Dice-K retires, surprised by Ichiro in finale

December 4th, 2021

Former Major League pitcher closed the book on his 23-year professional baseball career Saturday night at the MetLife Dome in Saitama, Japan, during a retirement ceremony that featured a surprise appearance from Ichiro Suzuki.

The Lions announced in July that Matsuzaka planned to retire at the end of the Nippon Professional Baseball season. The right-hander underwent cervical spine surgery in 2020 and reportedly was still experiencing numbness in his pitching hand at the time of his retirement announcement.

"I'm content that I was able to keep playing baseball until I could no longer throw normally in the end," the 41-year-old Matsuzaka told fans Saturday, according to Kyodo News.

Ichiro, who played with Matsuzaka on Japan’s 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic title-winning teams and was a longtime opponent of the righty in both Japan and MLB, appeared in a video message before making his way out to the pitcher’s mound to present Matsuzaka with a bouquet of flowers.

"I hadn't imagined this. It was crazy," Matsuzaka said. "At first I was able to hold up, and then the tears came and I was done for.

"I was surprised and just overjoyed that, at the end, Ichiro-san came to see me. I'm happy I was able to come so far."

Nicknamed Dice-K, Matsuzaka may be best known to American baseball fans for his time with the Red Sox from 2007-12. Boston paid the Lions $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka under the old MLB-NPB posting agreement, then signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract in December 2006.

Matsuzaka came to MLB amid considerable hype after eight terrific seasons with the Lions from 1999-2006, plus an MVP Award-winning performance for Japan in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Matsuzaka went 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA and 201 strikeouts over 204 2/3 innings as a rookie and helped Boston win the 2007 World Series. He followed that up by finishing 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA across 167 2/3 innings in 2008, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young Award race. However, he averaged only 74 innings per season in the final four years of his Red Sox deal, pitching to a collective 5.53 ERA, before moving on to the Mets for two seasons and a 4.06 ERA across 41 appearances (16 starts).

Matsuzaka then returned to Japan and pitched for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (2015-17) and the Chunichi Dragons (2018-19) before reuniting with the Lions, but he made just one appearance over two seasons in his second stint with the team before deciding to call it a career.