Japanese professional baseball may have lost some of its greatest players to the U.S. in recent years — including pitchers Masahiro Tanaka to the New York Yankees and Yu Darvish to the Texas Rangers — but it seems more great pitchers are coming up.
In an all-star game Saturday, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Shohei Otani hurled a couple of fastballs at 162 kilometers an hour (100.7 miles an hour), matching the Japanese professional record and setting a new one for a Japanese player.
The record was first set by American Marc Kroon of the Yomiuri Giants, who laid down a 162-kph pitch in 2008. Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Yoshinori Sato set the previous record for a Japanese hurler, with a 161 kph effort in 2010.
While Otani’s record is still unofficial, Japanese media trumpeted the feat Sunday with big banner headlines across most major dailies.
As the starter in Saturday’s second game of the two-game All Stars Series, Otani dealt with five batters, allowing three hits and one run. Of his 23 pitches, 21 were fastballs, with 12 clocking in at 160 kph or faster.
Otani’s Pacific League All-Stars won the game 12-6 over their Central League counterparts.
Of course, his best effort is still short of the U.S. major-league record of 105 mph set by Cincinnati Reds’ Aroldis Chapman in 2010. But the power of Japanese pitchers is catching up to their American rivals.
And excite them Otani did. “WAAAAA,” roared the entire stadium when the speed of his second pitch showed on the big board.
Japanese media quoted Hanshin Tigers’ Matt Murton, who faced Otani as fourth batter, as saying he was proud to play against Otani, especially if he goes on the U.S. major leagues in future. Murton stayed at bat by hitting a few fouls until serving up a single on the eight pitch.
Wladimir Balentien of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, who punched a single into center field, reportedly said he was relieved to connect with Otani’s fastball.