Nishioka breaks leg on Swisher's hard slide
Twins second baseman, Yanks outfielder exhibit professionalism
NEW YORK -- The differences between the big league baseball played in this country and the professional ball in Japan are not always subtle. Some are merely pleasant nuances that barely distinguish one game from the other. Others, though, are sharp contrasts that do set one apart from the other and sometimes make for danger.
So it was Thursday afternoon, when the Twins lost a game and their Japanese second baseman, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Playing his sixth game in the big leagues after seven-plus seasons in Japan, Nishioka suffered a fractured bone in his lower left leg when he was knocked to the turf of Yankee Stadium near second base by an uncommonly hard, but clean slide by Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher.
The victim, the alleged perpetrator and almost everyone else who witnessed the play in the seventh inning of the Twins' 4-3 loss said Swisher was innocent of wrong doing. Indeed, Nishioka characterized Swisher's slide as "a "professional play" as he sat in the visiting clubhouse adjacent to a pair of crutches. And Twins manager Ron Gardenhire dismissed speculation that intent was an element in the slide.
"Swisher's a clean player. It was a good slide," the manager said. "That's not an issue at all."
At the same time, though, Twins coach Jerry White, who played two seasons in Japan, said the impact of the play made it quite different from what he recalled from his experiences in the Far East. "There," White said, "if you get hit by a pitch, the pitcher says, 'Sorry, sorry, sorry. ...' They don't play the same way. You probably wouldn't see a slide like that. And you can get used to that."
White said he didn't recall Nishioka experiencing problems at second base during Spring Training or in the first games of the regular season. But he did say Nishioka "seemed to straddle the base longer than usual."
Moreover, Nishioka played mostly shortstop in Japan last year. Previously he had won Gold Gloves at shortstop and second base playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines, the team managed by Bobby Valentine.
Straddling was not an element in the play Thursday, but a lack of urgency in avoiding contact may have been. Gardenhire, a former infielder, said he emphasized the need for urgency with Nishioka during Spring Training.
Nishioka indicated through his interpreter that the type of slide wasn't uncommon in Japan. But baseball people familiar with the game in both countries often have noted that so-called takeout slides are not routine in Japan. And for that matter, the kind of hard slide Swisher executed is increasingly uncommon in the big leagues. His slide was out of the Don Baylor-Frank Robinson-Hal McRae playbook.
"I wasn't trying to hurt him. I was trying to break up the double play," Swisher said. "I didn't mean to do it." He contacted Nishioka in the visiting clubhouse and expressed that. The 26-year-old rookie said "He didn't need [to call]. I appreciate the call."
Swisher was the baserunner at first base when Mark Teixeira hit a ground ball to third baseman Danny Valencia. "The throw [to second] caught him a little flat-footed," Gardenhire said. Nishioka moved to the infield side of the base after making his unsuccessful relay to first. Swisher had slid on his right hip, his left leg well off the ground. His leg made contact with Nishioka's lower left leg. The impact was obvious and, in retrospect after Nishioka remained on the ground, a tad gruesome.
The club said his left fibula had been cracked about eight inches below the knee and to the outside of the leg. It provided no prognosis or a sense of how severe the break is. After the game, the Twins placed Nishioka on the 15-day disabled list and recalled second baseman Luke Hughes from Triple-A Rochester. Matt Tolbert had replaced Nishioka on Thursday.
Swisher appeared upset when Nishioka was helped off the field by the trainer and his interpreter. He said the brief conversation eased his mind. "He told me it wasn't my fault," Swisher said. "That made me feel better. ... He said, 'I didn't get out of the way.'"
Nishioka said he never had suffered a break previously and vowed to return as quickly as possible.
"It's pretty sad," Gardenhire said. "We have to look at it as a minor setback. We'll get him better, we'll be OK. He likes to play. He must've told me a thousand times that he plays hurt."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.