Chunichi Dragons pitcher Kenshin Kawakami couldn’t have come up with a better time to earn a spot in Japanese baseball history.
Kawakami, 27, tossed a no-hitter Thursday as the Dragons blanked the Central League-leading Yomiuri Giants 6-0 at the Tokyo Dome.
“I first thought about setting the pace for the bullpen, but I started thinking ‘maybe’ in the seventh inning,” said Kawakami, a right-hander in his fifth professional season.
“From the fourth inning, every time (Hirokazu) Ibata came to the mound he kept telling me, ‘no hitter, no hitter,’ and I kept telling him ‘no way.’
“I felt pretty good all night and the team played great defense behind me.”
Kawakami became the 70th pitcher in the history of Japanese baseball to throw a no-hitter.
With his velocity and command keeping the Giants in check, Kawakami did not look like a starter seeking a first win in nearly two months, completing his first career no-hitter on 102 pitches with five strikeouts along the way.
What makes his accomplishment all the more impressive is that it came against the hottest team in Japanese baseball. The Giants had won five in a row and went into Thursday’s game leading the second place Hanshin Tigers by 10 1/2 games.
“To do it against the Giants makes it even more special,” said Chunichi manager Hisashi Yamada. “It was my 55th birthday two days ago so I guess this is a late present.”
If not for a fourth inning walk to outfielder Takayuki Shimizu, Kawakami would have had a perfect game.
“It’s so characteristic of me to have missed out on a perfect game with a lone walk,” Kawakami said.
Kawakami’s no-hitter included three strikeouts against Yomiuri slugger Hideki Matsui, who has 26 homers this season for the Giants, one less than league-leader Roberto Petagine of the Yakult Swallows.
“Matsui’s been really hot lately so I just tried to pitch him carefully,” said Kawakami.
Kawakami is also the 31st CL pitcher to accomplish the feat and first since teammate Mel Bunch did it against the Yokohama BayStars on April 7, 2000.
The 1998 Central League Rookie of the Year and Chunichi’s top pick in the ’98 amateur draft, Kawakami improved to 6-3 with a 2.53 ERA. It was his second complete-game performance of the season.
Kosuke Fukudome hit a solo homer in the fourth and Masahiro Araki connected for a three-run shot — both off Yusaku Iriki (4-2) — in the fifth to make it 4-0.
Koichi Sekikawa and Motonobu Tanishige, who was making his 1,500th career appearance, added back-to-back RBI hits in the sixth to cap the scoring.
Sekikawa made a spectacular catch in right-center on a Daisuke Motoki flyball in the third — the moment the Giants came closest to snapping Kawakami’s no-hit bid all evening.
Runaway CL leader Yomiuri, which lost on a no-hitter for the first time since Aug. 11, 1996 also against Chunichi, ended its five-game winning streak.
Tigers 4, BayStars 0
At Koshien Stadium, Tetsuro Kawajiri (1-2) pitched eight shutout innings and struck out seven en route to his first win this season as Hanshin blanked Yokohama.
Osamu Hamanaka drove in all four runs by going 3-for-3. He connected for a solo homer in the first inning off BayStars starter Masao Morinaka (1-4) and slammed a three-run dinger in the sixth.
Swallows 6, Carp 6 (12)
Noriyuki Shiroishi drove home the game-tying run for Yakult with a squeeze bunt in the bottom of the eighth and both teams failed to score the rest of the way as the game ended a tie after 12 innings.
Surgery for Gomez
NAGOYA (Kyodo) Chunichi Dragons infielder Leo Gomez will undergo knee surgery this month and is expected to be out of action for the rest of the season, Chunichi general manager Kazumasa Ito said Thursday.
Ito said Gomez, who returned to his native Puerto Rico after twisting his right knee in a July 2 game, will have surgery in the United States on Aug. 14 and did not rule out the possibility that Chunichi will release the slugger.
Gomez has a .267 batting average with 66 hits, 43 RBIs and 16 homers in 66 games this season. He played for Chunichi for four seasons from 1997 and re-signed with the Central League club one month into the 2001 season.
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