Pitching has long been the pride of Japanese baseball. It is the only skill recognized with an annual award that predates its American counterpart. The Sawamura Award was first bestowed on Japan’s best pitcher in 1947, nine years before Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers won the first Cy Young Award.
It is a novelty, then, that excellence in pitching has forged a bond between two American hurlers who have defined themselves in Nippon Professional Baseball, which is typically dominated by homegrown stars. Randy Messenger’s ninth season for the Hanshin Tigers began this year with a FaceTime message of encouragement from a former franchise ace, Gene Bacque.
“I’m always watching you,” Bacque, at the kitchen table in his Lafayette, La., home, said to Messenger, who was lounging on his couch in Kobe, Japan. “I like your style, but you’ve got to toughen up and brush them back by coming inside more or they’re just going to pick and peck you to death on the middle and away stuff.”
Bacque turns 81 in August, a day before Messenger’s 37th birthday. The two have never met in person and had never even heard of each other until 2013. That season, Messenger’s fourth in…