What if Hideki Irabu had signed with the Padres?

Hideki Irabu, one of the fastest throwers in Japanese baseball history and his leagues greatest strikeout artist, died today in Los Angeles County. The first reports say it looks like a suicide.
For a pitcher who has been the butt of many jokes and a Frank Costanza rant, there suddenly is nothing funny about him. Like Donnie Moore before him, a player who was a source of ridicule suddenly became a tragic figure.
In 1997 he was brought to New York as a newly minted millionaire potential hero and given the key to city by Rudy Guiliani and a spot in the defending World Champion Yankees’ rotation. 11 years later his credit card was declined in a bar in Japan and he got into a brawl.
And today, trying to find work in an independent minor league, he was found dead.
Sitting at my dining room table, I can’t sit and pretend to know all of Irabu’s demons. Clearly anyone who could go through with ending their own life has plenty. But it is impossible to avoid the thought that failing on such a grand scale in New York may have contributed to his downfall. Joe Torre had him on the roster for the 1998 and 1999 post season but used him in a single game over 6 series. He pitched in mop up duty for Roger Clemens’ dreadful Game 3 start in the 1999 ALCS.
I remember being startled when he came out of the bullpen against the Red Sox that day. I forgot he was even on the team.
He became a symbol of a Steinbrenner move to make a backpage splash and tap into the Japanese market instead of improving the team. (Of course if he delivered, Steinbrenner would have taken the credit of being forward thinking.)
And his debut in 1997 was a solid win where he pitched into the 7th. And remember in 1998, he started off as a very effective pitcher. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month for May, 1998. By mid June of 1998, he was 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA and was a big contributor to the Yankees stellar first half. As late as July 20th he had a terrific record (9-3) and a very good ERA (2.86.) A string of 6 bad starts, plus the emergence of El Duque Hernandez, pushed him out of the post season roster.
But his 1998 could hardly be called a total failure. But 1999 was not a good year for him and by 2000 he was an Expo. By 2002 he was a Ranger, his last season in the majors. He pitched in 2009 for the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League. Former Padres shortstop Garry Templeton was his manager. His teammate was Jose Lima, who passed away last spring.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he played in a smaller market.
The Padres paid the posting fee for Irabu to bring him to America and they owned his signing rights. But, wanting to be on the biggest stage (and have the greatest marketability) he refused to sign with San Diego. He and his agent engineered the trade that sent him to the Bronx.
Had he stayed with the Padres, his fame would not have been as great, but neither would the magnification of his failures. Like the Yankees, the 1997 Padres were coming off a post season berth and had talent.
If he had put up the same numbers with the 1998 Padres as he did with the 1998 Yankees, he would have been beloved by the fans instead of being cursed out.
Remember the ’98 Padres were a terrific team that went on to win the National League pennant. They were not as good as the historic 1998 Yankees, but they had a deep lineup and a tough bullpen.
And their fan base is forgiving. Playing for a large passionate fanbase has its disadvantages. Not being able to hide any flaws is one of them. Trevor Hoffman had many high profile critical game blown saves in his career with the Padres. Had he blown those games in New York, Philadelphia or Boston, he would have been run out of town on a rail. In San Diego they are retiring his number.
I wonder if Irabu had pitched in San Diego, if he would have been able to develop and adapt to America better than in New York, where he was expected to be the next Nolan Ryan right out of the gate.
I wonder if Padres fans could have accepted him for what he was instead of tormenting him for what he wasn’t. 13 wins and an OK 4.06 ERA mixed in with a pitcher of the month award would get a lot more respect in a smaller market gunning for their second ever pennant.
Maybe he pitches well along side Kevin Brown, Andy Ashby, Sterling Hitchcock and Joey Hamilton. Maybe he fares well against the Yankees in the World Series.
Or maybe his demons were just too strong to conquer. Maybe this has nothing to do with bis baseball career.
But seeing how far he fell makes it impossible to wonder. Did he have to perch himself up so high?

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What a strange series

The Red Sox finished a 4 game set against the Royals. In 2 of the games, they appeared to be able to score at will.
They scored 13 runs in one game and 12 in another.
And the other two games, runs were at a premium.
1 run in 14 innings on Monday? 3 runs today?
Wasting solid efforts by Jon Lester and Josh Beckett?
The Sox just finished a 10 game stretch against the Orioles, Mariners and Royals… the three worst teams in the American League. They went 7-3 in those games.
I guess in any stretch where the Sox play .700 ball, I can’t be too greedy.
But this was a chance to pick up a half game on the idle Yankees and bring the magic number down one more.
Instead… I’m updating the tally.

April 8 – 9-6 win against the Yankees. (The Sox end their 6 game losing streak with a slugfest. John Lackey stinks but Phil Hughes stinks even more.)
April 10 – 4-0 win against the Yankees. (Beckett and Sabathia duel in a game that was 1-0 until the late innings.)
April 20 – 5-3 win in Oakland. (Red Sox survive a lead off homer and two bases loaded situations and facing the tying run at the plate to win their first road game.)
April 21 – 4-2 win in Anaheim. (The Red Sox stranded 15 men on base and Josh Beckett’s went 8 strong with no decision. But the Sox rallied in the 11th to win.)
April 22 – 4-3 win in Anaheim. (Peter Bourjos makes a 2 run errors and the Red Sox survive a bizarre passed ball by Jarrod Saltalamacchia that let a run scored from second.)
May 1 – 3-2 win against the Mariners. (Ichiro loses a ball in the sun that turns into a 9th inning triple for Lowrie. Crawford singles him home for the win.)
May 8 – 9-5 win against the Twins. (Dice-K lets up 3 runs in the first but settles down as the Red Sox clobber Carl Pavano.)

May 9 – 2-1 win against the Twins. (A bullpen breakdown cost Beckett the decision but Cark Crawford ended the game with an 11th inning walk off hit.)
May 13 – 5-4 win in the Bronx. (Youkilis homers off of Joba and Bard and Papelbon make it more interesting than it needed to be.)
May 15 – 7-5 win in the Bronx. (Sox fall behind 4-1 but come back as Youk, Papi and Salty all homer.)
May 16 – 8-7 win against the Orioles. (Down 6-0 after 6 innings, the Sox rally and win it with a 2 run walk off double by Adrian Gonzalez)
May 18 – 1-0 win against Detroit. (With 2 outs in the 8th, Salty doubles home Crawford from first for the only run. Papelbon gets himself in and out of 9th inning trouble.)
May 19 – 4-3 win against Detroit. (Bard blows Beckett’s lead but Carl Crawford wins it with a walk off hit.)
May 24 – 4-2 win in Cleveland. (Varitek throws two runners out and homers as the Red Sox win their first game against the Indians.)
May 29 – 4-3 win in Detroit. (The Red Sox blow an early 3-0 lead but David Ortiz wins the game with a pinch 9th inning homer.)
June 3 – 8-6 win against Oakland. (Buchholz lets up 4 runs in the first but the Sox come back thanks to Carl Crawford’s 2 run single.)
June 4 – 9-8 win against Oakland. (Red Sox blow a 4 run 9th inning lead and trail in the 11th before Ellsbury ties it and Drew wins it in 14.)
June 7 – 6-4 win in the Bronx. (Papelbon strikes out A-Rod to end the game with a runner on base.)
June 9 – 8-3 win in the Bronx. (Down 2-0 to Sabathia in the 7th, the Sox score 7 runs as Papi exacts revenge after getting plunked. A 3+ hour rain delay pushed the game past 1:30 AM)
June 15 – 3-0 win in Tampa Bay. (Youkilis homers in the 7th for the only runs in Beckett’s 1 hit masterpiece.)
June 16 – 4-2 win in Tampa Bay. (Papelbon wiggles out of a 2 on, nobody out jam in the 9th thanks to Youk’s diving catch.)
June 26 – 4-2 win in Pittsburgh. (The Pirates make 4 errors and the Red Sox score 2 in the 7th to avoid a sweep by the Bucs.
June 30 – 5-2 win in Philadelphia.(An injury to Cole Hamels leads to the Red Sox bats waking up.)
July 1 – 7-5 win in Houston. (The Sox score 6 in the 7th inning to come back and win.)
July 3 – 2-1 win in Houston. (The Red Sox score a run in the top of the 9th on a walk to break a tie.)
July 5 – 3-2 win against Toronto. (Lester gets hurt but Darnel McDonald throws out the tying run at the plate to end the game.)
July 6 – 6-4 win against Toronto. (The Sox score 4 in the 4th to take the lead and Wakefield and company hang on for dear life.)
July 10 – 8-6 win against Baltimore. (The Orioles score 6 runs off of rookie Kyle Weiland in the second, but the Red Sox hit three homers in the bottom of the second to tie the game and hold for dear life.)
July 16 – 9-5 win in Tampa. (Lackey puts the Sox in a 3-0 first inning hole, but 3 Sox homers bring them back for the win.)
July 17 – 1-0 win in Tampa. (Beckett throws a masterpiece and the bullpen throws 8 amazing innings. But the Sox bats go dead, leaving 17 men on base before Pedroia drove in a run with 2 outs in the 16th inning.)
July 18 – 15-10 win in Baltimore. (The Sox blow a 6-2 lead but score 8 runs in the 8th to take the game.)
July 22 – 7-4 win against Seattle. (John Lackey beat Felix Hernandez and Mike Carp’s error helped the Red Sox score 5 in the 7th to give them some breathing room.)
July 23 – 3-1 win against Seattle. (Ellsbury gets Beckett off the hook in a tight pitchers duel when he got a 2 out, 2 strike 2 run go ahead single in the 8th.)
July 26 – 13-9 win against the Royals. (The Sox trailed in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th before the bats exploded in the 5th.


April 1 – 9-5 loss in Texas. (The Sox tie Opening Day in the 8th with an Ortiz homer only to have Bard implode and the Sox let up 4 in the bottom of the 8th.)

April 5 – 3-1 loss in Cleveland. (The Sox drop their 4th straight as the bats are dead in Cleveland.)
April 7 – 1-0 loss in Cleveland. (Sox blow a great Lester performance on a squeeze bunt and Darnell McDonald overrunning the bag to end the game.)
April 12 – 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay. (A solid Lester performance is wasted as Kyle Farnsworth of all people shuts down the Sox.)
April 15 – 7-6 loss to Toronto. (Bobby Jenks implodes with a 4 run seventh inning as the Red Sox waste Pedroia and Youkilis homers and a clutch RBI double by Scuatro.
April 19 – 5-0 loss in Oakland. (Pedroia gets picked off, the Sox bats go dead and waste a solid Lackey start.)
April 26 – 4-1 loss in Baltimore. (Buchholz pitches tentatively and the Sox let Kevin Gregg of all people to close out the 9th.)
April 27 – 5-4 loss in Baltimore. (The Sox tie the game with a 3 run 8th only to have Bard lose it in the bottom of the 8th.)
April 29 – 5-4 loss to Mariners. (Bobby Jenks blows a 7th inning lead, wasting 2 Mike Cameron homers.)
April 30 – 2-0 loss to Mariners. (The Sox strand 11 runners and let Milton Bradley double home the go ahead run.)
May 4 – 5-3 loss to Angels. (7 hours with rain delays and stranded runners. Marco Scutaro was thrown out at the plate in the 12th)
May 10 – 7-6 loss in Toronto. (8th and 9th inning heroics, including a homer by Adrian Gonzalez, are undone by a walk off sacrifice fly by David Cooper.)
May 21 – 9-3 loss to Cubs. (Up 3-1 in the 8th inning, the bullpen and defense implode. The Cubs score 8 runs while both teams wear their 1918 uniforms.)
May 23– 3-2 loss in Cleveland. (The Sox blow a 2-1 8th inning lead when the Indians rally with 2 outs. Crawford ends the game on a double play.)
May 29 – 3-0 loss in Detroit. (Verlander keeps the Sox off base and prevents the sweep.)
June 1 – 7-4 loss to White Sox. (Konerko drives in three, spoiling a game tying Ortiz homer.)
June 14 – 4-0 loss in Tampa Bay. (Wakefield’s solid outing is spoiled. Longoria scores on a passed ball.)
June 18 – 4-2 loss to Milwaukee. (The Brewers hit three homers early off of Lester and hang on.)
June 21 – 5-4 loss to San Diego. (Ortiz hits a double play in the 9th to stifle a potential winning rally.)
June 24 – 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh. (The Red Sox strand 7 runners in scoring position.)
June 25 – 6-4 loss to Pittsburgh. (The Red Sox fall out of first as Pedroia’s error leads to a Pirates run.)
June 29 – 2-1 loss in Philadelphia. (Vance Worley duels John Lackey and slumping Raul Ibanez drives in both runs.)
July 4 – 9-7 loss to Toronto. (John Lackey’s miserable start puts the Sox in too big a hole to climb out of.)
July 19 – 6-2 loss in Baltimore. (Scutaro gets thrown out stealing and the Orioles tack on 3 big runs late.)
July 25 – 3-1 loss to the Royals. (Scutaro botches a potential game winning squeeze play in the 12th as the Red Sox lose in 14.)
July 28 – 4-3 loss to the Royals. (Crawford’s bid for a walk off homer falls just short.)

Down to +8.

On to Chicago… let’s hope the surging White Sox are done with their second half come back!

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John Lackey… WINNER

I was worried for half an inning.
Youk made an error and Lackey let up a homer. Sox down 3-0 before they even came to bat.
For that space between the top and bottom of the first I thought “Man, the Sox are REALLY going to lose this game.”

Then Ellsbury and Pedroia hit back to back homers and I relaxed. The Sox didn’t even have the lead after one, but I felt like the 3 run homer basically was a head start.

Now John Lackey won the game.
He’s 4-0 in his last 4 games.
I don’t care what other stats you look at. I want my pitchers winning.
Lackey is winning.
I don’t understand how this is happening… the 12 run outburst is a decent explanation.

But keep winning Lackey and you’ll win Boston’s heart… or at least we’ll stop hating you.

Meanwhile, the let’s talk Magic Numbers.


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