Baseball / Japanese Baseball

BayStars, fans give Miura emotional send-off in final start of 25-year career

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Daisuke Miura didn’t get a fairy tale ending. Instead, Hama no Bancho (Boss of Yokohama) went out fighting; grinding for every last out in a blaze of guts and glory as he tried to summon every last ounce of baseball left in his 42-year-old body and leave it all on the field.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the fans at Yokohama Stadium didn’t seem to care by the end. They cheered him for good times past, they cheered him for staying, they cheered him for being theirs for so long. They cheered him because, as so many banners around the stadium proclaimed, “Since 1992 — Always Yokohama.”

Miura made the final start of his 25-year career on Thursday, pitching into the seventh inning of the BayStars’ 11-6 loss to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows before a sell-out crowd of 28,966. All the BayStars wore his No. 18 during the game, a number that will be in semi-retirement from this season on.

“Thanks for changing the jersey numbers for me today,” Miura said. “I made my first appearance in 1992. That time, we had a retirement game for Kazuhiko Endo. In my second year we had a retirement game for Akio Saito. While sending them off, I remember thinking that I wanted to be a player like that when I finish my career. It’s been 25 years since then. There’s been a lot of good memories. When I was happy, our fans were even happier for me, and that also made me happy.”

Miura threw 119 pitches and struck out eight. He allowed 10 runs and walked three. He struck out Yuhei Takai with a 137-kph fastball to begin the seventh inning, and that was when manager Alex Ramirez made a pitching change, allowing the fans to give Miura another round of applause.

Miura had tears in his eyes at the end, as did a few of the BayStars who stood on the mound with him. He held onto the ball as he lingered alone near the pitching rubber while reliever Shigeru Kaga rode in on the bullpen car. Miura handed Kaga the ball and bowed to the fans before leaving the mound for the last time.

The familiar Bancho swagger was back when he returned to give his retirement speech.

“I’d prepared things to say, but my mind has gone blank,” he said. “But I really feel great. I wish time could stop right now.”

He found his words and wore a smirk when he finished, but the facade dropped and the emotion shone through as his wife, son and daughter brought him flowers.

Miura is a legend in Yokohama. He spent all 25 years of his career with the franchise, through ownership changes that saw the club switch from the Yokohama Taiyo Whales to the Yokohama BayStars and, in 2012, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

“I’ve been able to play only in Yokohama and that’s because of you (the fans),” he said after the game. “Keeping that in mind, I will do my best in the next chapter of my life.”

Miura was the constant through the good times and bad times.

He was on the team that won the Japan Series in 1998, and turned down the Hanshin Tigers, his (and his father’s) favorite team growing up, to remain in Yokohama, which had been struggling for years, in 2008. The crowd cheered when that particular announcement was replayed as part of a video shown after the game. Reflecting on that decision a few years later in an interview with The Japan Times in 2012, Miura said, “I thought it over and considered that Yokohama had raised me since I became a pro, and that I had always wanted to beat those stronger than me.”

He became so engrained in the fabric of the club and the city they began to call him Hama no Bancho, as much for his ever-popular regent hairstyle as for the love the fans had for him, which he reciprocated often.

Miura leaves with a 172-184 record. He had seven seasons with 10 or more wins and amassed 2,481 strikeouts. He stepped off the mound on Friday with a 3.60 career ERA. He won at least one game in 23 consecutive seasons, tying a Japanese record, and recorded at least one hit in 24, a Guinness World Record.

“Miura-san hasn’t really changed,” said Ramirez. “The velocity is still the same, he still has the same way of pitching, just his age has changed. Other than that, I think he’s still the same. Of course I have a lot of memories against Miura-san. He struck me out many times. It’s amazing just to be able to play with such a professional player.”

There were early signs the night might not go the way the crowd wanted it to go. Miura was hittable at the start of the game and the Swallows took advantage. Still, the crowd stood firm behind him, cheering in support whenever he was in trouble and screaming in delight whenever he recorded an out.

Miura warmed up to the strains of “Regent Blues” by rock artist RIKI before the game and prior to the sixth and seventh innings. He alternated between good innings and difficult frames. He used all his tricks, mixing in fastballs, shuutos, sliders and the occasional curveball.

“He’s a great pitcher,” said Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien, who struck out twice. “I had the chance to face him earlier in my career, when I got here to Japan. It was almost at the back end of his career, and he was still throwing the ball very well. I can imagine when he was younger he was a really good pitcher.”

The Swallows brought plenty of offense with them to Yokohama. Rookie Taishi Hirooka hit a three-run homer in his first pro at-bat and Naomichi Nishiura hit a solo shot. Shingo Kawabata and Tetsuto Yamada each drove in a pair of runs, while Akihisa Nishida and pinch hitter Masayoshi Miwa finished with an RBI apiece.

For the BayStars, Takayuki Kajitani finished with a solo homer and a two-run double. Jose Lopez had a two-run home run, his 34th of the year, and Elian Herrera also drove a run home.

The BayStars finished the season 69-72-3 and in third place in the Central League. They face the Yomiuri Giants in the best-of-three Central League Climax Series First Stage at Tokyo Dome beginning Oct. 8.

“The team has the Climax Series to play,” Miura said. “They’ve finally reached the Climax Series. This team has gone through a lot, but at the end, I’m proud.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.

Eldred lifts Carp

KYODO

Hiroshima’s Brad Eldred hit a two-run homer off Yomiuri’s Kazuto Taguchi (10-10) in the seventh to hand CL champion Hiroshima the lead, and again in the eighth for his 21st round-tripper of the year as the Carp defeated the Giants 5-3 on Thursday in the Central League.

Yuya Fukui (5-4) allowed two runs over six innings.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Eagles 10, Buffaloes 2

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Zelous Wheeler broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth with a two-run single off Orix’s Chihiro Kaneko (7-9) as Tohoku Rakuten strung together seven hits and two walks for eight runs in the inning.