Sunday, June 17, 2007

All Japan University Champions

Yuki Saito and company have done it!!! After qualifying for the 56th All Japan University Championship Tournament by winning the Tokyo Big 6 League, the boys from Waseda entered a field of big time programs vying for the crown of all university crowns. Here's a rundown of the games.
June 14th vs. Kyushu International University

In a game that was supposed to be a lopsided win for the Waseda boys, Kyushu International made a serious run at eliminating Saito's bunch early. Waseda couldn't mount an effective rally against any of three Kyushu pitchers, managing to only scratch across 2 runs heading into the 9th. Kyushu would bat last, and got starting pitcher Matsushita into some trouble, scoring a run and putting runners on first and second with two outs. The home club sent up a pinch hitter, and manager Ota went to the pen for the final out. He brought in Saito to mop up the last out. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Saito gave up a ringing line drive that bounced in front of the left field wall. The runner came around to the plate and was promptly gunned down, ending the game. Saito looked stunned, worried, and then delighted. Waseda survived the first day.
June 15th vs. Kansai International University

On this afternoon, Waseda chose to start Sudata against Kansai International. Sudata was often the choice of manager Ota to precede Saito as a more experienced pitcher. The Waseda lineup was fierce, scoring 5 runs in the second and 4 more in the third to stake their starter to a big lead. With one out in the fifth Sudata got into trouble and was removed after allowing 2 runs to Kansai. Another run was surrendered by the pen in that frame, but that was all she wrote as Waseda sealed the 16-3 victory with a 7 run rally in the top of the 9th. No Saito, but then again, no need.
June 16th vs. Soka University

Yuki Saito took the hill in a very big moment for the freshman ace. Soka University stood in the way of a berth in the championship game and the pressure was on. Saito coughed up a run in the 1st, but looked very cool in escaping any further damage. His Waseda boys helped pick him up with 6 huge runs in an extended bottom of the first that virtually locked up the game. Waseda would score 4 more runs in the course of the contest, but it was hardly necessary as Saito went 5 complete on 82 pitches, allowing 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 6. Matsushita and Sudata nailed down the remainder of the game and Waseda was in the big final against Tokai University.

June 17th vs. Tokai University

Saito would once again get the starting nod for Waseda, a sure sign that he is the man in charge of the rotation from now on. The pressure would be on, but it couldn't be anything like the highly charged two days in the Koshien Final less than a year ago. Waseda got on the board in the 1st with a single run, before Saito even took the hill. Certainly, that had to be a relief as the young ace worked his magic for 5.2 innings before surrendering a single run to Tokai. Waseda had scratched across two more runs for Saito, so the lead appeared fairly safe at 3-1. At 102 pitches near the end of the 6th, manager Ota came out to relieve Saito and replace him with Matsushita to finish off the title. That he did with 3.1 innings of scoreless relief. Saito's final line: 5.2 IP, 7 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 1 ER.

The title lives with Waseda, and Saito will next head to the US to pitch in the US/Japan University Games. Workouts will begin very soon, so there's no rest for the weary. It will be interesting to see him pitch against American university athletes. His final line for the 56th All Japan University Games was:

11 IP, 10 hits, 5 walks, 12 Ks, 2 ER, 1.63 ERA, 1.364 WHIP, 9.82 K/9

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Update: June 9th

A little housekeeping to do here, as I haven't kept up my blogging at Yuki Saito Watch very well in about a month. Here's what needs saying about his Tokyo Big 6 League pitching:

1. Waseda's practice of never announcing their starter is a joke. It's the way things are done in Japan, as if the element of secrecy regarding the next day's starter will somehow give them the edge they need to win. First, that is a dusty old myth that has been long since put to bed in the US, and is even a waning practice in the slow to change NPB. It's simply a disservice to fans in an age of information that allows us to enjoy a myriad of events at a level of understanding previously unknown to mankind. 30,000+ fans look to attend games that Yuki Saito is pitching. Many sleep outside on the sidewalk overnight to get to the ticket window. That is good for college baseball, and I'm sure it's very lucrative for Waseda and the Tokyo Big 6 League.

The only reason there is suddenly such interest in the sport at the college level is Yuki Saito. His fans want to see him. Instead of providing the newfound fans with a simple heads up that he will be pitching, the team leaves it shrouded in mystery to sell more tickets and fill the stands every game. There are plenty of people who will sleep out overnight to buy tickets, hoping to see Saito, who never actually see him. They buy tickets to the game only to find out that he will start the next afternoon.....or not at all. Yes, it's their risk. No one told them to sleep on the street. The problem is, popularity is a fleeting thing. Once Saito is gone, so is your exposure. Your ratings and your gate will drop through the floor. If you treat the fans well, and highlight other players along the way, you spend the time and effort to build your brand and generate excitement. If you play games with the fans and force them to guess at when the main attraction is going to come, they will eventually walk away. I can't sit around every weekend waiting to see if Saito is pitching, while the world is passing me by. If you announce the day he's pitching a day or two early, I will set aside my afternoon. People will still sleep out on the street.

The reason Waseda is doing things this way has almost nothing to do with strategy, and everything to do with money. That's a sin in amateur athletics, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

2. Saito's Waseda boys entered the final weekend of the Spring Season undefeated in the Tokyo Big 6. The only thing standing in their way of a Spring Championship was Keio University, who needed to take all three weekend games to topple the mighty Waseda club. The first game of the weekend was thought to be Yuki Saito's start. The major sports and news outlets prepped for a Saturday game featuring the lights out freshman, only to see the dream smashed when Waseda elected to start Saito's senior, Kouta Sudata, in his stead. Sudata failed to continue the unblemished Spring record by coughing up 5 runs over the first three innings. The stage was set for the following day, and a potential Saito outing to nail things down before they got hairy.

Saito did just that, as he pitched a brilliant five innings to hold Keio in check, while his Waseda offense staked him to a 8-0 lead. The game was over before it even began, as 36,000 fans enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in West Tokyo. Saito labored in the 6th and ended up allowing 4 runs to the boys from Keio, but it was too late. He escaped with a 4 run lead, and Matsushita and Sudata mopped up to bring the title to Waseda. A parade was held in Tokyo where people clambered to catch a glimpse of the boy hero. He grinned ear to ear as he celebrated with his teammates, and made a rather entertaining speech. With a beaming crowd on hand the young ace said, "I want to start by saying that I am not as funny as my seniors. (laughter) Next week is my 19th birthday. (cheers) Winning this title was a great way to celebrate my 18th birthday. (laughter as Saito realized his mistake) Waseda will continue to win! (cheers)"

The speech was full of grammatical mistakes, as the spotlight clearly shone too brightly on the young man. He took it in stride and laughed along with the appreciative crowd at the rally. It was a brilliant moment for the teenager with the world at his fingertips. I look forward to seeing what he does for an encore in the next stage of competition, soon to come.

3. Saito pitched in 6 of Waseda's 11 contests in the Spring, starting four and closing two. Saving his worst outing for last, Yuki Saito pitched to a 0.42 ERA before giving up 4 runs in the penultimate win of the season. His final ERA was 1.65 with 25 strikeouts in 27.1 innings pitched. Click below for Saito's complete game log with ratios: