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Enatsu’s feats resonate years later

by Robert Whiting

Nippon Professional Baseball recently released the results of an interesting survey of the greatest games and moments — regular season and postseason — in its history. Indeed, opinions will vary on which games should be on the list and how to rank those games in order of greatness.

Here are one man’s thoughts on the most memorable games and moments in Japanese history:

1. Aug. 30, 1973: Hanshin’s Yutaka Enatsu’s 11-inning no-hitter, which he wins for himself by hitting a sayonara home run against Chunichi.

2. Oct. 10, 1967: Yomiuri’s Tsuneo Horiuchi’s no-hitter in a Japan Series game in which he hit three home runs.

3. June 25, 1959: Yomiuri’s Shigeo Nagashima’s extra-inning sayonara home run off Minoru Murayama in the Emperor’s game.

4. March 23, 2009: Japan’s victory over South Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic final.

5. Oct. 21, 2009: Termel Sledge’s bases-loaded walkoff home run for Nippon Ham against the Rakuten Eagles in the playoffs.

6. July 17, 1971: Enatsu’s nine strikeouts in a row in an All-Star Game.

7. Sept. 3, 1977: Sadaharu Oh breaks Hank Aaron’s career home run mark.

8. Nov. 4, 1979: Ninth inning, seventh game of Japan Series, Kintetsu-Hiroshima. Enatsu comes on in relief in the ninth inning with a 4-3 lead, loads the bases with one out, then retires the side. Final pitch of game, count 3-2, one out, Kintetsu attempts a squeeze, the Carp read the squeeze sign and Enatsu throws a pitchout, high and outside. The batter attempts the bunt anyway but misses, striking out. The runner is tagged out coming home to end the game.

9. Nov. 1, 2007: Combined perfect game in last game of Japan Series. Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai removes starting pitcher Daisuke Yamai after eight perfect innings and replaces him with Hitoki Iwase to complete victory over Nippon Ham.

10. Sept. 17, 1968: Enatsu approaches Kazuhisa Inao’s single-season strikeout record of 353 and vows to break it by fanning Oh.

Enatsu ties the 353 mark by fanning Oh in the fourth inning of a game between the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants, who were then locked in a heated pennant race. Back in the dugout at the end of the inning, he repeats his vow to his teammates, declaring he would not strike out any more batters until Oh comes to bat again.

It is an incredible thing to say given the circumstances;it is a scoreless tie in a must-win game played before 50,000 fans at Koshien Stadium and telecast nationwide — but Enatsu was true to his word. He retires the next eight hitters in a row on infield ground balls and pop flies, and then strikes out Oh again on four pitches, to break Inao’s record. It is his ninth strikeout of the game, and the Tigers win it 1-0 in the 12th inning, on a single by Enatsu incidentally.

(Two days later, Enatsu is back on the mound, pitching a four-hit shutout and fanning 10. His pitching keeps the Tigers in the thick of the pennant fight, until the final Giants-Tigers game of the season, a 10-inning contest that Enatsu loses by a 2-1 margin with no days rest.

He is voted the Sawamura Award winner as baseball’s best pitcher after finishing with a mark of 25-12, an ERA of 2.13 and 401 strikeouts in 329 innings pitched.)

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Editor’s note: Robert Whiting is the best-selling author of “You’ve Gotta Have Wa,” “The Meaning of Ichiro,” and “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat.” His exhaustive research and unmatched network of contacts were on display in his four-part expose on Bobby Valentine’s rise and fall with the Chiba Lotte Marines earlier this year in The Japan Times.