SEATTLE (AP) -- Kazuhiro Sasaki's forkball dazzled American League hitters. It also caught the attention of the Rookie of the Year voters.
After helping pitch Seattle within two victories of what would have been the city's first World Series, the Mariners' closer became the second-oldest winner of the rookie award in baseball history.
The 32-year-old Sasaki went from Yokohama of Japan's Central League to become the AL Rookie of the Year in voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The award was announced Monday.
The only older player than Sasaki to win a rookie award was former Negro leagues star Sam Jethroe, who was 33 days older in 1950 when he won the NL honor playing for the Boston Braves.
With 37 saves in 40 chances, Sasaki was a key player in the Mariners' third postseason appearance in six seasons. The right-hander helped the Mariners beat the Chicago White Sox in their AL division series and go to six games in the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
Sasaki's outstanding season for Seattle proved to be another shot in the arm for Japan's baseball reputation. Japan's Hideo Nomo was the NL Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995.
"America is definitely higher," Sasaki said of the level of play. "The level in Japan is coming along."
Sasaki took a gamble after pitching 10 seasons in Yokohama, where he was a six-year All-Star and his nation's career saves leader. He decided to see if he was good enough to pitch effectively in the majors and signed as a free agent with the Mariners in December.
Sasaki was more than effective, principally because of his forkball.
Sasaki did not expect to get the Rookie of the Year award because he didn't think enough of the voters would recognize him as a rookie.
Instead, he overwhelmingly finished first in the voting, ahead of outfielders Terrence Long of Oakland and Mark Quinn of Kansas City.
Sasaki, who received 17 first-place votes, five seconds and four thirds for 104 points, was in Fukuoka, Japan, with a major league All-Star team, when he learned the news.
"My ultimate goal is to win the World Series," he said through translator Allen Turner, who spent the season with him in Seattle.
Sasaki was the first pitcher to win the AL rookie award since Baltimore's Gregg Olson in 1989. For the Mariners, he was 2-5 with a 3.16 ERA, and his saves total was the third-highest in the AL, behind Detroit's Todd Jones and Boston's Derek Lowe, who each had 42.
He became the second player for the Mariners to win the AL Rookie award. First baseman Alvin Davis won it in 1984.
Sasaki is friends with Ichiro Suzuki, who has won seven straight Pacific league batting titles and whose rights are up for auction among major league teams. The 27-year-old outfielder could be the first Japanese non-pitcher in the major leagues.
"You can't really say how he will do, but I know he is a great player," Sasaki said. "I'm just hoping, praying he will do well in America and be able to have success in America."
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