SENDAI – The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ former major league All-Star closer Takashi Saito announced Monday he will retire at the end of the season.
“The way things stand, I’m not able to contribute on the first team,” the 45-year-old Saito said at a press conference. “In many ways, I thought this was the time to leave.
“Physically, it is very difficult. On days (in the minors) when I’ve pitched on consecutive days, I have not been able to shake the previous day’s fatigue.”
Saito has made just two appearances this season for the Eagles, and has not pitched since April. He has pitched in 11 games on the farm team.
The Sendai native launched his 24-year career out of Tohoku Fukushi University in 1992 with the Taiyo Whales, now the Yokohama BayStars. In 1998, the righty won 13 games to help the club to its first Japan Series title in 38 years.
After returning from the majors in 2013, he won his second Japan Series with his hometown Eagles, pitching in 30 games with a 3-0 record, four saves and a 2.36 ERA.
“More than the wins and championships, what sticks with me are the difficulties,” said Saito, who pitched seven seasons in the majors after his career appeared to be finished in Japan.
Saito turned to closing in 2001 but was cut loose by the BayStars after the 2005 season, signing a minor-league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers the next year and looked an unlikely candidate to ever pitch in the majors.
Although a popular player in the Dodgers’ 2006 camp, Saito did not make the team out of spring training, but bullpen injuries led to his being called up. He was eventually promoted to closer, saving 24 games.
Saito earned 39 saves in 2007 to make the National League All-Star team and bounced around four more teams before leaving the majors in 2012 with 84 saves, a 21-15 record and a 2.34 ERA.
With Boston in 2009, Saito was a teammate with rookie right-hander Junichi Tazawa — who was making the difficult transition from Japanese corporate league ball to the majors.
“He (Saito) was so important to me that you could say if he hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be the pitcher I am,” said Tazawa, who since has established himself as Boston’s setup man.
“It is sad, but he will always be my mentor. Hopefully, he will continue to give me advice about baseball and life and other things.”
Asked about his future, Saito said he can’t see himself leaving the game.
“There are so many things I want to do,” he said. “But outside of baseball, I can’t think of anything.”
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