Okajima was signed by the Sox in November of 2006. At the time, the Sox had won the rights to negotiate with Japanese super-pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The signing of Okajima was seen as a way to encourage Dice-K to sign. Most of the public thought the move was to give Matsuzaka a friend on the team. It may have worked, too, since Matsuzaka ended up signing a couple weeks later. I’m not sure if even the Sox front office knew that Okajima would turn out to be a steal.
Things may not have started out great for Hideki, as he game up a home run on the first pitch he threw in the major leagues. But, he shut everyone down after that. He didn’t allow a run for the next 20 games he appeared in. He ended up making the All-Star team, which is amazing for a “rookie” set-up guy. The Sox rode him hard down the stretch, and into the playoffs. He didn’t give up a run in the ALDS or the ALCS in 2007. He ended up being a major factor in the 2007 World Championship. Just so Daisuke would have someone to talk to.
When I think of Okajima, I think of two things. The first is his delivery. I didn’t get to see many Sox games on TV during the 2007 season, relying mostly on the radio. So, it wasn’t until the playoffs that I noticed his delivery. He doesn’t look at the plate as he releases the ball. Which coach let him get away with that all his life? Instead of keeping his eye on the target, he looks straight at the ground. Is that unnerving to the hitter? Do they realize this guy is throwing a no-look pitch? Creepy.
The other thing about Okajima is his entrance song. I don’t know many set-up guys with such an identifiable entrance song. If you haven’t heard it, go search for Okajima on itunes. It’s worth downloading. It’s both energizing, and campy at the same time. I can’t hear it enough. I don’t know the history of the song, but it’s just great.
These days, Hideki is still a vital piece of the Red Sox bullpen. I shudder to think where the Sox would have been without him these last few years. he was an amazing pick-up. I wonder if anyone predicted it.
H is for Hideki Okajima.
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