Only one hit in three games. Samurai Japan’s main gun, Munetaka Murakami’s hitting has gone haywire: “The culture shock that is Shohei Otani.
Aiming to win the World Baseball Classic (WBC), the first championship since 2009, the Japanese team faced off against the Czech Republic on November 11 and came back to beat them 10-2, winning their third straight game. With two consecutive double-digit scoring games, Japan was the only team in Pool B to win three straight games and advance to the quarterfinal round.
The Japanese team allowed the first run to score in the first inning against the Czechs, who are mainly amateur players, but 21-year-old Akinori Sasaki, who started the game, pitched to his ability, striking out eight in the middle of the fourth inning, leading to an explosion of the batting lineup. Before the Czech game, manager Hideki Kuriyama had this to say about the batting lineup.
Of course, with such a large lineup, there are some who are in very good shape and others who are just average or not so good, but even in those situations, the guys are doing their jobs well. I just have to believe in them.
Among the batting lineup that scored double-digit runs in two consecutive games, the only one struggling in silence was the main gun, Munetaka Murakami. He was hitless in seven at-bats in two games before the game against Korea on the 10th. Against the Czech Republic, he had two strikeouts and two walks through his fourth at-bat. Hideki Hashigami, who coached in the 2013 WBC and will coach Yakult in 2019, saw Murakami in action.
He said, “More than the technical stuff, the mental aspect is a big part of it. Ohtani has had a big influence on him.”
He says that Shohei Otani is deeply related to Murakami’s poor performance. What does this mean?
Murakami is the next hitter after No. 3 Ohtani, so he sees and feels Ohtani’s swing closest to him in the next batter’s circle. I think Murakami is feeling the speed, power, and exhilaration that he has never experienced in Japanese professional baseball before, being subjected to such a swing right in front of his eyes. In a sense, he must be experiencing culture shock. Because of this, Murakami’s swing has become bigger than it was when he was good. If Murakami was consciously making his swing bigger, I think he would be able to correct it right away, but he did so unconsciously, so it is troublesome.
Murakami hit 56 homers last season, the most by a Japanese player, and became the youngest player in history to win the Triple Crown, and he was expected to be the undisputed No. 4 player.
Ohtani, on the other hand, hit two home runs in the first game of a training game in Japan, a spectacular result. Masanao Yoshida, who moved to the Red Sox, also continued his good form, hitting timely homers in the games against Korea and the Czech Republic after the game against the Orix on March 7. In contrast, Murakami suffered from the frustration of not being able to put up the numbers that were expected of him. In addition, he was under silent pressure to enter the next at-bat after watching Ohtani’s amazing swing.
Mr. Hashigami continued, using golf as an analogy.
If you are in the same group and the person who hit the ball first has a great distance and the next person is also competitive in distance, you may not be able to hit the ball as far as you thought you would because you are overpowered. It is the same situation.
As a professional baseball coach, when I asked a key player why he was not hitting his best form, I heard him say, “If someone swings that hard in front of me, I can’t swing (I can’t swing my own way). When you are in bad shape and you see the player in front of you swinging so vigorously, it is possible, even for a pro, to lose sight of your swing.
Murakami revealed this after Ohtani’s first game for the Samurai Japan team against Hanshin on August 6.
I’m very inspired (by Ohtani’s homer in front of me), but as the team’s No. 4, I need to keep getting better results. As the team’s No. 4 hitter, I want to keep my mind focused on getting more and more results. As a team, we have a batting order that can score a lot of points. If I can hit more, I think Otani will be able to bat more comfortably. As the center of the team and the batting lineup, I want to work even harder.
Murakami, who had been carrying a lot of pressure on his shoulders, finally hit a ball in front of the lights in the ninth inning, his final at-bat, and immediately afterward, a look of relief came over his face at first base. Murakami’s recovery is indispensable for us to become the world’s No. 1 baseball team,” Hashigami said. With his much-needed hit, will Murakami be able to find a chance to rise to the top?