“The timing was right and it was helpful.”
Chiba Lotte Marines won 5-0 in a match against the 2023 Japanese Professional Baseball Rakuten Golden Eagles held at Rakuten Mobile Park in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on the 10th (Korean time).
With the win against Rakuten, Chiba Lotte recorded 70 wins, 5 draws, and 68 losses this year with a winning percentage of 0.5072, and advanced to the postseason by beating Softbank Hawks (winning percentage 0.5071), who joined Class A (1st to 3rd) in 3rd place by 1 game. I got my hands on a ticket. As a result, Chiba Lotte will play the Climax Series First Stage against Softbank at its home stadium, ZOZO Marine Stadium, starting on the 14th.
Chiba Lotte succeeded in advancing to the postseason in second place, but it was a situation that could not be laughed at. This is because there is a possibility that Loki Sasaki, who can hit a monster ball with a maximum speed of ‘165km’, may not appear in the first stage. According to multiple local Japanese media outlets, Sasaki indicated that he could pitch, but manager Masato Yoshii seemed to have a slightly different idea.
Sasaki, who pitched in 20 games last year, including achieving a ‘perfect game’, and left a record of 9 wins, 4 losses, and an ERA of 2.02, failed to finish the season as a first-team entry this year. Although it was not a perfect game in the World Baseball Classic (WBC), there are three main reasons why Sasaki, who left a great impact, was unable to play in many games. The first is that the same ‘blister’ as last year caused trouble. Sasaki took a hiatus of over a month due to this.
The second cause is that the left internal oblique muscle was ruptured in the Softbank game on July 24th. Despite Sasaki usually throwing over 100 pitches, he finished the game with 93 pitches in 6 innings, and upon examination, he suffered a ruptured inner oblique muscle. Initially, Sasaki was predicted to be out for the season, but he showed rapid recovery and miraculously returned to the mound in September. And as the number of pitches was gradually increasing, a third cause occurred.
This was due to the ‘group fever’ that occurred at the end of the season when the battle for rankings was fierce. Sasaki was scheduled to pitch against Softbank on September 24th, but was excluded from the first team due to a sudden fever. At the time, Sasaki was excluded from the first team through a system called ‘Special Case 2023’, which is a system that can be used for players suspected of having novel coronavirus infection (Corona 19).
‘Special Case 2023’ can return to the first team even if 10 days have not passed since being excluded from the entry if they do not test positive. However, Sasaki did not return to the mound until the end of the season. And at this point, the possibility of appearing in the First Stage of the Softbank and Climax Series starting on the 14th was not very high.
According to Japan’s ‘Sports Hochi’, on the 10th, coach Yoshii said of Sasaki, “I feel like he can throw now,” but “I don’t think his thoughts and body match.” This is not to say that Sasaki will not appear in the postseason, but in the eyes of the head coach, not only is he still unsatisfied, but he has also indicated that he will make more careful decisions as he has been thoroughly managed so far.
Still, the possibility was left open. Director Yoshii added, “I don’t think there is anything that can’t be done in the Climax Series,” while ‘Sports Hochi’ said, “A return to the Climax Series is uncertain,” and ‘Daily Sports’ said, “Currently, there seems to be no possibility of returning to the Climax Series.” reported. Sasaki’s chances of appearing on the mound were predicted to be low. But the situation changed rapidly.
According to multiple local Japanese media outlets, Sasaki conducted bullpen pitching on the 12th and completed a condition check. Afterwards, Coach Yoshii hinted at the possibility of Sasaki appearing as a starter in the first game against Softbank in an interview with reporters, and Sasaki was finally selected to appear against Softbank in the Climax Series First Stage on the 13th. According to Sankei Sports, Coach Yoshii explained, “We were short on starting pitchers, but the timing helped.”
If Chiba Lotte advances to the final stage with Sasaki at the forefront, we may be able to see a matchup with Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Orix Buffaloes), who is about to advance to the major league. Yamamoto is scheduled to advance to the major league through the ‘posting system’ at the end of this season, so it is highly likely that the last ‘match of the century’ will take place before leaving Japanese professional baseball.
Sasaki and Yamamoto have already faced each other once at ZOZO Marine Stadium on April 14th. At the time, Sasaki had 105 pitches, 1 hit, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts, and no runs in 7 innings, and Yamamoto had 101 pitches, 5 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, and 1 run (1 earned) in 6 innings, giving Sasaki his 2nd win of the season. I experienced the joy of harvesting.
Yamamoto appeared in 23 games this year, recording 16 wins, 6 losses, and an average ERA of 1.21, becoming the first player in Japanese professional baseball history to win four pitching awards (multiple wins, winning percentage, strikeouts, and ERA) for three consecutive years. Will we be able to see a face-off between Sasaki and Yamamoto? First of all, it is important for Sasaki to win the game against Softbank on the 14th.