On Sept. 8, 2002, Seibu Lions starter Kazuhisa Ishii was on the wrong end of one of the scariest incidents in baseball history.
Ishii, at the time a 29-year-old left-hander with the Los Angeles Dodgers, delivered a pitch--just like he'd done a thousand times throughout his career--this time to the Houston Astros' Brian Hunter.
Ishii had been hit hard before, but what happened on this day left an entire stadium silent as Ishii lay crumpled on the mound. Hunter smoked a line drive right back up the middle that caught Ishii square in the face. The ball was hit so hard that it bounced all the way to the backstop and Hunter was credited with an RBI double.
The result: Ishii was rushed by ambulance from Dodger Stadium and he would soon find himself in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a two-hour operation to remove bone chips from his nasal passage. He ended up with a fractured skull and a concussion and had a titanium plate inserted in his face. He would not throw another pitch that season.
An incident like that might scare the average person into finding another line of work. Not the case with Ishii, however, who is as laid-back as they come and is known in baseball circles as a guy who always walks to the beat of his own drummer, a beat that is often out of step with almost everyone else.
"It really wasn't all that difficult for me to get back out there," Ishii said Sunday at Tokyo Dome as his Lions prepared to take on the Yomiuri Giants in Game 2 of the Japan Series. "Sure, I was a little scared at first, but I honestly didn't think about it too much."
For Ishii, who ended up with a 14-10 record that season, it was all in a day's work.
"I just look at going out to the mound like it's my job, kind of like how business people get up on Monday morning, get on the train and head off to work," he continued. "I'm like that, too, but instead of an office I go to the ballpark, it's just part of my routine."
Ishii, now 35, is in his first year with the Lions, where he went 11-10 with a 4.32 ERA in 2008. He brings a lot of big-game experience to a rotation featuring some young guns, like 22-year-old ace Hideaki Wakui and righty Takayuki Kishi, 24.
Ishii, expected to start either Game 3 tonight or Game 4 on Wednesday, was a first-round pick of Yakult in 1991. He would go on to win four Japan Series championships with the Swallows from 1992-2001 before departing for an unremarkable--facial injury notwithstanding--four-year stint in the majors with the Dodgers and New York Mets.
The big lefty returned to Yakult for two seasons before joining Seibu as a free agent prior to this season.
After the Lions edged the Giants 2-1 Saturday in the opening game of the Japan Series, the Kyojin leveled the series Sunday with a dramatic ninth-inning walk off homer by their big slugger Alex Ramirez.
"I don't think about it too much. I just go out there and do my thing, that's all," Ishii said when asked about how he'll pitch to Ramirez, a one-time teammate on the Swallows for three years, "but he's a really good hitter so I'll have to be careful."
Ishii's Japan career was highlighted by a no-hitter he threw against the Yokohama BayStars in 1997, the same year he posted a 1.91 ERA. Over 13 seasons in Japan, Ishii has a record of 109-73 and a career ERA of 3.54. In MLB, he was 39-34 with a 4.44 ERA.
Still, no matter what kind of numbers Ishii puts up, he may always be best remembered for that nasty incident at Dodger Stadium, a day that gave pitchers everywhere nightmares.