-- In Japan he was a superstar, with home runs and roaring crowds and all the fame a little second baseman from Tokyo could possibly want. But the Chicago White Sox didn't need more home runs. They didn't need a second baseman who played to the roar and spinning strands of confetti.
They just needed someone to hold them together. And on this team of rejects and oddballs, it is the Japanese superstar, imported last winter, who has kept Chicago's lineup intact. Which, in the end, might make Tadahito Iguchi the most important name in the team's batting order.
"I can't say enough about him," said Scott Podsednik, the leadoff hitter who depends on Iguchi to take good pitches and swing at bad ones in order to provide the cover for Podsednik's 59 stolen bases. "He knows his role. I think he knew it was going to be an adjustment for him but he's done it terrifically. He's had to bunt, and hit behind runners and try and get guys in.
"He's a big reason this offense clicks."
Perhaps you didn't notice, but his fingerprints were all over Friday night's 5-2 victory. It was his sacrifice bunt in the first inning that put Podsednik in position to score the game's first run and get Chicago off to a quick lead. It was his single in the third that started the White Sox' second rally, and he wound up scoring again in the fifth after he doubled with one out and scored on a Paul Konerko single.
Maybe you saw the defense. White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe did. There was a first-inning slow grounder up the middle with a runner on first. Uribe thought he could get to the ball and maybe get one out. Then out of nowhere flashed Iguchi, who grabbed the ball while standing on second and then fired to first for a double play that left Uribe stunned.
Angels first baseman Darin Erstad looked flabbergasted an inning later, when Iguchi made a perfect relay throw to beat him by two steps as he tried to stretch a double into a triple. But this is what Iguchi does. He beats teams quietly.
Of course the story line Saturday will be Konerko's home run or Jon Garland shutting down the Angels despite not pitching in the last two weeks. No one will have noticed what Iguchi did because his role on this White Sox team is not designed to show what he can do. He is the invisible one. The player they can't do without.
It is not glamorous work that he does but Iguchi has accepted his fate without complaint. It has undoubtedly cost him statistics, though his .278 average, 15 home runs and 71 RBI might well make him the rookie of the year. The fact is, Iguchi has shown the ability to be the kind of player who hits 25 home runs and drives in 100 if only given the chance to swing away. His home run against David Wells in the Division Series was a clear sign of that.
If this troubles him, he does not show it. His interviews, even with an interpreter, are drab. And when asked if he liked being able to show his power in the Division Series, he shook his head gently and said something to his interpreter.
"His main goal is for the team's results," the interpreter said. "He wants for the team to win."
Which is exactly what he's doing.