Facing Luke Hochevar in the bottom of the first inning of last Thursday’s Mariners / Royals tilt, Ichiro! swung and hit a first pitch curveball over the fence in right center field. A first pitch home run, rare by most standards, isn’t even what was so strange about this play.
As Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing notes:
Going back to 2009, PITCHfx has identified 83 first pitches as curveballs, or 0.6%. Of those 83 first-pitch curveballs, batters have swung at just three of them. Of those three swings, two have resulted in fouls, and one has resulted in a home run – Ichiro’s swing.
Throwing a curve ball to open the game is such a rarity because it’s more often than not used as a swing and miss pitch. Only the best curveball pitchers can consistently throw their hooks for strikes and the first batter of the game is far more likely to take a pitch than swing at it.
I’m not so sure Hochevar will be interested in throwing it again:
The first-pitch curveball to Ichiro[!], I don’t even know what to say about that one. The [first pitch] of the game — it was a good pitch and he hit it eight rows deep. I’ve never seen it, I’ve never had it happen. I normally don’t throw first-pitch curveballs in a game, but what do you do?