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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Two Japanese Pitchers: Two Awesome Eephus Pitches

I am a baseball fan... I've been one for over 40 years, ever since I purchased my first ever pack of baseball cards for $0.10—I was curious—and had a somewhat blurry team photo card of the Pittsburgh Pirates sitting right there on the top. Then when the Game Of The Week featured the World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, I was set for life.

When the Toronto Blue Jays came to town in 1977, I already had seven years under my belt, and even though I couldn't hit a baseball or catch my own breath, I loved the sport.

After finally growing into my brain, I got bigger physically, and in my mid-20s, played my first two seasons of organized ball, somehow... perhaps through osmosis... being able to absolutely crush the ball with my swing, snare any ball hit near my like a Filter Queen vacuum, and be absolutely miserable in making that long throw from third-base to first, making my teammates cringe every time I received the ball in the hot corner.

Hey... two out of three ain't bad... which is also the title of a ballad by Meatloaf, who also has one of the most iconic 'baseball' songs ever, featuring the ever-young Vin Scully doing play-by-play of a guy making out with his girlfriend.

So, let's stop right there with talk about me, and instead let me briefly mention that my son in his fist year of baseball is 15 for 18, with 13 RBIs, 10 of them occurring in one game. He makes me very proud that he's already a far better athlete than myself. Maybe one day he'll by me a house, rather than ship me to a home.  Hee. I'm kidding. I'm not fanatical about stuff like that.

Anyhow, this past weekend, baseball fans were treated two a pair of amazing plays... both done by pitchers, both of whom are Japanese, one of whom is playing in the U.S., and the other in Japan.

Let's start with the famous pitcher Yu Darvish (surname last), a Japanese born and bred pitcher who came to MLB (Major League Baseball a few years ago), dominating the baseball world with his amazing talent as a strikeout pitcher.

Darvish is blessed with an incredible fastball - good hard heat that seems to melt through opposing bats... but every once in a while, he'll uncork a 59-mph (95-kilometer per hour) eephus curveball that caught the outside corner.
That 59 mph is slow by professional baseball standards. I, who am not a professional, can maybe uncork a fastball at around 70mph, but I'm probably one and done - meaning my arm will be in a sling because, well, let's just say I'm close to retirement age - and I'm not talking about retirement from baseball.

Darvish, in that game struck out 12 Washington Nationals batters helping his Texas Rangers eke out a 2-0 win. That eephus pitch was done against Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche, whom you can bet he did not see that pitch coming.

And, if you think that was a crazy pitch, let's take a look at Japan's Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters pitcher Kazuhito Tadano (surname last).

Back in 2004 and 2005, Tadano pitched in 15 games for MLB's Cleveland Indians, and while he always had a variety of pitches in his arsenal, he tossed his own eephus pitches against former Boston Red Sox first baseman Mauro Gomez of the Hanshin Tigers, that was mysteriously NOT called a strike.

That frickin' baseball was 20-feet (6-meters) up in the air before it fell down into the catcher's mitt!

I don't know, but maybe that pitch surprised the umpire so much that he wasn't sure it could ever be a strike and so just called it a ball.

Give Gomez credit. He saw that pitch and just laughed, because he knew it was something he might never see again at the professional level.

Tadano also deserves major props for having the cajones to try that pitch, as he was making his season debut that game, and tossed that eephus pitch on just his fourth throw.
Andrew Joseph

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