5. Hideki Irabu: July 10, 1997
Hideki Irabu was supposed to not just fortify the defending World Champions’ rotation in 1997, he was expected to transform it. “He’s a world-class pitcher,” former New York Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, who managed Irabu in Japan in 1995, remarked to the Associated Press (via ESPN).
The Yankees ultimately went on to deliver baseball’s last dynasty in spite of Irabu, not because of his efforts.
But he was impressive the first time he toed the rubber in pinstripes.
Facing the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium, Irabu struck out nine batters—including a pair of whiffs against current Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin—over 6.2 innings of work, allowing two earned runs and five hits, which was good enough to earn the win.
The only real blemish on Irabu’s debut was the four walks he issued, but they were ultimately irrelevant in a 10-3 drubbing by the home team.
While he’d have his moments over the next two seasons, Irabu ultimately pitched his way out of the Bronx, but not before owner George Steinbrenner famously labeled him a “fat, pussy toad.”
Traded to Montreal following the 1999 season, Irabu pitched to a combined 6.31 ERA with the Expos and Texas Rangers before heading back to Japan. Sadly, he took his own life in 2011 at the age of 42.