Toshiya Sugiuchi is a former Pacific League MVP and Sawamura award winner and has been among NPB’s elite pitchers for years.
As good as he is under normal circumstances — and a 110-56 record with a 2.84 ERA and 1,677 career strikeouts say that’s pretty good — for some reason he seems to ratchet it up to another level during the month of May.
Sugiuchi added another chapter to a ridiculous run of success in May on Wednesday, fanning 14 and coming within a strike of a perfect game against Masahiro Tanaka and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, though a no-hitter is quite the consolation prize.
“I knew I hadn’t won against ‘Ma-kun’ and I knew it was going to be a tough game for me,” Sugiuchi said after the game. “So all I asked for was a win, nothing else. But I ended up throwing the no-hitter, which was completely beyond my imagination.”
Nothing is out of the question with Sugiuchi on the hill in May.
Sugiuchi, in his 11th pro season, is 27-8 overall in games played in May. He’s been nearly unbeatable during the month since 2007, with a 20-1 record, 218 strikeouts and 1.33 ERA.
His lone May defeat in the past six years was against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on May 7, 2011. Sugiuchi, then a member of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, allowed three runs over eight innings and struck out eight in a game the Hawks lost 3-2.
It’s not surprising then that three of the seven Monthly MVP awards Sugiuchi won in the Pacific League came in May (2005, 2007 & 2008), and it’s a good bet he’ll add a fourth, and first in the Central League, this year.
Even with his past success, Wednesday’s no-hitter probably capped one of the most dominant months of his career.
Sugiuchi took the ball five times this May, finishing 4-0 with 50 strikeouts and an 0.68 ERA over 39⅔ innings. That run is rivaled only by the 4-0 record, 51 strikeouts and 0.86 ERA he put together over 42 innings in May of 2008.
Giants pitcher D.J. Houlton spent four seasons with the left-hander when both were with the Hawks, before the pair signed with Yomiuri as free agents over the offseason. Houlton has seen Sugiuchi up close and personal for years, but even he still has trouble putting a finger on Sugiuchi’s May success.
“I don’t know,” Houlton said. “I remember they (the Hawks) used to call him Mr. May when I was over there. Maybe . . . it’s a couple of months after spring training, so you’re kind of in your peak form. You’re not too burned out yet, and summer’s not here yet, so the weather’s not too hot.
“But he’s usually lights out year-round, I think. I guess in May he’s a little better than usual.”
Sugiuchi took things to new heights Wednesday, taking advantage of a big strike zone with excellent command of his slider and fastball, which he used to slice through the Rakuten lineup.
“It was his day,” Eagles outfielder Luis Terrero said the day after Sugiuchi’s gem. “When it comes, it comes.”
More like it’s been his month, and, as always, it’ll come around again in about a year.