All Toshiya Sugiuchi needed was a “W” for his team, and as usual, he got it.
Except this time he did it in spectacular fashion.
The Yomiuri Giants southpaw tossed a no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday night.
It was the second “no-no” in NPB this season. Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda did it against the Yokohama BayStars on April 6 at Yokohama Stadium.
“I can’t believe it,” Sugiuchi said in front of a crowd of 42,321 after the game. “I’m honored (to be the 75th pitcher to achieve the feat in league history).”
It was the 86th no-hitter overall.
Yoshinobu Takahashi broke a 0-0 tie in the seventh with an opposite-field two-run homer off Rakuten starter Masahiro Tanaka, giving Sugiuchi a big boost.
“The opponent (Tanaka) was great, but Sugiuchi was perhaps even better,” Takahashi said. “We wanted to do something, wanted to give him some run support by any means.”
Sugiuchi said, “I knew I wasn’t giving up any hits from the first inning and I got better as the game wore on. And when Yoshinobu-san hit the two-run homer, I was extremely pleased, but what I thought first was to give the team a win.”
The 31-year-old Sugiuchi (7-1), who moved to Yomiuri from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks this past offseason, was tantalizingly close to completing an even greater achievement: a perfect game.
Sugiuchi was sharp from the beginning, mixing things up with his fastball and slider, and retired the first 26 batters he faced.
But he walked pinch hitter Toshiya Nakashima from a 3-2 count with two outs in the ninth.
Sugiuchi kept his cool and successfully struck out the next batter, Ryo Hijirisawa, on a called strike to complete the no-hitter.
“Of course, it would’ve been better had I done it,” Sugiuchi responded when asked if he wanted to finish the game with 27 batters. “But winning is much more important to me. Besides, we played against ‘Ma-kun’ (Tanaka), so we just wanted to get a win, no matter how we would do it.
“At the end of the day, even if I had given up a hit (to Hijirisawa), it would’ve still been fine with me as long as we got the win. So I wasn’t disappointed (when I missed a perfect game).”
A perfect game in the NPB hasn’t taken place in nearly two decades. The last man to do it was former Yomiuri pitcher Hiromi Makihara, who achieved the feat against the Carp at Fukuoka Dome on May 18, 1994.
It was the first no-hitter for Sugiuchi as a pro, but he did it once in the first round of the 1998 National High School Championships at Koshien against Hachinohe Kodai Ichiko of Aomori Prefecture.
“You need some luck,” Sugiuchi chuckled.
Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara smilingly tipped hit hat to Sugiuchi, who wears the club’s ace number, 18.
“While we all were pretty nervous, it was great that we finished ahead,” Hara said. “(Sugiuchi) showed a great pitching through the nine innings. His control, sharpness on his pitches, speed . . . everything was great today.”
Meanwhile, Tanaka (2-2), who made his first start since April 19 due to a lower back injury, was nearly as good as Sugiuchi. But in the end, he was overshadowed by the historic performance of the Giants lefty, who had been 0-4 against Tanaka.
Tanaka allowed five hits and gave up both Yomiuri runs on Takahashi’s homer while striking out 11. He also went the distance, but was saddled with the loss.
Sugiuchi, who is 28-8 in May in his career, is currently unbeaten at 4-0 in the month this year. Sugiuchi, who fanned 14, also notched his 53rd double-digit strikeout game to move into fifth place on the all-time list, passing former Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish.