/

Surprise package Wakui takes playoffs by storm

by

What a postseason it’s been for Hideaki Wakui.

The 22-year Seibu ace had a sparkling Japan Series debut on Saturday against the Central League Champion Yomiuri Giants in the Lions’ 2-1 Game 1 victory at Tokyo Dome on Saturday.

“There was even more nervous tension in the Climax Series,” Wakui said. “I was the same as usual. I was able to pitch to good locations from the beginning using fork balls and sliders in a good rhythm.”

Wakui held one of the most potent offenses in Japanese baseball to a single hit over eight innings allowing one run — unearned — and striking out eight.

“I knew the game was on national TV,” Wakui said. “So I wanted to do my best not only in front of the Lions fans here but throughout the country.”

A product of Yokohama High School (the school that spawned Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and Chiba Lotte Marines hurler Yoshihisa Naruse among others), Wakui has been untouchable this postseason.

After giving up eight hits in his postseason debut, Wakui has allowed just four hits and no earned runs over his next two starts, a span of 17 innings.

The Giants didn’t get their first hit until the fourth inning and were close to becoming Wakui’s second shutout victim of the postseason. Yomiuri benefited from a costly error by third baseman Takeya Nakamura in the same inning which led to an unearned run.

“He threw a lot of pitches for strikes,” said Giants slugger Alex Ramirez, whose RBI double was Yomiuri’s lone hit against Wakui. “I mean good pitches, hard pitches to hit. He was working in and out. He was pretty good.”

It was just the latest chapter in an amazing three-game run for Wakui, who made his postseason debut this season.

In three playoff games, Wakui is 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA and has given up just one earned run in 23 innings.

He began the Pacific League Climax Series by allowing one run and striking out eight over six innings against the Fighters in Game 1 of the second stage of the playoffs against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Wakui closed out that series with a brilliant three-hit complete-game shutout in Game 5. He was perfect through 6 2/3 of that contest.

Wakui didn’t take perfection that far against the Giants but the end result was the same.

“Yes. I was aware of it a little,” Wakui said when asked if he thought about Game 5 against the Fighters while facing the Giants. “During the game, Shogo-san (Akada) came to me and said I was perfect. It ended soon but I can say I was good enough that I gave up just one hit.”

He was nearly untouchable against the Giants, weaving an artful web inside and outside the strike zone to silence the mighty Kyojin.

“I wanted to go as far as I could go, like Darvish did in the Climax Series,” Wakui said referring to Fighters ace Yu Darvish, who tossed a complete-game shutout against the Lions in Game 2 of their series.

“So I tried to go to hard locations (in the zone). Darvish held us with his two-seamers that time and kept our batter’s mechanics off-balance. We talked about that in today’s meeting as well.”

Things were even harder for the Giants, who were seeing Wakui for the first time this year.

“It is difficult,” Ramirez said of facing a pitcher of Wakui’s caliber for the first time. “Sometimes we had to take a pitch because we haven’t seen him. It was kind of tough. But that happens.”