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Tazawa laments pitch to A-Rod

Tazawa laments pitch to A-Rod

NEW YORK -- Junichi Tazawa sat motionless in front of his locker early Saturday morning and just stared into the empty abyss of the Red Sox's clubhouse. The horde of reporters was busy speaking with manager Terry Francona, so for a few moments, Tazawa had a quiet room to ruminate on what had transpired.

That he had just made history was far from Tazawa's mind. The Red Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball history to use three Japanese pitchers during one game in Friday's 2-0 epic 15-inning loss to the Yankees -- a milestone that would have been much more meaningful had the result gone their way.

Hideki Okajima hurled 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief, and then Takashi Saito turned in a scoreless frame before Tazawa became the third Japanese-born pitcher to appear in Friday's contest.

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There was a large ice pack pressed against Tazawa's right shoulder, with gauze wrapped heavily around his right arm. He didn't quite have tears in his eyes yet, but it looked like they may emerge at any moment.

One by one, Tazawa's Red Sox teammates trudged awkwardly to his locker to speak with him or pat him on the back. Tazawa, despite his limited English skills, understood what they were saying, but he chose not to answer. Instead, he continued his private meditation, occasionally nodding or grunting, lost in his own world which had forever changed in a matter of hours.

For Tazawa had just walked off the Yankee Stadium mound having surrendered a crushing two-run walk-off home run to Alex Rodriguez in his Major League debut. It was the 15th inning of a scoreless game between baseball's bitterest rivals. At that point, there was nothing anybody could say.

"Every pitcher that played today during the game did really well," Tazawa said through an interpreter. "I didn't do it. I was thinking how I could do better like the pitchers who did it well today."

The day was nothing short of a whirlwind. The 23-year-old right-hander, who had never pitched in professional baseball until this season, was called up on Friday with Boston's staff in a state of flux. He may have started at Fenway Park on Tuesday in place of John Smoltz, who was designated for assignment earlier in the day.

Yet Tazawa found himself called into action on Friday, with the Red Sox out of pitchers in their bullpen. He allowed two hits in the 14th, but escaped the jam thanks to a stunning game-saving catch by right fielder J.D. Drew. Unfortunately for Tazawa and the Red Sox, he was not so lucky in the 15th.

With two outs and a runner on first, Rodriguez launched a drive over the 399-foot sign deep in left-center field. As the ball sailed out and the crowd erupted, Tazawa stood on the mound for several seconds gazing into the Boston bullpen, where the blast had finally landed.

"When I found out it was a home run, I was really disappointed," Tazawa said. "From that time, I started thinking how I could have pitched better."

Tazawa was 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 20 Minor League starts, 18 of which were for Double-A Portland. That is where he was expected to stay the rest of the season, but the plan was thrown off course by injuries and ineffectiveness throughout Boston's staff.

Which brings Tazawa to New York, where suddenly he has gone from being a virtual unknown to starring in another chapter of the storied Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

Afterward, the Red Sox all came to Tazawa's side. Francona complimented his poise, while second baseman Dustin Pedroia stressed that Rodriguez, one of the greatest hitters of all time, was the one who eventually beat him.

Of course, that doesn't take all the sting out for Tazawa. Though he admitted he was happy to be in the big leagues, it did not make up for the disappointment he was feeling over taking the loss in the 15th inning of his first game.

But as debuts goes, it surely was a memorable one, even if for the wrong reasons.

"I think each and every guy in here feels for him," Drew said. "You feel terrible for a guy who gives up a home run in that situation, but it's good to see him out there and breaking into the big leagues. But what a heck of a situation to come in."

Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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