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If only every day could have been Opening Day for the Japanese import.
Two years ago today, Kaz Matsui bid farewell to American baseball by signing a deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Pacific League. For Matsui, it marked an ignominious end to a major league career that was once billed as having much promise. The Mets initially lured the shortstop to the U.S. in 2004, when Matsui was just one year removed from hitting 36 home runs, batting .332, and playing Gold Glove caliber defense for the Seibu Lions. Unfortunately, during Matsui's New York tenure, much of that production was either lost in translation or diminished due to injuries. In seven MLB seasons, he wound up playing 630 games (239 of them as a Met), and connected for just 32 long balls total. That said, Matsui does have the distinction of being the only player in MLB history to homer in the first plate appearance of his first three seasons, a feat he accomplished for the Mets.
- Octavio Dotel, one of the last remaining active player from the 1999 Mets, turns 39 today. The righty made his debut that season, striking out a batter per inning over the course of 14 starts and five relief appearances. Those numbers were intriguing enough that GM Steve Phillips flipped him to the Astros for Mike Hampton at the end of the year. That would prove to be the first of the MLB-record 13 times that Dotel has changed teams in his 14-year career. Since heading to Houston, he's also pitched for the A's, the Yankees, the Royals, the Braves, the White Sox, the Pirates, the Dodgers, the Rockies, the Blue Jays, the Cardinals, and as of 2012, the Tigers. Despite the multiple changes in league, uniform, and time zone, Dotel can still make batters whiff at a prodigious pace. His career K/9 rate now stands at 10.8 and, with the exception of an injury plagued stint in the Bronx, he's never had a season where he allowed more hits than strikeouts. Dotel won't be a free agent until 2014, but if the Mets are still looking for bullpen help then, it'd be fun to see him make a Queens homecoming à la the only other active member of the '99 team: Jason Isringhausen.
- Shingo Takatsu, a.k.a. Mr. Zero, is 44. The Japanese reliever spent two years in the majors, the latter of which ended with a late-season Mets cameo. Called up in September 2005, Takatsu brought the funk for nine appearances, though his first one was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Brought in to face Miguel Cabrera with the bags juiced on September 3, Mr. Zero allowed a base-clearing double that turned a 4-2 Mets lead into the 5-4 loss that pretty much knocked the team out of Wild Card contention.
- Chico Walker turns 54. As a member of the Chicago Cubs, Walker tapped a ninth inning grounder that Wally Backman scooped and tossed to first for the final out of the game that clinched the 1986 pennant for the 108-win New York Mets. Seven years later, Chico closed out his career by making 230 plate appearances for the Mets team that lost an MLB-worst 103 games in 1993.
The Mets and Braves swapped relievers on November 25, 1996, as New York sent Paul Byrd to Atlanta in exchange for Greg McMichael. In the long run, this deal goes down as a loss for both sides, as Byrd turned into a reliable innings-eating starter after leaving the NL East. Short term, though, this was a nice pick up for the Mets. McMichael made 73 appearances for the team in 1997 and generated 1.2 rWAR despite a 7-10 record.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio would have been 98 years old today. While Joltin' Joe departed this mortal coil in 1999, his legend still lives on in the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson". While Paul Simon may be a Yankees fan, he'll always have a tenuous connection to one of the biggest moments in Mets history, as the Queens native sung the National Anthem before Game Six of the 1986 World Series.