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Sugiuchi sacrifices glory for team

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Just think about it. A 3-2 count, two outs in the ninth inning, and with a perfect game on the line — what would you do on your next pitch?

Perhaps you would throw it in the strike zone. Maybe right down the middle so you wouldn’t walk the batter.

After all, a perfect game is such a rare, special feat in baseball.

Yomiuri Giants hurler Toshiya Sugiuchi is the kind of guy who doesn’t readily toss a potential gopher ball over the middle of the plate, even if a perfect game is at stake.

For him, there’s something more important a pitcher should look for instead of chasing an individual accomplishment.

So when he made the count 3-2 against Tohoku Rakuten pinch hitter Toshiya Nakashima with two outs in the ninth at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday, he didn’t lose sight of his priority — a win.

“When I got 3-2 in the count, the first thing I thought was to not allow a hit, so I thought it was fine if it ended up a walk,” Sugiuchi said after tossing a no-hitter in Yomiuri’s 2-0 win over the Golden Eagles. “And it did end up (being) a walk.”

There are no regrets for Sugiuchi, even though he missed the chance to become the 16th man — and the first since 1994 — to have a perfect game in the NPB.

The Giants were only up by two runs and playing in their batter-friendly stadium, where such a small lead counts for little in that situation. So he cautiously tried to deliver a win for his team.

“I thought it would be irresponsible to pitch in the middle of the strike zone,” he said.

For the 10-year veteran, a win is a win no matter how it is earned. So he seemed more comfortable talking about the win than the no-hitter.

Sugiuchi is now 7-1 and leads the NPB in victories. The ex-Fukuoka Softbank Hawk, who has always performed well in May (28-8 in his career), improved to 4-0 this month. He also leads Japanese baseball in ERA (1.059) and strikeouts (80).

“I’m more thrilled about that (than the no-hitter),” Sugiuchi said with a grin, when asked how he felt about leading Japanese baseball in wins. “The team gets wins in the games I pitch. That makes me feel that I’m contributing.”

Sugiuchi believes a single-game achievement like a no-hitter is a one-day thing, while chipping in for your team throughout the season is a much more valuable achievement. After helping the Hawks grab their first Japan Series title in eight years last season, Sugiuchi knows that very well.

“I’m taking this season so seriously,” said Sugiuchi, who joined the Giants via free agency. “I feel overwhelmed to have had this no-hitter. But what I want to do is be in the rotation all year without any injuries and help the team win.”

Of course, Sugiuchi understands how big it is to win games for the Giants, the most storied club in the NPB, who have won 21 championships with so many great players.

Sugiuchi, who was given the team’s ace jersey, No. 18, said he didn’t come to the Kyojin “to have a no-hitter,” but joined the Tokyo club to deliver good performances throughout the season. By doing so, he hopes to truly be recognized as a Giant.

“I don’t feel much pressure,” he said. “But I want to be the No. 18 in all aspects.”