Okajima returns home hero
Left-hander turns in scoreless inning against his former club
TOKYO -- The blinding flashbulbs and the thunderous roar from the crowd has been part of Daisuke Matsuzaka's world for years. But to Hideki Okajima -- who came to the Red Sox as the self-proclaimed hero in the dark -- it is still something he's getting used to.
When the lefty stepped on the mound on Sunday at Tokyo Dome, he was literally back home again.
Okajima pitched for the Yomiuri Giants for 11 seasons. Their home venue? Tokyo Dome.
The team the Red Sox were playing on Sunday? Naturally, the Yomiuri Giants.
It wasn't total coincidence. The way manager Terry Francona originally plotted out his pitching, Okajima was set to work on Saturday against the Hanshin Tigers. But the reliever made a small request of his manager.
"I told Tito that I wanted to pitch today, because I wanted to face some old teammates," Okajima told the Japanese media.
Before facing those teammates, the crowd at Tokyo Dome roared when Okajima took the bottom of the seventh inning.
"I was nervous," said Okajima. "I didn't have all that cheering when I was pitching in Japan. That was all different. I wasn't bothered by the flashes, but I was nervous when I was warming up."
But not too nervous to get through his inning with no runs across.
"That was a great feeling with a big crowd like this and with so much support from them. I felt like I was retiring," Okajima said to American reporters through translator Jeff Yamaguchi.
Francona is happy that Okajima is nowhere close to retirement. He's also pleased to see the lefty getting his due.
"That was good," Francona said. "I'm sure he was very excited. I'm sure he was very proud. I know we were proud of him. That was neat."
For the last year, Okajima and Matsuzaka have been adjusting to the American culture. But the roles have been reversed the last few days with the Red Sox in Japan.
On Saturday night, Okajima took all the relievers out to eat.
"That's kind of neat," said Francona. "All the relievers went out with Hideki instead of him following everyone else. That's kind of neat."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.