For Atsuki Yuasa, all it took was one pitch to spur Tigers’ win

Hanshin Tigers fans had not seen star reliever Atsuki Yuasa in over four months before his return created a stirring scene during Game 4 of the Japan Series.

Yuasa received an immense hero’s welcome from the Tigers fans who made up most of the sellout crowd of 41,050 in attendance at Koshien Stadium on Wednesday night. There was no time, however, to soak in the atmosphere.

The Orix Buffaloes had runners on the corners with two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game. Tigers manager Akinobu Okada was not easing Yuasa back into action — he was throwing him into the deep end.

The 24-year-old got the job done on one pitch, a fastball Keita Nakagawa harmlessly popped up. Yuasa’s brief but impactful return took on even more significance in the bottom of the ninth when Yusuke Oyama hit a sayonara single to left to give the Tigers a 4-3 win.

“The tide changed when Yuasa came in,” Oyama said after the game. “I think those cheers led to this win.”

Kyodo

Yuasa recorded a one-pitch hold that will go down in Hanshin lore if the Tigers win the series — which was tied 2-2 after Game 4 — and capture their first title since 1985.

It is not a stretch to say the roars that erupted around the stadium when Yuasa’s name was announced reinvigorated the Tigers and their fans.

“You can only get this kind of feeling at Koshien,” Yuasa said, according to Sports Nippon. “I pitched with the support the fans gave me. I did not have enough strength during the season, but I prepared in hopes I could help in the Japan Series.”

The Tigers had clung to a tenuous lead for most of the night before the Buffaloes finally broke through on a game-tying two-run single by Yuma Mune in the seventh. Orix then had the Koshien faithful on pins and needles in the eighth with runners on first and second with one out.

The Tigers tagged out Kotaro Kurebayashi at home plate on a grounder to third by Ryoichi Adachi to set the scene for Yuasa, who rode the bullpen car onto the field as the fans, many who may have been surprised to see him, cheered in approval.

Tigers outfielder Koji Chikamoto races home to score the winning run in Hanshin's Game 4 win on Wednesday at Koshien Stadium.

Tigers outfielder Koji Chikamoto races home to score the winning run in Hanshin’s Game 4 win on Wednesday at Koshien Stadium.
| Kyodo

The last time Yuasa pitched for Hanshin was June 15 — also against the Buffaloes at Koshien. That was his final regular-season appearance in a year that went awry.

Yuasa quickly shot to stardom with the team in 2022, when he finished second in the voting for the Central League Rookie of the Year award.

He played for Japan during the World Baseball Classic in the spring and made three appearances in the team’s run to the title.

The Tigers made Yuasa their closer this season, and he earned five saves in seven scoreless appearances to start the year before being deactivated due to fatigue and right forearm strain in April. He returned on May 26 and had three outings before his season fell apart.

Yuasa blew a save against the Chiba Lotte Marines on June 3 after allowing three runs — two earned — in the ninth inning. He allowed three runs in the ninth against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on June 8, picking up a blown save and a loss. He blew another save and took another loss against the Buffaloes on June 15 when he allowed ninth-inning solo home runs against Yuma Tongu and Yutaro Sugimoto.

He was deactivated the next day and sent to the farm team to make adjustments. Altogether he had a 4.40 ERA in 14⅓ innings with the top team in 2023.

Yuasa spent the remainder of the year on the farm and also pitched in the Phoenix League, NPB’s fall league in Miyazaki.

“He hasn’t pitched in a top-team game since June,” Okada said. “He just got back from Miyazaki two days ago, so he had to jump right in. I had to use him in that spot. I thought the mood would change when he came out and the fans started cheering. So I decided to go with him.”

The veteran manager’s hunch paid off as the Tigers got out of the eighth with the tie before winning in the ninth.

Yuasa played the role of hero perfectly in Game 4. Even though he only threw one pitch, it could have a lasting impact on the series now that he is back in the fold.

“I thought if we all worked together and kept them off the scoreboard, then good things would happen,” Yuasa told reporters. “So I pitched with the intention of holding them down no matter what. I gave it my all.”

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