Relief pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura will be the sole Japanese player on a 2021 MLB playoff team after helping the Boston Red Sox clinch the top American League wild-card slot on Sunday.
The 33-year-old right-hander pitched 1⅔ scoreless innings as the Red Sox rallied to defeat the Washington Nationals 7-5 and secure a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season.
One of 10 playoff-bound teams, the Red Sox will host the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on Tuesday in the AL wild-card game, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five divisional series against the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning Thursday.
Divisional series winners will progress to the best-of-seven AL and National League Championship Series, respectively, with the AL and NL champions facing off in the World Series from Oct. 26, with a potential Game 7 scheduled for Nov. 3.
Eight Japan-born players — five full-time pitchers, two full-time position players and two-way player Shohei Ohtani — played in the major leagues this season.
Among them, left-hander Yusei Kikuchi and the Seattle Mariners finished two games back from an AL wild-card spot, while fellow All-Star Yu Darvish and the San Diego Padres crashed out of NL playoff contention after a stunning second-half slump.
Minnesota Twins right-hander Kenta Maeda had season-ending Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm on Sept. 1.
Playing his first season in the majors, Sawamura made 55 appearances, going 5-1 with 61 strikeouts and a 3.06 ERA.
According to MLB, 256 players on the opening day rosters were born outside the United States, representing 28.3% of a pool of 906 players. Japan was seventh on the list with eight players.
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