FUKUOKA – Orix right-hander Yuki Nishi saved his best for last — literally.
The 21-year-old Nishi pitched a no-hitter against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in a 3-0 victory in the Buffaloes’ final game of the regular season on Monday afternoon at Yahoo Dome.
The fourth-year Mie native, who was one walk away from a perfect game, became the third pitcher to throw a no-hitter this season and the 76th in Japanese baseball history. He is only the 26th to achieve the feat in the Pacific League.
The Hiroshima Carp’s Kenta Maeda no-hit the Yokohama BayStars on April 6 while Yomiuri Giants left-hander Toshiya Sugiuchi threw one versus the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on May 30. There have been 87 no-hitters pitched in Japan.
Narciso Elvira was the last to throw a no-hitter in the PL for the Kintetsu Buffaloes on June 20, 2000, and Yoshinori Sato had one for Orix in 1995.
It was the first time in 17 years that three pitchers have thrown no-hitters in the same year.
Although there was no denying Nishi’s miraculous achievement, it came as a downer for the third-place Hawks, who went out on a losing note in their final game of the season and in what was also the last game for retiring captain Hiroki Kokubo.
“No one thought that I would achieve this today,” said Nishi. “This was Kokubo-san’s final game of his career, so I’m not quite sure if I should enjoy this. I was aiming for a shutout, but credit goes to (catcher) Hikaru-san (Ito) that I was able to keep them hitless.”
Softbank will play the second-place Seibu Lions in the first stage of the best-of-three Climax Series starting Saturday at Seibu Dome in Saitama Prefecture.
Lee Dae Ho opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first inning, and another run scored on left fielder Kenji Akashi’s error in the sixth. Ryoichi Adachi added a run-scoring single in the seventh as Orix won five in a row for the first time this season.
Nishi, who struck out nine in an efficient 109-pitch outing, retired the first 13 batters he faced before allowing a walk to Nobuhiko Matsunaka in the fifth inning. He plowed through the final 14 batters, getting Nobuhiro Matsuda to ground out to shortstop to end it in the ninth for his career first shutout.
“I was able to stay loose and keep my pitches down in the zone. Today, I was confident that I could throw strikes with any of my pitches. In the end, I just tried to stay calm and focus on each and every pitch,” Nishi said.
Nishi, who was Orix’s third-round pick in the 2009 draft, went 8-3 with a 2.78 ERA in 19 appearances this season.
Kokubo, who recorded his 2,000th career in his final season and finished with 413 career homers, popped out twice and grounded out to short stop in his final at-bat against Nishi in the seventh.
“When Kokubo-san came to bat in the seventh, I was really thinking, ‘What should I do?’ In a newspaper I read, he said, “Go for it!” so I threw my fastball with everything I had.”
Eagles 6, Marines 0
At QVC Marine Field, Masahiro Tanaka yielded four hits over eight shutout innings to notch double-digit wins for the second year in a row as Tohoku Rakuten secured fourth place with a win over Chiba Lotte in the Golden Eagles’ final game of the year.
Tanaka (10-4) struck out three and walked none and Koji Aoyama finished off with a perfect ninth.
Jose Fernandez had an RBI infield single in the first before Kazuya Fujita tacked on a two-run triple in the seventh. Shunsuke Watanabe (4-4) took the loss for Lotte, which cemented its place in fifth.
Carp 8, BayStars 1
At Yokohama Stadium, Jun Hirose hit a grand slam and drove in six runs, lifting Hiroshima to its fourth straight win in a rout of Yokohama in the Carp’s final game of the season.
Kenta Maeda (14-7) went the distance on one-run ball to earn his first win since Sept. 8. Hirose turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead with a two-run double off Kazumasa Kikuchi (3-2) in the sixth and capped the scoring in a six-run seventh with his drive to left.