HOUSTON – Tadahito Iguchi fulfilled his childhood dream but his challenge in the major leagues will continue.
The second baseman became the first Japanese to play on a winning team in a World Series on Wednesday as the Chicago White Sox edged the Houston Astros 1-0 in Game 4 to claim their first series title since 1917.
“It’s great that my team became world champion in my first year in the major leagues,” Iguchi said. “I still can’t believe it and I’d never thought I would be where I am now.”
“I was lucky to be with the White Sox because everyone on this team worked hard to help win this title. I’m really happy that I played games to the very end of the postseason.”
Iguchi has been reputed as a key element in transforming the White Sox into a major title contender and many baseball critics evaluate him higher than his statistics suggest.
Hitting second in the lineup all year long, Iguchi had to adjust his style for his new role after occupying a spot in the core of the order for much of his eight-year career in Japan with the Daiei Hawks.
As a linchpin in between leadoff man Scott Podsednik and the likes of Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko at the heart of the lineup, Iguchi sacrificed his personal stats for the good of the team as manager Ozzie Guillen pursued “smart baseball.”
“It was totally a new experience for me and I think it’ll certainly help me perform better next year,” Iguchi said.
“I tried a lot of things this year and hit the wall — something I hadn’t experienced for years before. But I’ll be convinced if I find myself as a more mature and grown-up player from what I went through in my rookie year here in the majors.”
As a grade school boy in Tokyo, Iguchi had a dream of becoming a professional baseball player and steadily climbed the ladder to fame as an elite player.
He grabbed attention with a triple crown batting title in a collegiate league and the highlight of his amateur career came in 1996 when he helped Japan win the silver medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Even after being drafted by the Hawks the following year as their top pick, the clutch-hitting, solid-fielding infielder never allowed himself to bask in the glory he enjoyed with the Hawks, one of the most successful ballclubs in the last decade.
With his sights set firmly on a big success on the other side of the Pacific, he changed his hitting mechanics after the 2002 season in an attempt to adapt to the major league’s strike zone, which is wider outside than in Japanese baseball.
In eight years with the Hawks before he landed a deal with the White Sox after the 2004 season, Iguchi hit .271 with 149 homers, 507 RBIs and 159 stolen bases while winning the Pacific League’s stolen bases title in 2001 and 2003.
As a rookie in big-league baseball this year, Iguchi played in 135 games in the regular season and had a .278 average, 15 homers, 71 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He batted .191 with a homer and five RBIs in 12 postseason games after going 0-for-3 in Wednesday’s game.
Iguchi said at a post-game press conference that his next goal will likely center on improving those numbers.
“I want to hit .300 in a season and steal more bases. I wasn’t satisfied with my batting performance throughout the season and hopefully I’ll have more consistency next year based on the lessons I learned this year,” Iguchi said.
“Now I’m happy that I was part of the team that opened up a new chapter in baseball history and I believe this is not a team that can do it just once,” he added.
Before the latest feat by the 30-year-old Iguchi, Hideki Irabu was a member of the New York Yankees who won the World Series in 1998 and 1999 but did not have an opportunity to play.
Three other Japanese players have reached the World Series but ended up on the losing end — Tsuyoshi Shinjo with the 2002 San Francisco Giants, Hideki Matsui with the 2003 Yankees and So Taguchi with the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals.
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