18 strikeouts and two walks in 16 2/3 innings during his tenure in Triple-A. He was called up to join the A's 25-man roster on May 17, 2013. He was designated for assignment on September 3, 2013.

Pitching style[edit]

Okajima's unorthodox delivery showing him looking down at the ground towards 3rd base as the ball is released.

Okajima has a distinctive pitching form in which he turns his head downwards just before he releases the ball and after release jerks it hard towards third base. These extra movements appear to give Okajima some added velocity to his pitches as it torques his body towards homeplate and reportedly disguises his pitches and causes batters to swing early. Okajima is said to have mimicked his pitching form after a pitcher in Yoichi Takahashi's manga Ace! who torqued his head so much after every pitch that it always caused his hat to come flying off.[30] Okajima admits, "I was trying to copy the motion. I believed it would make me throw harder."[31]

A part of Japanese people dubbed this pitching form "Looking the Other Way" after a local version of the rock-paper-scissors game.[32] Initially, in Japan, numerous coaches such as Tsuneo Horiuchi attempted to change Okajima's pitching form throughout his baseball career.[33] This all stopped, however, when pitching coach Yoshitaka Katori of the Yomiuri Giants admitted his pitch.[34] In the past, Okajima was prone to bouts of wildness—even being booed in his home park for his poor control.[35] After 2005 season, Okajima was traded to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and then he changed his pitching form so that he re-established good control.[36]

Okajima's pitches are of a lower velocity than average for most pitchers, forcing him to develop a more consistent release point to better control his pitches. Okajima's fastball is usually in the 85–89 mph range, rarely ever reaching 90 mph. His out pitch in Japan was his sharp rainbow curveball in the 70–75 mph range, which left-handed hitters find hard to hit. He also occasionally throws a circle changeup, a forkball in the 80–84 mph range and changeup usually 82–84 mph.

After joining the Red Sox, Okajima has displayed such pinpoint accuracy that Hideki Matsui, former teammate, of the New York Yankees was amazed that since his time with Okajima in Japan, he never believed Okajima could gain such "great control".[37] Okajima's success in the major leagues against multiple batters was a departure from his time in Japan, where he was known as a situational lefty brought in to face one left-handed batter in key late-game situations.[4]

During an April 15 rainout in 2007, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell tweaked Okajima's changeup delivery. The result was a changeup with screwball motion dubbed the "Okie-Dokie" by bullpen coach Gary Tuck.[35] As of May 10, 2007, the Okie-Dokie has been thrown for strikes 79% of the time with hitters swinging through the pitch 14 out of 30 times.[35]

Detroit Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield declared Okajima "one of the most impressive lefties I've ever seen" with "stuff I have never seen before from anybody."[17] Former Yankees manager Joe Torre called Okajima "unhittable."[38]

Personal life[edit]

Okajima calls Masumi Kuwata his "master."[39] Okajima's wife is sports announcer Yuka Kurihara (栗原 由佳 Kurihara Yuka?),[40] with whom he has a son and a daughter.[2] He met his wife during a champagne/beer celebration after his Yomiuri Giants won the 2000 Japan Series.

Okajima's favorite films are romances including Ghost, Pretty Woman, and Autumn in New York.[41]

Okajima ran the Honolulu Marathon on December 14, 2008, completing the run with a time of 6:10:26 (gun time).[42]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star Game 2000, 2001, 2002.
  • Japan Series Champion (2000, 2002 Yomiuri Giants and 2006 Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters).
  • Asia Series Champion (2006 Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters).
  • Okajima was awarded Rookie of the Month of the American League for April 2007.
  • American League All-Star (2007).
  • World Series Champion (2007 Boston Red Sox).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Newman, Mark (2007-07-05). "Young, Okajima win Final Vote". MLB.com. Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  2. ^ a b "The Official Site of Boston Red Sox: Team: Player Information: Biography and Career Highlights: Hideki Okajima". MLB.com. Retrieved 2007-10-30. [dead link]
  3. ^ Gordon Edes (2006-12-01). "Okajima bolsters bullpen". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  4. ^ a b "Red Sox report: Inside pitch". The Sports Xchange. 2007-01-20. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  5. ^ Jimmy Golen (2007-05-05). "Okajima: Hardly a dicey deal for the Red Sox". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-10-30. [dead link]
  6. ^ CBS SportsLine.com wire reports, "BoSox reach deal with Japanese lefty; Matsuzaka talks continue", CBS SportsLine.com, November 30, 2006. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  7. ^ Ian Browne, "Okajima emerging out of the shadows", MLB.com, 30 April 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  8. ^ Red, "Hideki Okajima Probably Wishes He Could Have That First Pitch Back", AOL Sports Blog, April 2, 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  9. ^ Home Run Allowed to First Batter Faced, Baseball Almanac. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  10. ^ MLB - Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees Box Score Tuesday May 22, 2007, Yahoo! Sports, May 22, 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  11. ^ Caleb Breakey, "Okajima named AL Rookie of the Month", MLB.com, 2 May 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  12. ^ "Red Sox 7, Yankees 3". Yahoo! Sports. 2007-05-22. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  13. ^ "Okajima is lights out for Red Sox". Times Herald-Record. 2007-05-22. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  14. ^ Gordon Edes, "Reliever's been lighting it up", Boston Globe, April 22, 2007.
  15. ^ Jeré Longman, "Boston’s Other Japanese Pitcher", The New York Times, August 27, 2007. Accessed 2011-04-28.
  16. ^ "日本ハムに移籍の岡島寡黙な印象振り払う" (in Japanese). Nikkan Sports. 2006-03-28. Retrieved 2008-07-19. [dead link]
  17. ^ a b Jackie MacMullan, "Okajima cleans up in spotless fashion", Boston Globe, May 18, 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  18. ^ Steve Silva, "Okajima wins Star slot", Boston Globe, July 5, 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  19. ^ Associated Press, "BoSox's Okajima shelved several days with tired arm", ESPN.com, September 20, 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  20. ^ "Topps announces the 49th annual Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team". KansasCity.Royals.mlb.com. 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2007-11-26. 
  21. ^ "Boston extend World Series lead". BBC. 2007-10-26. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  22. ^ "Red Sox win World Series in a sweep". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-10-29. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  23. ^ "Dice-K gets no-decision as Red Sox hang on to beat A's in extras". ESPN. 2008-03-25. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  24. ^ Abraham, Peter (2011-01-10). "Max Ramirez era comes to an end". The Boston Globe. 
  25. ^ "Morales added to Red Sox bullpen mix". MLB.com. 2011-05-19. Retrieved 2011-05-19. 
  26. ^ "Okajima Clears Waivers, Assigned To Pawtucket". CBS Boston. May 24, 2011. 
  27. ^ Wallace Matthews (February 17, 2012). "Hideki Okajima doesn't pass physical". ESPN. 
  28. ^ Gleeman, Aaron (January 29, 2013). "Hideki Okajima released by Japanese team so he can return to MLB". NBCSports.com. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  29. ^ Ben Nicholson-Smith (February 11, 2013). "Athletics To Sign Hideki Okajima". MLBTradeRumors.com. 
  30. ^ Takako Ichikawa (2007-07-21). "高橋陽一". Yukan Fuji. Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  31. ^ Paul Flannery. "Hideki Okajima's Wind-Up". Boston Magazine. 
  32. ^ Kiyotaka Nanbara (2007-12-29). "29日(土)のゲストは、Rソックス・岡島秀樹投手でした!". Nippon Broadcasting System. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  33. ^ "岡島完ぺき稼頭央も三振斬り/Wシリーズ" (in Japanese). Nikkan Sports. 2007-10-27. Archived from the original on 2008-01-30. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  34. ^ "おやGの鹿取さん 岡島投手の"くせ"理論を開陳" (in Japanese). Yomiuri Giants. 2007-09-14. Retrieved 2008-06-15. [dead link]
  35. ^ a b c Rob Bradford (2007-05-11). "Okajima is 'Oka-Doke' with Sox: 31-year-old rookie lefty emerges from Matsuzaka's shadow". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2007-05-11. 
  36. ^ "13人の日本人メジャーたち" (in Japanese). YOMITIME. 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  37. ^ Yoshiaki Furuuchi (2007-05-01). "Who is Okajima?~岡島秀樹を見逃すな <古内義明>" (in Japanese). MAJOR.JP. Retrieved 2008-07-19. [dead link]
  38. ^ John Torenli, "Okajima gives Red Sox bullpen decided edge", SBRForum.com, 22 May 2007. Accessed 2007-10-30.
  39. ^ "岡島"師匠"桑田の前で2回無失点" (in Japanese). Sponichi Annex. 2008-03-18. Archived from the original on 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  40. ^ "栗原 由佳のプロフィール - Cent FORCE Co.,Ltd. (Kurihara Yuka's Profile)" (in Japanese). Cent FORCE Co., Ltd. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  41. ^ Ian Browne (2007-03-28). "Matsuzaka, Okajima host scribes". MLB.com. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  42. ^ Steve Silva (2008-12-14). "Okajima completes 6-hour Honolulu Marathon". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 

External links[edit]