TOKYO — Seattle Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma’s feat of becoming the second Japanese-born pitcher after Hideo Nomo to throw a no-hitter in the U.S. major leagues was splashed on the home pages of sports newspapers and other media websites in his home country, greeting people as they were waking up Thursday.
“Iwakuma achieves no-hit, no-run! Second Japanese pitcher after Nomo in ’01,” the headline of the lead story on the Sports Nippon newspaper website read.
Japanese baseball fans keenly follow their players in the U.S. major leagues, and game highlights of their exploits are a staple of sports news broadcasts, and reported in the sports pages of newspapers.
The reaction is a bit more muted, though, after two decades of Japanese stars heading to the U.S.
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“The nation went berserk when Nomo threw his two no-hitters,” said Robert Whiting, the author of “You Gotta Have Wa,” a book about foreign baseball players in Japan. “Now, it’s been there done that.”
Iwakuma said through an interpreter after the fourth no-hitter in the major leagues this season that he couldn’t find the right words to describe his feelings.
“I’m truly happy,” he said.
Iwakuma became the first American League pitcher in nearly three years to throw a no-hitter, silencing the Baltimore Orioles in the Mariners’ 3-0 victory on Wednesday.
Iwakuma’s father-in-law, who used to coach on the pitcher’s team in Japan, the Rakuten Eagles, was at the game.
“I was excited to see (fans) cheering with a standing ovation and getting ecstatic each time he pitched in the last half of the game,” Koju Hirohashi said in a statement issued by the team. “Also, I was happy to be able to watch such a game in person. At the beginning, I felt his pitching was a bit rough, but powerful. His fastball and slider were good. I hope he will continue playing without any injuries.”
Talented but often injured since arriving from Japan in 2012, the 34-year-old Iwakuma, a native of Tokyo, didn’t overpower the Orioles.
That’s not his style.
Instead, Iwakuma smartly used a biting splitter and precise control to throw the fourth individual no-hitter in franchise history and become the oldest pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2004 to throw a no-no.
The last AL pitcher to keep zeros across the board was teammate Felix Hernandez, who tossed a perfect game at Safeco Field on Aug. 15, 2012. Not surprisingly, Hernandez was one of the first to greet Iwakuma as he was mobbed on the pitcher’s mound after the final out, wearing a fuzzy bear hat that was handed out to fans earlier in the season in a promotion to honor Iwakuma.
The right-hander struck out seven and walked three and while Austin Jackson made a solid catch for the final out, the play everyone will remember is Kyle Seager’s contorting catch to open the ninth inning. Seager tracked David Lough’s foul ball near the stands and made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch for the first out.
Iwakuma missed 2 1/2 months early in the season after straining a muscle in his back and side. He’s been solid since returning and there were rumblings around the trade deadline Iwakuma might be moved.
“That’s all I thought was to come back and give it all I’ve got every start and make up for the lost time I had in the first half,” Iwakuma said.
Benjamin Lang, an American lawyer and baseball fan in Japan agreed about the muted reaction in Tokyo. “My take is that it’s a different era,” he said. “Nomo was carrying the weight of the baseball-mad Japanese public when he left for the majors. A Japanese player excelling in the majors is now old hat, and while the no-hitter will be celebrated, it simply won’t have the impact that Nomo’s first one had.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle, Washington, contributed to this report.