Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Iguchi hits final home run to end career in style

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Tadahito Iguchi had insisted that one of the reasons why he was hanging up his cleats was that he could no longer hit home runs as often as he used to.

But in the final game of his prolonged professional career, Tadahito Iguchi hit one over the fence.

The 42-year-old Marines star drove fans at a jam-packed Zozo Marine Stadium nuts as he blasted a game-tying two-run homer to the center-field bleachers in his fourth at-bat in the bottom of the ninth in the Chiba Lotte Marines’ 4-3, 12th-inning walk-off victory over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Sunday.

“I played for the Hawks for eight years, four years in the majors and nine years for the Marines. I’ve always played with a challenger’s mind-set,” Iguchi, who went 2-for-5, said during his retirement ceremony after the game.

“When I came into pro baseball, my goals were to reach 2,000 hits, play in the majors and play until I was 40 years old. As I have achieved all of them, I feel fortunate that I had better experiences than other players. And it’s really become a treasure for me.”

Iguchi ended his 21-year career with 2,254 hits, 295 home runs and 1,222 RBIs combined in Japan and the United States. He captured three Japan Series and two World Series championships.

Sunday’s game was Iguchi’s first top-team game since he played in an Aug. 27 contest against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. After that, he was on the farm team to prepare for his retirement game.

“I’ve been looking to hit in that direction in the last month,” Iguchi, who has always been good at hitting to the opposite direction, said of his homer. “I did it, and I have nothing to regret now.”

The Tokyo native said that he was not particularly aiming to hit a homer, but his teammates seemed more determined to win the game for the outgoing veteran than he was himself, which helped the batted ball fly as far as it did.

For the special game, all the Marines players wore No. 6, which Iguchi has worn since he returned to Japan and signed with the Marines in 2009 after his stints in the majors, where he played for the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres.

Iguchi, a three-time Golden Glove award winner in Japan, did not have a chance to put on his glove and take the field.

Asked if he wanted to do it, Iguchi said: “I could not have done it in that (close) game situation. I didn’t take the field at all this year, and we have a legit second baseman in Daichi Suzuki, who’s played there all year. I could not have taken the spot from him. I value my team winning more than anything else and I’m just glad I was able to contribute today.”

Marines skipper Tsutomu Ito looked just as excited as his players about how Iguchi’s final contest played out.

“It was the best way to send someone off, and he did it on his own,” said Ito, who had already announced that he would step down as manager after this season. “We were able to glorify his retirement by ending with a walk-off.”

Ito also gave Iguchi credit for giving everything out on the field, just as he has always done, instead of making the game just a lukewarm farewell party.

“That’s the Iguchi we know,” Ito said. “Once he decided to play in this game, he was going to go all out. He chose to be on the farm to tune up for this particular game. He didn’t play easily. He tried to be in the best shape he could be leading up to this game.”

Several current and former teammates and coaches sent messages to Iguchi.

All-time home run king Sadaharu Oh, who was Iguchi’s first pro manager, recalled the player’s early years with the Hawks.

“Iguchi, you came to the Hawks in 1997 and we played together,” Oh said in a video message. “We were weak earlier, but you really did your best and greatly contributed to us winning the Japan Series titles in 1999 and 2003.

“Iguchi, who loves to play baseball, took on the challenge of the major leagues and spent four years there, and I think that it genuinely benefited your baseball career afterwards. You have a promising future, but I think that these four years will help you out.”

Iguchi was embraced by those whom he associated with during his years in the big leagues as well.

The White Sox, who the Japanese infielder played for and captured the World Series title with in 2005, created a tribute video clip for him on their official Twitter account.

“To me, it was an honor to manage you in your great career you got in the United States,” said Ozzie Guillen, who was the White Sox manager during Iguchi’s stint with the team. “You were one of my favorite players. (In) 2005, I told the media you were my MVP on the team. People don’t realize that.”

With Ito announcing his intention to resign in August, the Marines asked Iguchi to be the next manager.

Iguchi said that he would sit back and consider the possibility.

“I would like to have a good rest for now,” said Iguchi, who would become the first Japanese NPB manager with MLB experience. “I have different options for my future, but I would like to put on the jersey again.”

Hawks beat Eagles

Shuhei Fukuda brought Fukuoka SoftBank from a run down in the seventh with a two-out, two-run double, and closer Dennis Sarfate recorded his 52nd save as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks beat the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 4-3 on Sunday, Kyodo News reports.

The Eagles still clinched a spot in the postseason despite the result at Yafuoku Dome.

Lions 8, Buffaloes 5

At MetLife Dome, Hotaka Yamakawa went 2-for-4 with his 20th home run and two RBIs as Seibu beat Orix to eliminate the Buffaloes from playoff contention.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Dragons 3, Carp 2

At Nagoya Dome, Atsushi Fujii went 4-for-5 with a two-out, sayonara RBI double in the ninth inning to lift Chunichi to a walk-off win over Hiroshima.

Giants 5, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, Tokyo Yakult starter David Buchanan (6-13) blew the game open in the third inning by allowing three-straight, two-out walks followed by three-straight RBI singles in a loss to Yomiuri.

BayStars 2, Tigers 0

At Koshien Stadium, Shota Imanaga (11-7) worked 6⅔ innings and three relievers completed Yokohama’s four-hit shutout of Hanshin. The win kept the BayStars 1½ games ahead of Yomiuri in the hunt for the CL’s final playoff spot.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5