Shun Yamaguchi grabbed the brim of his cap and looked downward as if caught up in the moment and trying to fight back tears on the hero interview stage. Then, just as the crowd began to react, the jig was up. He ripped off his cap and exclaimed “I’m not crying!”
Yamaguchi had put one over on the thousands of Giants fans in the stands. Just like he’d done to the Chunichi Dragons all night long.
Yamaguchi (8-6) dominated the Dragons and got a big helping hand from third baseman Casey McGehee as he threw the first no-hitter of the 2018 season, and first by a single pitcher since 2014, in the Yomiuri Giants’ 5-0 win on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
“I got off to a good start and my control was good and I felt like I might be able to pitch deep into the game,” Yamaguchi said.
He ended up doing more than that, striking out five and allowing just a walk in the seventh inning of a 103-pitch outing.
“I think he was locked in from start to finish,” Giants manager Yoshinobu Takahashi said. “He was able to pitch at his own pace the whole way.”
Yamaguchi threw the 90th no-hitter in NPB history (excluding combined no-hitters) and is the 79th pitcher to achieve the feat. Takayuki Kishi was the last to do it, no-hitting the Chiba Lotte Marines, as a member of the Seibu Lions, on May 2, 2014. The last Central League no-hitter was by the Dragons’ Daisuke Yamai, who started and took the loss on Friday, against the Yokohama BayStars on June 28, 2013.
It was the first no-hitter by a Giants pitcher since southpaw Toshiya Sugiuchi accomplished the feat against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on May 30, 2012, at the Big Egg.
Yamaguchi was part of a combined no-hitter in his Yomiuri debut last year on June 14. He said he became aware he had a chance on Friday around the sixth inning.
His no-hitter didn’t come without a few close calls, and it seemed most of them ended up with McGehee making a great play to record an out.
“We all knew what was going on once we got toward the middle part of the game,” McGehee said. “You just want to do anything you can if the ball is anywhere close to you to try to figure out some kind of way to help him.”
The Dragons nearly broke through in the eighth when Atsushi Fujii lined a ball to third, but a leaping grab by McGehee preserved the no-hitter.
“I was just trying to get a glove on it,” McGehee said. “At that point, you take any kind of risk you can. Even if it turns into an error, you take it. You just try to take any kind of chance you can to make a play.”
Yamaguchi was aware of his teammates’ efforts throughout the night.
“You can’t do something like this by yourself,” he said. “I’m grateful to them.”
The Kyojin pitched in at the plate as well.
Jorge Martinez began the day as a developmental player, signed a regular contract a few hours before the game and was in the lineup batting seventh and playing second base by game time.
Martinez got his first at-bat in the second and connected on a forkball for his first home run. His teammates went wild in the dugout when the ball landed in the first row of seats in right-center, and McGehee enveloped him in a big hug when he returned to the bench.
“That was awesome,” McGehee said. “Can you imagine what a 24 hours the kid has had? It makes you kind of remember your debut and all your first things. Just to see how excited he was I think was kind of a breath of fresh air for everybody.”
His manager agreed.
“Martinez changed the entire atmosphere today,” Takahashi said.
Kazuma Okamoto also homered, hitting a three-run blast in the eighth for his 18th of the season, and McGehee had an RBI single. Shinnosuke Shigenobu finished 3-for-4, falling a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.
The Dragons’ lone bright spot came when Yohei Oshima drew a walk to break up the perfect game at the start of the seventh.
Oshima stole second and went to third on a groundout by Yota Kyoda. Ryosuke Hirata then hit a grounder to third that McGehee scooped up and threw home to catcher Seiji Kobayashi, who tagged out Oshima at the plate.
“(Hirokazu) Ibata-coach said if it was hard-hit and you had the out at home to take it,” McGehee said. “We wanted to make sure we got an out, because we had a two-run lead at the time, but I felt like since it was right in front of me, it was a safe play to make.”
Yamaguchi then retired Dayan Viciedo to end the frame.
That would be all Chunichi could muster.
Yamai (3-4) allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings. He struck out four and walked one.
“I thought (Yamaguchi) was throwing every pitch he had for strikes,” McGehee said. “Not just strikes but well-located strikes. He was able to mix his speeds and pitches pretty well. He was pretty impressive.”
Swallows pound Tigers
Matt Carasiti (6-3) allowed two runs to earn the win and homered along with sluggers Wladimir Balentien and Tetsuto Yamada, who each hit his 24th home run, as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows routed the Hanshin Tigers 8-2 on Friday night at Jingu Stadium.
The Tigers extended their winning streak to seven games.
Carp 10, BayStars 1
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Xavier Batista and Kosuke Tanaka each slugged a grand slam as Hiroshima blasted Yokohama.
Fighters 13, Buffaloes 2
At Sapporo Dome, Naoyuki Uwasawa (10-3) struck out seven over eight innings, while Go Matsumoto scored three runs and Brandon Laird drove in three as Hokkaido Nippon Ham pushed Orix to a season-worst seventh straight loss.
Eagles 6, Hawks 5
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Fukuoka SoftBank went deep into its bullpen after starter Rick van den Hurk allowed five earned runs over 4-2/3 innings.
Ryota Igarashi (0-1) was tagged with the loss against Tohoku Rakuten after giving up the winning run on a bases-loaded walk.