FUKUOKA – If circumstances conspire to make this Tsuyoshi Wada’s last start in a Fukuoka Softbank Hawks uniform, he’ll leave with mixed feelings.
One one hand, Wada can hold his head high. He was at his best for much of Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday. The Chunichi Dragons were swinging away, but the majority of Wada’s pitches were still finding catcher Toru Hosokawa’s glove.
Six of his first nine outs were via strikeout, and when the Dragons showed some patience and drew a couple of walks, he still held them scoreless.
When Wada stepped on the mound to begin the seventh inning, he had a no-hitter going, a 1-0 lead, and was looking like he would notch his second Japan Series victory to go along with the one he got as a rookie in Game 7 of the 2003 Japanese Fall Classic.
Until it all came crashing down.
He hung a slider out in front of Chunichi’s Kazuhiro Wada just long enough for the veteran to pounce on it and send into the stands in left field. That one swing of the bat took away both a no-hitter and a shutout. It also breathed new life into the Dragons, which they used to rally for the win.
“I intended to throw a slider to the outside (of the plate), but it ended up in the middle,” Wada said. “That was the only pitch I failed to locate where I wanted. It was like, we lost today’s game with just one pitch.”
In an odd coincidence, the game turned on a home run hit by the reigning Central League MVP off the reigning Pacific League MVP. Though the Dragons slugger said he was only trying to provide a spark for his team.
“It was the seventh inning, and we had not gotten any hits,” the Chunichi outfielder said. “I was just trying to make contact and break up the no hitter. This is a big ballpark, so it is difficult to hit home runs. At first, I thought it would be a fly out, but was happy to see the ball carry over the fence.”
Softbank’s Wada lasted one more inning before being relieved. He emerged from the clubhouse almost two hours after the game was over. He was stone-faced as the media swarm converged on him, eyes set straight ahead as he relived the game’s fateful inning.
“It was only that one pitch for Wada,” said Softbank manager Koji Akiyama. “I don’t think he let his guard down. He was so good from the beginning of the game and we just let him keep going.”
Wada’s immediate future remains unknown. Depending on how the series plays out, he may well start again in front of the Fukuoka faithful, maybe with the title resting on his shoulders.
If things end in Nagoya, Wada’s next pitch could be in the major leagues. He’s a free agent, free to negotiate with any team he wants once this year’s obligations to the Hawks are finished.
Either way, he can leave with the knowledge he didn’t give up the deciding run. That “honor” was reserved for Takahiro Mahara, who took the loss after giving up a solo homer to Masaaki Koike in the 10th.
That fact provided Wada with little solace.
“I had no problems entering the game,” Wada said. “But really, it was only that pitch. I regret that. We would’ve won 1-0. But momentum shifted with the home run. If it wasn’t a home run, I think I could’ve held them there.