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Bring in Yoshii!

Anyone out there who knows whatever happened to Masato Yoshii? I do, now.

I'm going to write about him today because I wanted to do something related to a Mets-Yankees walk-off, and my mind is still unable to comprehend the way that the Mets first regular-season walk-off win against the Yankees ended.

The Mets don't have the best track record with Asian-born pitchers (see: Satoru Komiyama, Mr. Koo, Jae Seo, Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii), but Yoshii had a few moments of Mets glory.

One of those was on June 28, 1998, when he matched up in an outstanding pitcher's duel with Orlando Hernandez on a Sunday night at Shea. Yoshii lasted seven innings, allowing just one run and two hits, striking out 10 primarily with his fastball and better-than-usual splitter. Yoshii even had a no-hitter going for 4 2/3 innings before Derek Jeter broke it up. The only Yankees run came on a Scott Brosius home run in the seventh inning, with the Mets holding a 1-0 lead (despite not managing a hit against Hernandez to that point).

As we mentioned, the conclusion of this game was , befitting of a scene in the movie "The Naked Gun." Carlos Baerga led off the bottom of the ninth with a double against Ramiro Mendoza and was sacrificed to third base by Butch Huskey. The Yankees elected to walk Brian McRae, but gave in to the temptation to pitch to Luis Lopez, who was pinch-hitting for Rey Ordonez. With the count 1-2, Lopez lofted a fly ball to right field that Paul O'Neill was able to chase down. McRae, displaying no hint of baseball sense, blindly ambled off first base without tagging up, apparently wanting a better view of Baerga scoring the winning run. He did so in a manner similiar to that of Knicks center Patrick Ewing coming off the bench to get a better view of a playoff-game fight with the Miami Heat (Ewing would be suspended and the Knicks would lose the series), with no regard for the rules of the sport.

O'Neill flung the ball in to the infield, more in frustration than anything else, where Jeter (who else?) alertly snared it and threw quickly to first base. Tino Martinez dove for it, but never really had control of it (I could swear the ball got past him and caromed towards the stands, but newspaper accounts don't bear this out). Nonetheless, first base umpire Bruce Dreckman made one of the most exaggerated out calls you'll ever see. Now the question was- did Baerga cross the plate before the so-called "out" was recorded. After a lengthy discussion, home plate umpire Frank Pulli ruled that the run counted, and the Mets had a 2-1 walk-off win.

That play was the primary focus of the postgame discussion, but so was the performance of Yoshii. Bobby Valentine told reporters after the game that Yoshii had a reputation as a big-game pitcher in Japan and there is some evidence of that. While pitching for Kintetsu and Yakult of the Japanese League from 1985 to 1997, Yoshii was on teams that won league titles in 1988 and 1989 and the Japanese World Series in 1995 and 1997.

The 1999 Mets Media Guide references a big complete-game win that Yoshii had against Hanshin to win the Central League. He went 74-50 with a 3.43 ERA over his first 310 games in Japan. In two seasons with the Mets, he went 18-16 and started three playoff games in 1999 (he joked if he were left off the playoff roster that he would sit in the stands and yell "Bring in Yoshii!"),

Yoshii was traded to Colarado and final three big league seasons with the Rockies and Expos were unimpressive, as he finished with a record of 32-47.

Apparently though Yoshii has had an itch to continue playing. He spent 2003 and 2004 with the Orix Blue Wave, but didn't fare well, going 2-8. Orix released him, but re-signed him in February, 2005 for 5 million yen plus incentives (is this good money?). Yoshii, now 40 years old, is off to a great start this season, going 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA, with one walk in 28 1/3 innings, and was described in one Japanese paper as "the surprise of the season."

Perhaps he'd be a good fit for a return to Flushing?

True Mets Gun-bah-lay (pronunciation of the Japanese word for "fan," according to the good folks at the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C...I'm also told of another word "Otaku" meaning "geek") know...Masato Yoshii pitched in two other Mets walk-off wins- on August 6 1998 (in which Luis Lopez drove in the winning run with a bases loaded walk) and Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS against the Braves (the Robin Ventura "grand-slam single" game).

PS: I'm planning one post (albeit one of a rather self-indulgent nature with enough tie-ins to the Mets to make it work) this weekend. Those of you who only read Monday-Friday won't miss much, but those who check in over the weekend will get something new.

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