Yamamoto notches Japan Series-record 14 K's in 138-pitch CG

November 5th, 2023

Who will be the most sought-after free agent this offseason not named Shohei Ohtani?

It could be Japanese right-handed pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and the 25-year-old showed exactly why on Saturday in Game 6 of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Japan Series.

Yamamoto fired a 14-strikeout complete game on 138 pitches to lift the Orix Buffaloes over the Hanshin Tigers, 5-1. He allowed only one run with no walks, and his 14 K’s set a Japan Series record.

The two teams will meet in a decisive Game 7 on Sunday in NPB’s equivalent to the World Series, but the overpowering outing likely marks the end of Yamamoto’s highly decorated career in Japan. The 5-foot-10 hurler is expected to debut in the Majors next season via the posting system.

Yamamoto appeared to get stronger as the game went on. He retired 17 of the final 20 batters he faced, with three harmless singles sprinkled in between. On his 132nd pitch, he fired a 98 mph fastball past Kento Itohara for his 13th strikeout. He then froze pinch-hitter Ryo Watanabe for No. 14.

The performance was an appropriate coda for the pitcher who has been Japan’s best for the past three seasons. He has won three consecutive Sawamura Awards, the NPB’s version of the Cy Young. He finished each of those years with the pitching Triple Crown after leading the Pacific League in wins, strikeouts and earned run average. He went 16-6 with 169 strikeouts and a 1.21 ERA across 164 innings during the regular season this year.

However, Saturday’s game wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Yamamoto. He fought out of multiple jams in the first few innings. That included a bases-loaded spot in the second inning that he escaped with a splitter in the dirt to strike out Kōji Chikamoto.

In the fourth inning, Chikamoto drilled a ball to deep right field with two on and two outs, but Yamamoto came away unscathed thanks to a leaping grab by Tomoya Mori.

Former A’s and Dodgers infielder Sheldon Neuse accounted for the lone run against Yamamoto as he clocked an opposite-field solo homer in the second inning. But once Yamamoto got through the fourth, he was in charge. He retired the next 10 batters he faced, including four by strikeout.

Along with his high-90s four-seamer, Yamamoto cut through Hanshin’s lineup with his low-90s splitter, his rainbow curveball and high-80s slider.

We should see this tantalizing repertoire on a big league mound next spring.