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Hiroki Kuroda wants to play fair

He wonders why he was fined last year for throwing at the Phillies, when Brett Myers started it.

October 18, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHILADELPHIA — Hiroki Kuroda said the memory doesn't upset him anymore.

But he said he still wonders: Why was he fined but not Brett Myers?

"I always found that curious," he said.

Today he will start Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies -- just as he did one year ago.

In the third inning of that game a year ago, Kuroda threw what looked like retaliation for fastballs that Myers threw at the heads of Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez in the previous game, Kuroda sailed a pitch over the helmet of Shane Victorino. (To this day, Kuroda maintains that he "slipped.")

Kuroda was fined $7,500, Myers not a dime.

To get his answer, Kuroda and interpreter Kenji Nimura went to Major League Baseball's New York offices to appeal his fine when the Dodgers visited the Mets for a three-game series in July.

Kuroda didn't so much object to his fine as he did the absence of a punishment for Myers.

"We did the same thing," he said. "I don't see why we didn't receive the same punishment."

The answer?

"They said that if you looked at the footage of him after he made those throws, he licked his fingers," Kuroda said. "They said that was proof that he slipped."

Kuroda sighed and shrugged.

"There was nothing I could say," he said.

However, he did get the fine lowered to $5,000.

That sense of fairness is something Kuroda learned from his late mother, Yasuko, a school teacher who was a strict disciplinarian.

She molded him, he said, and it is because of her that he's the kind of person who would think, despite all that has happened, fortune is on his side this season.

Missing two months early in the year because of a strained side muscle or another three weeks after being hit in the head by a line drive Aug. 15 doesn't mean he was unlucky.

"If I were unlucky," he said, "I would have died."

Because of her, he said, he learned to deal with anything. If the fans in Philadelphia remember how he threw at Victorino and boo him, so be it.

"Better than pitching in a quiet stadium," he said.

That he hasn't pitched in three weeks thanks to a bulging disk in his neck -- which kept him sidelined during the Dodgers' sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the division series -- isn't a big deal either. He has had longer layoffs, he said.

Recalling his 2002 season playing for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan, he once went 40-odd days without pitching because of lower back problems.

He also recalls how his mother was battling lung cancer at the time but insisted that he stay in Hiroshima to rehabilitate his back and not visit her. He obeyed.

In his first game back, he faced the Tokyo Giants, the Japanese equivalent of the New York Yankees, and pitched a complete-game shutout for a 1-0 victory.

He called home to speak to his mother, who he was sure had watched the game, but was told she was no longer conscious.

"I was in shock," he said.

She died the next month.

But remembering his mother Saturday was mostly a pleasant experience for Kuroda, who laughed as he shared stories about her.

"She was tough," he said.

He recalled how his mother didn't immediately go to the hospital when she started to experience the first symptoms of cancer.

"She kept saying her chest hurt, but she rode a bicycle to the school where she taught," he said. "She finally went to the hospital a few days later."

Kuroda said that as a boy, if he disobeyed his mother, she would throw him out of the house at night -- naked.

"That would be a crime in this country, right?" Kuroda said, laughing.

He said that when he was in high school, his baseball team held a one-month training camp in the summer. The team practiced from sunup to sundown. The players slept at the school.

Because drinking water was considered a sign of weakness, doing so was not allowed by the coach. Practices were so brutal that players resorted to drinking directly out of a dirty river that ran behind the baseball field.

If that weren't bad enough, Kuroda received an added punishment for pitching poorly. He and another pitcher were told to run nonstop for four days in a row. They were expected to continue running throughout the night.

Kuroda said teammates used to sneak food and water to them and that he and the other pitcher would keep running, but would also be waiting for the light in the coach's office to go off. Then they would run behind a fence, where they would sleep for a few hours, and then be up and running again by the time their coach woke up.

After three days, Kuroda said that the other boy's mother became concerned about their health and showed up one night and took her son and Kuroda back to her house.

The boy's mother called Kuroda's mother to tell them what had happened.

Kuroda said his mother told her: "Please take my son back to the field."

Kuroda laughed as he told the story.

"I wish she were still alive," he said. "Then she could watch me here."

--

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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