Brewers reliever Takashi Saito surrendered two runs against the Royals on Sunday in his first inning of work since disaster struck his homeland. But baseball was still a distant second to Saito’s concern for family and friends in the area of Japan most devastated by last week’s earthquake and tsunami.
Before he pitched the first inning, Saito requested that fans at Maryvale Baseball Park observe a moment of silence to honor a former high school teammate who remains unaccounted for in Sendai, a city on Japan’s northeast coast devastated by the 8.9 magnitude quake and the wall of water that followed.
“It’s just not one or two people,” Saito said. “It’s a lot of people.”
Saito’s wife and three daughters are safe, and are tentatively scheduled to join him in Phoenix on Saturday. His parents and two older brothers are all accounted for, but some relatives on his father’s side were still missing as of Sunday afternoon.
“I still haven’t given up hope,” Saito said.
On Saturday, he played catch but his mind was elsewhere. The Brewers gave Saito the option to pitch Sunday or stay home and seek information from Japan. Saito, urged by his older brothers back home to stay and pitch, decided to pitch.
“I had received more information since yesterday,” he said. “Mentally, I was in a better place. … All of my teammates and Brewers staff have been very supportive of me, which made it a lot easier. From now on, I want to get into my regular routine of not pitching the first inning and going home early.”
As for how he pitched, Saito said, “The quality of my pitches was good. It was hard to get into a good rhythm. I still need to establish more communication with my teammates to determine how to pitch my next time out.”
Saito served as the Brewers’ starter and retired Lorenzo Cain to start the game, but Mike Aviles followed with an infield single to third baseman Casey McGehee, who took too long throwing to first. Billy Butler followed with an RBI double, and three batters after that Melky Cabrera delivered another double that made it 2-0. Saito allowed four hits in all.
After Saito retired Salvador Perez to end the top of the first, he walked along the right field line toward the Brewers clubhouse. He passed the bullpen along the way, where fellow relievers stood and, one-by-one, offered fist-bumps.
“We wish his family and friends and his country the best,” Brewers closer John Axford said. “It’s tough for all of us because he’s such an uplifting guy, always happy, always in the clubhouse talking with guys. To see him this way, it hurts for us, too.”