/ |

Tough luck for Kaneko

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Chihiro Kaneko no-hit the Yomiuri Giants for nine innings on Saturday. He then watched his team lose the game.

Kaneko had the type of night that usually ends with a celebration. This time, he and the rest of the Orix Buffaloes simply filed into the clubhouse after a 1-0 loss, while the Giants’ Yoshiyuki Kamei prepared for a hero interview.

“I knew there were no hits but I didn’t really think about it until the end (of the outing),” Kaneko was quoted as saying by SportsNavi.

The Orix pitcher came agonizingly close to the second no-hitter in Japan this season. The Seibu Lions’ Takayuki Kishi delivered the first against the Chiba Lotte Marines on May 2.

Kaneko retired the side in the top of ninth, and Orix put runners on first and second with one out in the bottom half. Keiichi Hirano, however, grounded out, Takuya Hara walked, and Esteban German flied out to right with the bases loaded and Kaneko done for the night after 144 pitches.

The Giants got their first hit on a Yasuyuki Kataoka single in the 11th, and Kamei hit a solo homer in the 12th to provide the winning margin.

Kaneko would’ve been the 79th NPB pitcher to record a no-hitter, which would’ve also been the 90th in Japanese baseball history. Instead, he joined a group of hurlers who came oh-so-close.

Kaneko is the second pitcher to turn a game over to the bullpen after at least nine innings of no-hit ball. The first was former Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters lefty Tomoya Yagi, who allowed no hits over 10 innings against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on April 15, 2006.

Fighters reliever Hisashi Takeda tacked on a hitless 11th, Keizo Kawashima drove in a run in the top of the 12th, and pitcher Micheal Nakamura later walked a pair but was able to close out the combined no-hitter.

Nine other pitchers took no-hitters beyond the ninth before giving up a hit in extra innings, most famously the Lions’ Fumiya Nishiguchi, who had a perfect game going against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles before allowing Yoshinori Okihara’s single in the 10th on Aug. 27, 2005.

Nishiguchi’s Lions at least went on to win, with him getting the decision.

Kaneko struck out 11 (seven of which were swinging strikeouts), started 23 of the 32 batters he faced off with strikes, and walked four, but finished with no decision.

Things may have been different if Giants pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano hadn’t been dealing on the other side.

“They had a good pitcher going, and I thought it might to be difficult to score runs,” Kaneko said. “So it’s good I was able to hold them scoreless.”

Sugano scattered seven singles across seven shutout innings while striking out six and walking three. He didn’t factor into the decision either.

“I feel a little sorry for Sugano,” Kamei said during his hero interview.

Back on track: After a disastrous start to the season, Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson entered Sunday’s games having reeled off 14 straight appearances without yielding a run and walking only three over that span.

“I definitely had a bad start,” Mathieson said. “I feel better lately and am just working hard. It seems like it’s been helping, so I hope it continues.”

Mathieson threw 1⅔ scoreless innings against the Orix Buffaloes in his latest outing on Saturday, getting the final two outs of the ninth with runners in scoring position and retiring the side in the 10th. He kept the Giants, who were being no-hit at the time, in a game they eventually won 1-0 in 12 innings.

It was just the latest triumph in what has been an impressive turnaround for the Canadian reliever, who allowed 11 runs and walked seven in his first nine appearances of the season.

“Just baseball, it happens,” he said of the rocky start. “Sometimes you pitch really well, and sometimes you have slumps just like hitters do. It’s just one of those things. Seems like I would give up some big hits and then I would get a little blooper that would just drop in. Seems like it was just bad luck and making some bad pitches. Fortunately, I’ve turned it around. Hopefully it can continue.”

Mathieson points to the work he’s put in with the Yomiuri coaches and the fact that he never got down on himself as the major reasons he’s gotten back on track.

“I’ve played baseball for 14 years now professionally,” Mathieson said. “I’ve definitely had this happen before, and I just gotta get through it. Everybody pitches to their numbers, I believe. Wherever your career numbers are, you’re going to hit those. If you start out bad or you start off great, it’s eventually going to even itself out.”

Uncertain status: While Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino seeks treatment for an ossification of the yellow ligament, which he was diagnosed with last week, the timetable for his return is uncertain.

That means NPB may have to consider a contingency plan for the July 18-19 All-Star Series, in which Hoshino is slated to manage the Pacific League team.

“At the moment, it has not become official that manager Hoshino will withdraw from the All-Star Series,” an NPB representative said Thursday. “But if that happens, we would select someone based on his past achievements and things like that. When it becomes official, we are going to work on it and then announce it to you all.”