Chiba Lotte Marines and Yakult Swallows had a practice game on the 15th (Korean time) at Nishizaki Stadium in Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. In this match, Chiba Lotte won 6-4 against Yakult.스포츠토토
The match that attracted the most attention was the confrontation between Roki Sasaki (Chiba Lotte) of ‘Perfect Game’ and Munetaka Murakami (Yakult) of ’56 Home Run’. Based on their tremendous performance last year, Sasaki and Munetaka boarded side by side in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) team to be held in March.
Last year, against the Orix Buffaloes, Sasaki struck out 13 consecutive batters from the 1st to the 5th inning, striking out 19 batters in 9 innings. Sasaki’s perfect game was the 16th record in Nippon Professional Baseball history, making him the youngest at 20 years and 5 months old, and the ‘first’ as a player without a complete shutout or complete game record.
Sasaki was unable to reap the first 10 wins in his debut, as he was unable to play the full-time season due to problems such as a finger blister injury and poor stamina. However, he appeared in 20 games and digested 129⅓ innings, displaying an outstanding performance with a 2.02 earned run average of 9 wins and 4 losses, and was reborn as a pitcher representing Japan.
Murakami was truly an all-time great season. Murakami played in 141 games last year, with 155 hits, 56 home runs, 134 RBIs, 114 runs, and a batting average of 0.318 OPS and 1.168, leading Yakult to win the Central League for the second year in a row. In particular, Murakami hit his 56th home run in the last at-bat of the last game of the regular season, breaking Oh Sadaharu (Wang Jeong-chi), the president of the Softbank Hawks, for the most home runs by a Japanese in a single season.
In addition, Murakami swept all sorts of batting indicators in the Central League and rose to the ‘youngest’ triple crown (batting average, home run, RBI). And he tasted the joy of being selected as the ‘unanimous’ Central League Most Valuable Player (MVP). In the WBC, it is very likely that he will play the central hitter role of the Japanese national team.
In the head-to-head match between two players representing Japan, Sasaki smiled. From the start of the first game, Sasaki threw a 157km fast ball, striking out all the top batting lines leading to Kazuya Maruyama, Yuhei Nakamura, and Soma Uchiyama, and got off to a good start in the first real game in 2023. And in the second episode, there was a face-to-face confrontation with Murakami.
Sasaki’s 159km fastball, which he threw at Murakami, fell outside and was judged to be a ball. Although he started at a slight disadvantage, Sasaki produced a strike by putting a forkball into the strike zone. Then, he drove Murakami with a forkball that fell in one bound. Afterwards, Sasaki put a 160km fastball near Murakami’s body and eliminated the strikeout on a swing.
Sasaki struck out Murakami and was hit by the follow-up batter, but went down the mound after completing the inning without allowing a run. The result of the day was 29 pitches in 2 innings, 1 hit, 5 strikeouts and no run. Murakami was also struck out by Sasaki, but after the pitcher was replaced, he scored an RBI in a timely manner and reported his first hit in 4 at-bats in a practice game. Murakami finished the game 2-for-1 with 1 RBI.
According to Japan’s ‘Sponichi Annex’, after the game, Sasaki said with a smile, “I went to a course with a good ball at the end (4th pitch). It was a practice game, but I didn’t want to hit a home run, and it was fortunate that I blocked it.” I played with the team, and I threw it as hard as I could so that the fans could enjoy it. Considering it was my first game, I was able to evenly throw breaking balls,” he said, expressing his feelings on his first actual appearance.
How do you feel about Murakami, who showed a very strong performance against Sasaki in June 2021 and last year’s All-Star Game? According to ‘Nikkan Sports’, Murakami admired, “I felt that Sasaki was ‘already complete'” and swallowed regret, saying, “I haven’t played many real matches yet, so he doesn’t seem to be able to play my swing.”
Although they met as enemies in the match on the 15th, Murakami and Sasaki are looking at the same goal for the WBC Japan team. Murakami said, “From the young players to the veterans, the whole team has to unite and fight. I’m young too, but I will do my best to help the national team.”
[Chiba Lotte Marines Sasaki Loki, Murakami Munetaka from the Japanese national team. Photo = Chiba Lotte Marines SNS capture, Getty Image Korea]