Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish (right) and relief pitcher Koji Uehara (left) visit with New York Yankees starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (center) prior to the baseball game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
Yu Darvish does something that's pretty unusual. Ichiro does something that's pretty unusual. A shame we'll never see them do those things against each other.
I understand that that's a pretty bold headline. If I gave it a lot of thought, I might take it back. We'll never see Ted Williams step in against Stephen Strasburg. We'll never see Barry Bonds step in against Bob Gibson, or Sandy Koufax, or one of them old-timey racists. We'll never see Mariano Rivera pitch to Jesus. But the at-bat I'm going to talk about is both far-fetched and not so far-fetched, and if it ever happened, it would bring down whole countries. People would die.
I was just sitting at my computer Tuesday afternoon, minding my own business, when I saw the following tweet pop up on my screen:
Yu Darvish is playing catch in center field right now – LEFT-HANDED. Flawless, too. One of the more remarkable things I’ve seen in baseball.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 1, 2012
I didn't have to lift my jaw off the floor, because I already knew that Yu Darvish messed around left-handed. I had just kind of forgotten, so this was a reminder. Yu Darvish is a right-handed pitcher who likes to warm up his left arm too.
And actually, never mind about messing around. That isn't fair to what Darvish does. When position players throw back and forth, sometimes they mess around with off-speed grips, to break the monotony. Darvish uses his left arm for a purpose. Evan Grant:
It's not a misprint or an experiment and Darvish isn't fooling around. He occasionally plays catch left-handed to keep both of his arms strong and, therefore, equally balanced. It is one of the unique elements Darvish includes in his training.
What we have here is Yu Darvish throwing with his left hand, and throwing well. And throwing pretty fast, too, in case I forgot to mention that. This is for realsies:
According to Buster Olney by way of Derek Holland, Yu Darvish can throw 85 left handed. He's a righty.— Justin (@MurphyFerguson) April 29, 2012
Darvish's habits are both uncommon and pretty amazing. You just don't see that sort of thing from American or Latin ballplayers. And when I read about Yu Darvish throwing with his opposite hand, I'm reminded of something I read at USS Mariner more than two years ago. An excerpt:
I was most interested in watching Ichiro, though, as he went through his prep for batting practice. He took easy swings, varying the speed a little, and up close, it looked perfect. Something was wrong, though. I watched for a minute before I could figure it out: he was swinging right-handed.
Another excerpt, to provide more information:
"Hey," I said, "I think I saw Ichiro practicing his swing right-handed."
"Oh yes," the [NHK crew man] said. "He’s always done that. He feels it keeps him limber and helps with his balance."
At which point my brain engaged the clutch and I stammered for a bit before I could ask "Could he hit right-handed?"
They both nodded. "He’s very good," the same man said.
Yu Darvish, Japanese superstar and right-handed pitcher, is capable of throwing well with his left hand. Ichiro Suzuki, Japanese superstar and left-handed batter, is capable of hitting right-handed. We don't know exactly how well they can do things reversed, but the evidence suggests they can do them well enough. Well enough to not be embarrassed, and well enough to put on an unbelievable show.
Darvish made his major-league debut for the Texas Rangers against the Seattle Mariners on April 9. The Mariners had Ichiro batting third, and against Darvish, Ichiro went 3-for-4. Even though Ichiro had never faced Darvish in Japan, there was a ton of attention paid to their match-up in Arlington. I mean, Darvish was getting a ton of attention from the Japanese media anyway, since this was his debut, but he was debuting against a Japanese icon. There wasn't room in the press box for any more reporters. I don't think there was room in the stadium for even one more camera. Darvish and Ichiro made for the story the next day.
That was with Darvish throwing right-handed, and Ichiro batting left-handed. Now imagine if Darvish were to change things up, and if Ichiro were also to change things up. It would be historic. Even if Darvish's pitches were a little slow, and even if Ichiro's swings were a little bumpy, it would be amazing. It would be two amazing talents demonstrating the extent of their amazingness. We watch sports to see human athletes do incredible things, right?
It won't happen. Darvish will never take his left-handed pitching into a game. Ichiro will never take his right-handed hitting into a game. We've been waiting long enough to see Ichiro pitch, and that still hasn't happened. We also haven't seen Ichiro in a Home Run Derby. While Darvish and Ichiro give us fodder for our imaginations, that's as far as they'll go.
But right now I'm imagining left-handed Darvish facing right-handed Ichiro. Imagining is all I'm ever going to be able to do. And I'm pretty sure it'd be the greatest at-bat I've ever seen in my life.