The only man to hit a home run off Otani at Koshien” looks back on “What made Shohei Otani so great? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The only man to hit a home run off Otani at Koshien” looks back on “What made Shohei Otani so great?

WBC Special Report: Shohei Otani hit a home run from Shohei Otani at Koshien, attacked Yu Darvish, and closed out Masanao Yoshida. ......

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On March 22, Samurai Japan won the WBC for the first time in 14 years. In the final game, Yu Darvish pitched the eighth inning and Shohei Otani pitched the ninth inning in a “gorgeous relay” that swept the U.S. team by a single run, 3-2.

The game was a tough one, as we were unable to score any more runs after the 5th inning, and Darvish was hit by a pitch in the 8th inning to close the gap to one run. But in the end, Otani got a strikeout from his teammate Mike Trout, the leading hitter in the majors, to win the title back.

In the March 31 and April 7 issues of FRIDAY, we published testimonies from Otani, Darvish, and other key members of the Samurai Japan team who “won” before they turned pro. The following is a recounting of the testimonies of these men in celebration of their “first championship in 14 years.

I was going to bat against Fujinami because he was a “super high school class” player on the same team. I went to bat with the intention of taking on Fujinami. But he was on a completely different level.

Yoshimoto Tabata, who played the No. 4 position for the Osaka Toin, which won back-to-back Koshien spring and summer championships in 2012, said. He” refers to Shohei Otani (28) of the MLB Angels.

Shohei Otani (28)
High School: Hanamaki-Higashi (Iwate Prefecture)

In ’12, he participated in the U-18 World Championships in Korea. He worked hard at swinging and shadow pitching in his spare time.

The World Baseball Classic (WBC), which began on March 8, has reached its climax. Samurai Japan, which has won the preliminary rounds as “the strongest team in the history of the WBC,” has its own “origin” experience. The rivals who played against and defeated members of Japan’s national team when they were in high school reveal their overwhelming power, which can only be understood because they have won.

The first one, Tabata, “was the only player to hit a home run off Otani at Koshien. In 2012, the two met in the first round of the Senbatsu Tournament.

I heard he was a great pitcher, but I thought there was no way he was better than Fujinami. But I was surprised when I saw his low straight ball. It looked like it was going to bounce, so I missed it, but it had so much spin that it didn’t drop at all, and it just went right into the strike zone. I thought to myself, ‘Why the hell not? It’s not like in a comic book!

Tabata gave up a dead ball in his first at-bat against the pitcher Otani, and struck out in his second at-bat. But in his third at-bat, he gave up his first hit to Ohtani, and the moment came in his fourth at-bat.

Shohei didn’t throw a straight ball from the middle of the inning. When I talked to him at the U-18 Japan National Team training camp, he told me that the bench had instructed him to focus on breaking pitches. If they had come straight at me, I wouldn’t have been able to hit it.

Takuro Ito, a former ace of Teikyo (Tokyo) who battled Otani in the first round of the Koshien Tournament in the summer of 2011 and won, saw firsthand the talent of Otani the hitter.

His swing speed was unbelievable,” Ito said. I hit a second liner in the second at-bat, but the moment I heard the sound of the pitch, the ball had already flown to second. The pitch had a great extension in the opposite direction, and even though it was jammed, it took the ball all the way to the Koshien fence. I couldn’t help but laugh when I played against him.

Tabata said, “Not only was he a talented player, but he was also a complete person.

We still greet each other every year for the New Year. When Shohei announced his participation in the WBC, I sent him a line saying, ‘I’m going to participate in the WBC. I sent him a message saying, ‘You’re going to participate in the WBC, good luck. I had only played against him once in high school, but he is a very nice person. I thought that kind of humble attitude was the secret of his success.

The Miracle Hit That Changed Dar

Along with Otani, Yu Darvish, 36, a member of the Padres, has been a major presence in the Samurai Japan team. In the summer of 2003, he cites the final game of the Koshien tournament as one of the turning points in his life, losing 2-4 to Joso Gakuin (Ibaraki). Yasunori Matsubayashi, captain of the Joso Gakuin team and the team’s No. 4 pitcher, looks back on that time.

Before the game, coach Yukio Kiuchi told me, ‘If you get a hit, you can brag about it to your grandchildren. I thought, ‘What is he talking about so casually in the face of a game?’ But when I got up to bat, my breaking ball disappeared and I couldn’t hit a straight ball, and I didn’t think for a second that I could hit.

Tohoku scored two runs in the bottom of the second inning. Joso Gakuin, however, did not remain silent, scoring three runs in the 4th inning to turn the game around, and in the 8th inning, Matsubayashi’s hit in front of the lights combined with an error to score the go-ahead run. Matsubayashi described the hit as a “miracle hit.

I couldn’t get a hit, so I just closed my eyes and swung the bat as hard as I could,” he said. I wasn’t joking. I really closed my eyes and swung. Then I just happened to hit it. So I don’t remember what I hit or how I hit it at all. That’s how super high school every pitch was.”

After the game, Darvish broke down in tears. He later told us that the night before the final game, he went to the manager to ask him directly to let him pitch as a starter until the end. That is how strongly he felt about this match.

Darvish grew up from this setback and participated in the Koshien Tournament in both spring and summer of the following year. In the spring, he had a no-hit, no-run game, and in the final summer game, he closed out the tournament with two complete-game victories, but disappeared in the third round. However, at the post-game press conference, he said, “I have no regrets,” and never shed a tear again. Mr. Matsubayashi recalls.

We certainly won the championship in the summer of 2003, but I think Darvish was the number one pitcher in the tournament in terms of ability even back then. He is now one of Japan’s leading pitchers, but even back then he had the potential to become one of Japan’s leading pitchers, both technically and mentally.

Akinori Sasaki, 21, of the Chiba Lotte baseball team, was just as bright as these two stars, according to Yuto Hiraga, a student at Morioka University High School who played against the “Monster of Reiwa” five years ago in the semi-finals of the Autumn Iwate Tournament.

At the time of the matchup, Sasaki was only a sophomore, but he was well-known for his strong arm, so I made sure I was prepared for the game. The baseball club had a pitching machine named “Roki-kun” that could throw a maximum of 172 km/h. I put it six meters in front of the mound and hit the ball hard to get my eyes used to it. Even so, when I came into the batter’s box, it felt fast, so I was in a hurry. However, there were no sharp breaking pitches back then, so I was able to hit the final pitch in the 7th inning by aiming straight. If I had a fork like I have now, it would have been impossible.”

He was also amazed by his strong heart.

The stands were filled with spectators, cheering Sasaki’s every move. I think most high school students would have been nervous, but he threw the ball without changing color, and I thought he had an amazing mentality. As a player, I remember feeling an overwhelming difference.

The starting lineup, which includes these three players and Yoshinobu Yamamoto (24) of the Orix, is one of the best among the WBC participating countries. They are all looking for the one thing they couldn’t get in high school: the top spot in the World Baseball Championship.

Yu Darvish (36)
High School: Tohoku (Miyagi Prefecture)

Interviewed at a training camp during Koshien. Even back then, he had 240 kg of back strength and 57 kg of grip strength in both hands.

Aki Sasaki (21)
High School: Ofunato (Iwate Prefecture)

He never made it to the Koshien National Championships. Using that disappointment as a springboard, he has evolved even further on the professional stage. His fastest straight ball is now up to 165 km/h.

Murakami’s Power, Yoshida’s Skill

Sitting at No. 4 in the Samurai Japan team is Yakult’s Munetaka Murakami, 23, the youngest player ever to win the Triple Crown. The team that prevented Murakami from participating in the Koshien Tournament four times in spring and summer was Kumamoto’s powerful Shugakukan. Tatsuya Kochi, who was in the same grade as Murakami and was the team’s regular catcher, recalls the final game of the 2005 summer prefectural qualifying round: “Murakami is not good at the outside corner.

Murakami wasn’t good at the outside corner, so I targeted that area thoroughly. I had a detailed meeting with the pitchers to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes with the height of the pitch.

The strategy worked, and although he allowed only an infield hit, he struck out three in four at bats. He attributed his success to a 120-meter-plus home run by freshman Murakami, which he had seen as a freshman.

He said, “Even back then, his power was out of the norm. He was so powerful that if he hit a sweet shot, he was sure to make it a home run. I played against many hitters at Koshien, but there was no one better than Murakami in high school.

Despite the team’s strong performance in the first round league, Murakami’s batting average was a low .143. How does he view the current difficult situation of his former rival?

What surprised me the most after I became a pro was that I was able to hit home runs even with outside pitches. He hit in the last two games of the first round, didn’t he? The adaptation period must be over. I am looking forward to seeing his explosion from now on.

Yoshinao Kamata, ace of Kanazawa High School (Ishikawa), has been competing with Masataka Yoshida (29) of the Red Sox, who plays fifth for the Japanese national team. The two faced off in the quarterfinals of the Fall Hokushinetsu Tournament in 2010, and before the game, Kamata said he was confident he could take on Yoshida.

I thought that if I threw my weapons, my straight and slider, into the inside corner, which is the weak spot for hard hitters, I would be able to control him,” he said.

In fact, in the game, he took Yoshida for a five-tackle victory. However, he still remembers the shock he felt when he experienced the swing for the first time. Yoshida had hit 148 km/h in high school, compared to 150 km/h at the top professional level.

He said, “I got the first batter to fly out to third, just as I had hoped. But I was surprised at the height of the fly. It was an infield fly, but it didn’t fall at all (laughs). (Laughs.) Tsurugakehi has many strong hitters, but despite his small stature, he had a much sharper swing than any of the other hitters.

If he swung fast, he could wait until the last possible moment to hit any pitch. At that time, we could already see glimpses of Yoshida, who is known as “the man who never strikes out more than anyone else in Japan.

He was able to hold them off until the end because he wasn’t as good a pitcher then as he is now. Later, I joined the Rakuten Eagles and he joined the Orix. We played against each other many times on the professional stage, and each time I was keenly aware of his growth. The last time we played against each other was in ’20. I remember well how he hit a beautiful double to right field.

The two men also interacted in their private lives. I hope he will surprise the world with his swing,” Kamata said.

The man behind the cleanup lineup is Hotaka Yamakawa, 31, of the Seibu Lions, a three-time Pacific League home run champion. Yamakawa is now one of the best sluggers in baseball, but he had a tough time in the final game of the 2009 Summer Koshien Tournament in Okinawa.

He was famous in the prefecture at the time for his powerful full swing and home runs in the opposite direction,” said one of the players who played against him at Kounan High School.

He was famous in the prefecture even back then,” said Yosuke Shimabukuro, ace of Konan High School, the team he faced. The following year, the team became the sixth school in history to win back-to-back spring and summer titles, using the Tornado Pitching Method as a weapon.

The first time we met was with the bases loaded and two outs. Mr. Yamakawa would turn even an off-center pitch into a home run or a hit, so I tried to pitch a hard-hitting lineup so that he would not take a full swing at a pitch. I threw a straight ball and a slider inside and outside to drive him in, and finally I got him to strike out on a straight ball with a pitch that was just wide enough for an out.

Shimabukuro boasted an outstanding consistency. However, Yamakawa tried to twist the “precision machine” with his power.

In the next at-bat, he read my intention and swung at a straight ball, which was the winning pitch. Even so, I thought, ‘I’ve got him pinned down. Normally, it would have been a harmless ground ball to third base, but the speed of the ball was too fast and it was turned into a hit to left field. I was impressed by his ability to handle the ball and his power.

During the interview, the former rivals all said that they were proud to have fought with him. Having fought together and knowing their abilities better than anyone else, they are confident that Samurai Japan will win the world championship.

Munetaka Murakami (23)
High School: Kyushu Gakuin (Kumamoto Prefecture)

He played the 4th position from his freshman year at a strong school. Hit 52 home runs in high school and was called the “Babe Ruth of Higo” and feared by many.

Masanao Yoshida (29)
High school: Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui Prefecture)

In addition to his 52 home runs in high school, he has a 3.13 batting average at the Koshien National High School Baseball Championships, a performance that is very consistent.

Hotaka Yamakawa (31)
High School: Chubu Commercial (Okinawa Prefecture)

Yamakawa boasted extraordinary power even back then. After a fierce battle with the Koshien champion pitcher, he developed into a slugger selected for the Japanese national team in college.
Will the four current Major Leaguers and other stars representing the world of baseball in Japan and the U.S. come together to regain the world’s No. 1 position for the first time in 14 years?

From the March 31 and April 7, 2023 issues of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Yuji Arakawa (Otani) Haruki Shimokoshi (Darvish) Yasuko Funamoto (Sasaki) Afro (Murakami, Yoshida, group photo) Kyodo News (Yamakawa)

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