He threw a 138-pitch complete game with a fastball that reached a whopping 158 kilometers per hour. And on the big stage of the Japan Series.
Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, 25, one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s top ace pitchers, pulled his team back from the brink in what may be his last game on the Japanese stage.
Yamamoto took the mound in Game 6 of the 2023 SMBC Japan Series against the Hanshin Tigers at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka, Japan on April 4. Before this game, the Oryx were down 2-3 in the series, and one loss would have ended their chances of winning the Japan Series. It was literally a cliffhanger. Once again, the ‘savior’ was the ‘ace’.굿모닝토토 도메인
Yamamoto, who threw a 154-kilometer fastball from the start of the game, gave up a leadoff single to foreign hitter Sheldon Neuig in the second inning, but it would be the first and last run of the game. The nightmare of the first game of the Japan series, in which he allowed seven runs in 5⅔ innings, seemed to have been forgotten.
With the ace grinding it out, the bats were forced to step up. With runners on first and third in the bottom of the second inning, Keita Nakagawa hit a sacrifice fly to left field to cut the deficit to 2-1. In the fifth inning, Kotaro Kurebayashi hit a mid-month two-run homer to give the Oryx a 4-1 lead, and in the eighth inning, Yuma Tongu hit a grand slam to seal the win.
Yamamoto, who had thrown 126 pitches by the end of the eighth inning, came back to the mound in the ninth and struck out the leadoff batter, Gento Itohara, on a foul tip that reached 157 mph. Yamamoto, who struck out the side in the ninth inning, threw a 138-pitch complete game. The Orix won 5-1 and took the series to a decisive Game 7.
Yamamoto, who topped out at 158 mph on the day, made history by striking out a whopping 14 batters. This is a new Japanese Series single-game record. The previous record was 13, set by Yoshiro Sotokoba in Game 4 of the 1975 Japan Series, Kimiyasu Kudo in Game 1 of the 1999 Japan Series, and Yu Darvish in Game 1 of the 2007 Japan Series.
Speaking to Japanese media after the game, Yamamoto said, “I felt really good from the fourth or fifth inning, so I took a chance from then on. I knew I was going to get one more outing, so I focused on it anyway. It was a game that could be decided today, so I was concentrating,” he said, revealing that he was more focused than ever. Oryx head coach Satoshi Nakajima also praised Yamamoto’s commitment, saying, “I bet the whole match on him.” The seventh game of the Japan Series between the Oryx and Hanshin will be held at the Kyocera Dome on May 5, starting at 6:30 p.m. Yamamoto’s fighting spirit will lead the Oryx to the Japan Series title.
Yamamoto is considered the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball today. After going 18-5 with a 1.39 ERA in 193⅔ innings over 26 games in 2021, Yamamoto went 15-5 with a 1.68 ERA in 193 innings over 26 games the previous year, and this year he has been a monster, going 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA in 164 innings over 23 games. The result was his third straight Sawamura Award, and his third straight Pacific League Pitcher of the Year honor. He is the favorite to win the Pacific League regular season MVP again this year.
With no more opposition in Japan, Yamamoto plans to try to make it to the major leagues after this season. He is already on the radar of major league clubs, with local media ranking him at the top of their free agent lists.
In the latest free agent rankings released by Major League Baseball’s official website (MLB.com), Yamamoto was ranked second. Considering that Shohei Ohtani, a two-hitting “genius monster,” is the No. 1 player, he is practically the top free agent.
According to MLB.com, “scouts believe Yamamoto could jump right into the top one or two spots in the major league starting rotation,” so he could be a top-notch performer in the majors right away.
According to MLB.com, the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox are the most likely destinations for Yamamoto. These are all big-market teams that can afford Yamamoto’s high price tag. The Mets, in particular, had a lot of fun acquiring Japanese hard-throwing pitcher Kodai Senga before this season. Senga has been the Mets’ de facto ace this year, going 12-7 with a 2.98 ERA in 166⅓ innings pitched in 29 games.
CBS Sports also recently released its free agent rankings and ranked Yamamoto as the No. 2 pitcher behind Ohtani. “Yamamoto’s combination of youth, performance, and talent is unrivaled,” said CBS Sports. “He throws his fastball in the mid-90s nearly half the time and has a splitter that induces swinging strikes and a curveball with great spin.” “He has a good chance of breaking Masahiro Tanaka’s $155 million record,” said CBS Sports.
Tanaka, known as a “monster pitcher” in Nippon Professional Baseball, signed a massive seven-year, $155 million contract with the New York Yankees before the 2014 season. Yamamoto is no match for Tanaka. According to CBS Sports, the Yankees, Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies are the top three teams that Yamamoto could end up with. All of these teams have the financial resources to acquire a pitcher of Yamamoto’s stature.
After throwing a 158-kilometer fastball in the Japan Series, culminating in a 138-pitch complete game victory, there is already a lot of excitement about where Yamamoto will make his major league debut next year. It will be interesting to see if Yamamoto can surpass Tanaka as the highest-paid Asian player in history.