Daisuke Matsuzaka leaves baseball with a love of the game

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Former Boston Red Sox right-handed Daisuke Matsuzaka said Tuesday he was happy to end his 23-year baseball career, which still loves the game.

The 41-year-old seven-time Japanese Golden Glove winner played one last time Tuesday night at the MetLife Dome for the Seibu Lions, the Pacific League club where he began his career at the age of 18.

He competed against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and wore the number 18, the “ace number” he wore in 1999 when he turned pro straight from Yokohama High School.

Faced with the fighters’ lead-off battler, Kensuke Kondo, Matsuzaka hit a strike on his second pitch before stepping on five pitches and giving way to Ken Togame. With his fastest pitch of the night, he drove 118 kilometers per hour.

Matsuzaka became a top contender in high school, leading his team to both the 1998 Spring Invitational Championship and the National Summer Championship, which he won in the final with a no-hitter.

After an outstanding first career at the Saitama club from 1999 to 2006, Matsuzaka rose from a teenage prodigy to one of the best throwers in Japan. That led him to move to Major League Baseball and the Red Sox to pay a $ 51 million posting fee to purchase his services from the Lions.

Matsuzaka announced his resignation on July 7th after failing to recover from cervical spine surgery last year. Before signing with Seibu for the 2020 season, he was with the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons for two years and saw minimal action in 2019.

Discussing his decision to retire on Tuesday, Matsuzaka said he started after a bullpen meeting in late April where he almost hit the head with a pitch.

Numbness in his right hand after the operation made him “afraid to throw balls,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can’t throw anymore. I have to stop.'”

Matsuzaka played for the Red Sox and New York Mets during his eight-year major league career before returning to Nippon Professional Baseball in 2015.

Matsuzaka, or “Dice-K” as he was affectionately known in the States, said more than half of his time was spent playing professional baseball games for injuries, but his first 10 healthy seasons allowed him to play in his forties.

“I want to thank my wife, my children, my parents, everyone who has been part of my baseball life, even the opposing fans who hated me,” he said.

In NPB and MLB, Matsuzaka has thrown over 2,200 innings and won 170 games.

His list of awards includes his 2007 World Series ring with the Red Sox, the 2004 Japan Series title with the Lions, two World Baseball Classic titles for Japan, the 2001 Sawamura Award for the best starting pitcher of the NPB, seven NPB All- Star selections and 1999 PL Rookie of the Year honored.

Lions will hold a retirement ceremony for Matsuzaka on December 4th at their home stadium and online.

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