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Yuki Saito a national sensation after using a blue handkerchief to wipe away sweat during the National High School Baseball Championship in 2006 at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. | KYODO
Yuki Saito a national sensation after using a blue handkerchief to wipe away sweat during the National High School Baseball Championship in 2006 at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. | KYODO

Former high-school baseball star pitcher Yuki Saito will retire at the end of the season after 11 years in NPB, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters said Friday.

The 33-year-old was nicknamed the “Handkerchief Prince” after he used a blue handkerchief to wipe away sweat while steering his team to the high school national championship in the summer of 2006.

Injuries plagued Saito’s pro career, however, and he has not thrown in an NPB game since last season due to a right elbow issue. The right-hander pitched in 88 games in total, going 15-26 with a 4.34 ERA with the Fighters.

“I could not leave the kind of record I hoped for, but I’m really thankful for the fans who cheered me on until the very end. I’m happy to have played with my teammates,” Saito said through Nippon Ham.

Saito outpitched future New York Yankee Masahiro Tanaka in the 2006 summer final as Waseda Jitsugyo beat Komadai Tomakomai in a replay, after their first game ended in a tie, with his use of the handkerchief becoming a social phenomenon at the time.

“Having pitching duels in front of many fans at the final at Koshien (Stadium), and also in pro baseball, are really nice memories,” Tanaka, who returned to his first club the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles this year, said.

Saito had a strong record while at Waseda University before he was drafted in the first round by the Fighters in 2010 after the Pacific League club won a four-team lottery.

The right-hander won six games in his debut season in 2011 and five in 2012, when he pitched on opening day. But limited appearances due to injury meant the two wins he picked up in the 2014 season was the best he could do thereafter. His last win came in 2017.

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