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Masahiro Yamamoto

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Masahiro Yamamoto (山本 昌)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Masahiro Yamamoto was selected by the Chunichi Dragons in the 5th round of the 1983 NPB draft after a high school career which included a no-hitter. He spent several years developing in the minors, allowing five runs and five walks in 2 1/3 innings with the Dragons in 1986-1987. In 1988, Masahiro developed into a prospect with a fine year for the Vero Beach Dodgers, where he learned to throw the screwball from Ike Oihara. He went 13-7 with a 2.00 ERA, second-best in the Florida State League behind Kevin Brown. Yamamoto made the FSL All-Star team. The Montreal Expos attempted to acquire him, but he decided to stick with the Dragons instead. With Chunichi that year, he had a 0.55 ERA, going 5-0 and allowing just 28 hits in 48 2/3 innings. Overall, he had won 18 games that season. In the 1988 Japan Series, though, he dropped game three to the Seibu Lions.

Masahiro spent the next few years as a competent member of the Chunichi staff. In 1989 he had a season of 9-9, 2.93, making the Central League All-Star team and finishing 9th in the CL in ERA. In 1990, Yamamoto was 10-7, 3.55, then followed up with a 6-8, 3.63 season. 1992 saw him make a second All-Star team as part of a 13-10, 3.43 season.

Yamamoto took his game to a new level in 1993 with a 17-5, 2.05 year. He led the Central League in ERA, wins and shutouts (5) while making another All-Star team. He was left off the Best Nine and lost the Sawamura Award to Shinji Imanaka. In '94, Masahiro went 19-8 with a 3.49 ERA and made his third straight All-Star team. He led the league in wins, innings (214), complete games (14, tied with Imanaka) and hits allowed (203). Despite not ranking in the top 10 in ERA, he was named to the CL's Best Nine and won his only Sawamura Award.

The Chunichi ace struggled in 1995 with a 2-5, 4.82 season in just 12 games. He recovered a bit in 1996 (7-9, 3.67) though he threw a record three wild pitches one game. Then, in 1997, he was back in top form with an 18-7, 2.92 campaign. He was second to Yutaka Ono (2.85) in ERA and won the other two legs of the pitching Triple Crown, striking out 159. He led again in innings (206 2/3) and hits (174) and made his second Best Nine. He made his fifth All-Star team and reached 100 career wins and 1,000 strikeouts. It was the third and last season he led the league in wins and the first of at least four Opening Day starts.

In 1998, Yamamoto slipped to 9-9, 3.63, then bounced back a season later to 8-5, 2.96 and third in the CL in ERA behind Koji Uehara and teammate Shigeki Noguchi. Returning to the Japan Series 11 years after his first appearance, he again lost a game three, this time to the Daiei Hawks. In 2000, Masahiro posted a 11-9, 2.61 season. He barely lost the ERA title to Kazuhisa Ishii (2.606). The 2001 record for the lefty was 10-13, 3.63. The next season, turning age 37, the veteran southpaw had a 7-6, 3.96 year. He was 9-7, 3.58 for the Dragons in 2003, 20 years after the club had initially selected him.

2004 had Yamamoto again one of the top pitchers in the Central League. His 3.15 ERA was second only to Uehara, while his 13-6 ledger put him in a tie for third in wins. He made his sixth All-Star team that year. In the Series for the third time in his career, he had a chance to put away Seibu, but Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka outdueled him in game six. With a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning, he allowed a double to Alex Cabrera and a homer to Kazuhiro Wada to lose the game and fall to 0-3 in the Series.

In 2005, turning 40 during the year, the left-hander fell to 7-8, 4.89. He has begun 2006 2-4, 2.58. Overall, Yamamoto is 182-135 with four saves in his NPB career with an ERA of 3.35. Entering 2006, he was 23rd in NPB history in strikeouts (1,899) and just shy of the top 30 in wins. He was the first 7-time Central League pitcher of the month, a mark equalled in 2006 by Kenshin Kawakami. On September 9, he reached 2,000 career strikeouts, becoming the 18th and oldest pitcher to reach that level in NPB history; Takahiro Arai was #2,000. Exactly a week later, he became the oldest pitcher in NPB history to throw a no-hitter when he blanked the Hanshin Tigers. He almost had a perfect game but an error by Masahiko Morino ruined his chances.

After a 2-5 start in 2007, the veteran was sent down to ni-gun. He went just 2-10 with a 5.07 ERA on the season and led the Dragons in losses. He did not appear in the 2007 Japan Series as his longtime team won its first title in over 50 years.

Yamamoto had a complete game 5-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants a week before his 43rd birthday for his 200th career win, joining the meikyukai. He was the 24th pitcher to reach 200 wins in NPB. He was the oldest hurler to get to 200 wins. On August 24, the lefty won his 7th in a row, beating Yomiuri 9-1. It was his 10th win of the year, breaking Kimiyasu Kudoh's record as the oldest pitcher in NPB with double digit wins. He finished 2008 with a 11-7, 3.16 record, walking 26 in 133 2/3 IP. He tied Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi and Tetsuya Yamaguchi for 7th in the CL in wins and tied for 6th in shutouts.

Yamamoto was 1-4 with a 10.67 ERA and .366 opponent average in a rocky 2009. He rebounded to go 5-1 with a 3.21 ERA in eight outings in 2010. He got the start in game four of the 2010 Japan Series, with Chunichi down 2 games to 1 against the Chiba Lotte Marines. His mound opponent, Yuki Karakawa, was not even born at the time Yamamoto first played in a Japan Series (back in 1988). After two shutout innings, he allowed 3 runs in the third (two on a homer by Tadahito Iguchi) and was yanked. Chunichi rallied to win, though they lost the Series in 7 games.

Yamamoto missed all of 2011 with a right ankle injury. He returned in 2012. On April 15, he won a start at age 46 years, 8 months and 4 days, a new NPB record, exactly four days older than Shinji Hamazaki when he set the mark 54 years earlier. He did in style, with 8 shutout innings against the Hanshin Tigers. Oddly, only two days later, Jamie Moyer set the MLB record for oldest pitcher to win a game, breaking an even longer-standing mark. He finished the year 3-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 starts, with an ERA slightly below league average despite his age.

In 2013, the lefty was 5-2 with a 4.46 ERA. He saw little action in 2014 but set several records on September 5; at age 49 years and 25 days, he became the oldest man to pitch a game in NPB, to start a game, to win a game and to strike out a batter. He again broke longevity records set by Hamazaki, who had last won at age 48 years and 4 months and had last started and struck out a batter at age 48 years and 10 months. He pitched five shutout innings against the Hanshin Tigers in that record-setting game (5 H, 1 BB, 2 K) before being pinch-hit for by Takeru Furumoto (who had been born after Yamamoto had already won 24 games in NPB). Daisuke Sobue (born after Yamamoto had made his debut) replaced him on the mound. He made one more appearance at age 50 in 2015 (1 R in 1 1/3 IP). He was 219-165 with five saves and a 3.45 ERA in 581 NPB games (514 starts).

He made the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in the 2022 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame Election alongside Shingo Takatsu and Shigeyoshi Matsumae.

Yamamoto's official website

Primary source: Gary Garland's