International Man of MysterySo it's in the books. Yuki Saito has remained unbeaten in his last 20-something starts dating back to his senior year in high school. The Japanese sensation didn't bring his A-game to Durham, but it was still enough to put the Japanese collegians on the verge of their first series win on US soil in 19 meetings. After the WBC victory, Japan will be on a high if the young fellas can repeat their success in North Carolina.
Before talking about this contest, it's a good idea to look back at what's transpired in the two prior games. The first game saw the US come out strong, winning 7-2 behind Pedro Alvarez' red hot bat. Shota Oba wasn't able to put together a very good start to the game and allowed the US to jump all over him for a big 5 run inning. That was all she wrote. The Japanese club likes to play small ball and it's highly unlikely that they will pull off a comeback from multiple runs. Ahead by five, the US effectively ended the game early, despite some very nice pitching by Tomoyuki Kaida. The next day featured Keio University ace, Mikinori Kato against Brian Matusz. The Japanese pulled off a tight 3-2 victory despite giving away 6 outs on 4 caught stealing and 2 sac bunts. Kato outdueled Matusz before handing it over to the very promising freshman power pitcher Shinya Muramatsu. Muramatsu struck out three in 2.1 innings and looked dominant in doing so.
That brings us to Saito. Game Three was highly anticipated and fans from all parts collected to get a glimpse of the now famous young hurler. The buzz around Daisuke Matsuzaka generates a greater appeal for Yuki Saito and it was evident in the media coverage from both countries. Saito showed poor command of his pitches throughout the contest, frequently falling behind hitters, and also seemed to have lost some velocity on his array of pitches. He frequently had the gun in the high 70s and mid-80s during the game and nothing looked "plus" for the most part. To his credit, Saito has always been businesslike on the mound and never lost his cool. He was noticably bothered when runners were on base, however, and looked a bit out of character on occasion. Nevertheless, the pitching line looks very good considering all the factors in throwing off his regular routine. He earned the 2-1 win thanks to outstanding relief in innings 7-9, capped by another dominating Muramatsu outing. Muramatsu struck out three in an inning and a third. Impressive.
Yuki Saito Watch got a little boost thanks to the good people at NBC17 in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. Their link has driven many of you here. Please stick around to browse the background of this fine young pitcher. A comprehensive look at his background is found in the right margin, listed under "Biography". Thanks for reading.
Finally, for those of you interested in watching these games, live or otherwise, you can head to the USA Baseball homepage and check out the link to "schedule". The games are available on live webcast, and presumably will be available in recorded for as well. Here's Saito's game. Stay Tuned.