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When Yu Darvish left for the major leagues after the 2011 season, the prevailing thought was the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ pitching staff would be a rudderless ship.

Then, improbably, left-hander Mitsuo Yoshikawa stepped up to fill the void. The Fighters hardly missed Darvish in 2012, with Yoshikawa finishing 14-5 with a 1.71 ERA in 25 appearances. He helped lead the team to an appearance in the Japan Series and was named the Pacific League MVP after the season.

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