It was time for the ice packs, wrapped tightly and designed to soothe, to be removed. So even as reporters waited to ask more questions, the trainer descended to take the ice off the aching parts of Hideki Okajima's body, his lower back and his side, not long after the Red Sox had fallen, 6-4, to the Toronto Blue Jays last night at Fenway Park.
So there would be no more clipped, one-word responses, either about the changeup Okajima threw to Vernon Wells that snapped a tie in the ninth inning, or about the pitch that hit Gregg Zaun to put a runner on ahead of Wells, or about the fatigue that has crept up as the major league baseball season has exceeded what he was used to in Japan.
"It was just that one pitch," Okajima said. "I gave him a fat pitch and he got a home run off me."
There was another reason for the lack of interest in speaking with the media. According to Japanese reporters, Okajima has been upset with a report that appeared last month in a weekly Japanese magazine, Shukan Gendai, criticizing his attitude. Since then, Okajima's interactions with the Japanese media haven't had the same tone as they did earlier in the season, when his joviality came across even through the language barrier.
Still, last night's reticence likely could be attributed to his performance of late, which hasn't measured up to the lofty levels he reached in bursting onto the scene early in the season. Over his last 14 appearances, Okajima has given up eight earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. That has brought his ERA from a sparkling 0.87 to a more human 1.79.
Though he answered, "Both," through interpreter Jeff Yamaguchi, when asked whether it was mental or physical fatigue that has affected him, Okajima allowed that the physical exhaustion was more of an issue. But manager Terry Francona said he didn't think that has blunted Okajima's effectiveness.
"Oki left an offspeed, changeup, split, up out over the plate. That's going to happen," Francona said. "I don't think you go through a whole year and never give up runs. He made good pitches, got ahead to Zaun, then tried to get him off the plate and hit him. No, I think he's throwing the ball very well. Again, it's just impossible to go through the year and not give up runs."
True. And Okajima certainly gave them up last night. Wells sent that changeup into the seats in center field, with pinch runner Russ Adams scoring ahead of him.
As Okajima called the home run pitch a "mistake," he also expressed surprise at what he thought was Zaun's lack of effort in trying to get out of the way of the pitch that hit him. He said he thought Zaun could have avoided it, and was going to avoid it.
With Jonathan Papelbon unavailable after having pitched the past three games, Okajima was the obvious choice to pitch at the end of the game, even after Manny Delcarmen had allowed a solo home run to Troy Glaus that tied the score in the eighth. Beyond Papelbon's absence, Eric Gagné was still out with shoulder soreness. When Papelbon can't go, Gagné is the desired alternative; that's why the Sox got him.
When asked if the physical fatigue merited some time off, Okajima became noncommittal. He shrugged.
"I don't know about that," he said.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.