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Did You Know? – Red Sox Players in Japan

As the Boston Red Sox head to Japan to play the first two games of its 2008 regular season schedule in Tokyo against the Oakland Athletics, it is interesting to note that, as well as having had Japanese players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima play for Boston, there have been several non-Japanese players with past Red Sox teams that have also logged time with a Far East baseball club.. Perhaps the most well-known of these players is former outfielder and recent Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Mike Greenwell, who signed on to play with the Hanshin Tigers in 1997 after twelve seasons with Boston. However, “the Gator” unexpectedly left the team during spring training while claiming an undiagnosed back injury, abruptly flew back to the United States, then returned to Japan and rejoined the team in late April. He finally played his first Japanese professional game in early May but, after fracturing his foot with a foul tip, announced his official retirement from baseball after batting .231 in just seven games with the club.[1]

Outfielder Reggie Smith was another former Red Sox great who later played in Japan, though his move to Japan came ten years after he departed Boston. After playing his final season in the majors with the San Francisco Giants in 1982, Smith was lured to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants; however, his personality and demeanor immediately clashed with the expectations of the Japanese fans and the media with regards to the norm for a baseball player. After injuring his knee early in the 1983 season, he was dubbed “Million-Dollar Bench-Warmer” by the Japanese media as he sat for two months nursing the injury; he also earned another less-honorable nickname, the “Giant Human Fan,” for striking out too often. Despite this, in just 263 at-bats, he managed a batting average of .285 with 28 home runs, a .409 on-base percentage, and a .609 slugging percentage.[2]

One other more-recent Boston player who donned spikes in the Land of the Rising Sun was Gabe Kapler who, lured by a lucrative contract offer, departed the Red Sox a month after the team won the World Series in 2004 and joined the Yomiuri club. However, after batting just .153 (17-for-111) with three home runs and six RBI in 38 games with the Giants, the team put the veteran outfielder on waivers and Kapler returned to the Red Sox in June of 2005. In addition, other non-Japanese players who have worn both a Boston uniform as well as one for a Japanese club include: John Wasdin, who played for the Red Sox between 1997 and 2000, then signed for one season with Yomiuri in 2002; Larry Parrish, who played a half-season with the Sox in 1988, then played a season each with the Yakult Swallows (1989) and Hanshin (1990); Kip Gross, who played five seasons in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters (1994-1998), then returned to the United States to play for Boston for one season (1999); and Benny Agbayani, who also played 13 games for Boston in 2002 and has played the last four seasons for the Chiba Lotte Marines (2004-2007).

Boston Wins 2007 American League Pennant

Down three games to one against Cleveland, the Boston Red Sox stormed back by outscoring the Indians 30-5 over the last three games of the series to win the American League Championship in seven games and give the club its second AL pennant in four years. Series MVP and Red Sox ace pitcher Josh Beckett got the comeback started last Thursday, going eight strong and giving up just one run on five hits while striking out 11, while first baseman Kevin Youkilis opened the game with a solo home run and drove home two more runs in an impressive 7-1 win. Then, in Game Six, outfielder J.D. Drew redeemed himself from a sub-par first season in Boston by hitting a crowd-pleasing grand slam with two outs in the opening frame; the Red Sox never looked back, scoring seven runs off Fuasto Carmona in two-plus innings of work to easily win 12-2 and even the series at three games each.

In the deciding Game Seven Sunday night, Boston took a quick 3-0 lead after three but led by just one run in the seventh. Cleveland appeared to have a shot at tying the score with runners at first and third with one out but, after speedy Indians outfielder Kenny Loften was held by third-base coach Joel Skinner on what seemed like a guaranteed run-producing single by Franklin Gutierrez, Red Sox pitcher Hideki Okajima, in relief of start Daisuke Matsuzaka, got third baseman Casey Blake to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat. Rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia then hit a two-run shot off reliever Rafael Betancourt in the bottom of the frame and helped blow the game open in the eighth with a bases-clearing double as the Red Sox took the final game by a score of 11-2. Boston now faces the National League champion Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series, beginning with Game One Wednesday night at Fenway Park, with a shot at winning its second title in four years after going 86 years between championships.

Did You Know? – Red Sox All-Star Game Final Vote Winners

With 4.3 million votes cast in his favor over four days of online balloting on MLB.com, Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Hideki Okajima became the final player selected to represent the American League at tonight’s All-Star Game in San Francisco. The first-year pitcher, who played for 12 seasons in Japan, beat out fellow pitcher Jeremy Bonderman of the Detroit Tigers for the honor.[1] He also became the sixth Red Sox player to join the All-Star team alongside pitchers Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon, first baseman David Ortiz, third baseman Mike Lowell, and outfielder Manny Ramirez.

Okajima also becomes the third Red Sox player selected to the All-Star game through the All-Star Final Vote process. In 2002, the first year that the selection was made by the fans, former outfielder Johnny Damon made his first of two eventual trips with Boston to the All-Star game; he would enter the game in the fifth as a defensive replacement and go 1-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The following season, the honor went to catcher Jason Varitek who made his first All-Star squad but never entered the game at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Both players would make their second appearance with the Red Sox at the Mid-Summer Classic in 2005 and get the nod from the fans as starters for the American League squad along with Ortiz and Ramirez in the starting lineup at Comerica Park in Detroit.

[1] Hideki Okajima wins 2007 American League Monster All-Star Final Vote. MLB.com, 05 July 2007.