Yuki Saito (also transliterated as Yuuki Saitou) (The Handkerchief Prince)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 168 lb.
Yuki Saito (斎藤 佑樹, Saitou Yuuki) was the star pitcher for Sadaharu Oh's high school alma mater in 2006, helping the team win the Summer Koshien tournament by throwing 6 complete games, totaling 69 innings, 262 of 264 total batters and 948 pitches, including a two-day championship (the first in 37 years) which ended in a 1-1 tie after 15 innings the first day and winning 4-3 the next. Instead of opting for the NPB draft, he decided instead to go to college. He followed by leading his team to a victory in the Kokutai High School Baseball Tournamen, beating Masahiro Tanaka 1-0 in the finale.
He is also well known now for his blue hankerchief which he used whenever he was in a tight situation. In symbolism for his efforts in the Koshien tournament, all players of the Japan High School National Team were seen with one at their first practice, including his rival in the championship game, Masahiro Tanaka, of Komadai Tomakomai.
Unrelated, the same year, another pitcher with an identical name made his debut in NPB.
Saito got the Opening Day start for Waseda University in the spring of 2007, the first freshman to get the call in the first game of the college season since Hajime Takahashi in 1930. He won his first two appearances, becoming the first freshman in the 83-year history of the Tokyo Big Six University League to do so. In his second game, he also drove in two and had two hits. 28,000 fans showed up, the first crowd of 20,000+ for a league game in 17 years. He won the spring title game in the Tokyo Big Six University League that year, topping Keio University. Saito became the first freshman pitcher picked to the Best Nine in the Tokyo Big Six University League's spring season. On June 18, he pitched Waseda to its first All-Japan University Baseball Championship in 33 years in a 4-1 victory over Tokai University. He is the first freshman to win the MVP award in the tournament. In a tour of the US that July, the Japanese team won 3 games to 2, their first series victory in 19 trips. Saito picked up a 2-1 victory in game three, allowing one run in six innings. He took the loss in the series finale after allowing 5 unearned runs in 2/3 innings of relief. It was his first loss of the year.
Saito's first collegiate loss would take place in the autumn session, going 6 innings, losing 2-1 to Hosei on September 23, 2007. However he would continue to add to his already legendary status as he pitched again versus Hosei on one day's rest, pitching a complete game, 137 pitch, 5-hitter. He finished the fall season with a 15-strikeout, 4-hit shutout of Keio University in the Tokyo Big Six University League title game. The 15 Ks were a record in the long rivalry between Keio and Waseda. He had a 0.78 ERA for the fall season and four wins, leading in both categories.
In the 2008 World University Championship, Saito went 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA for the Silver Medal-winning Japanese squad. In 19 innings, he struck out 18 and allowed 12 hits. He was second to teammate Shinji Iwata in innings pitched and was second to Stephen Strasburg in strikeouts. He had a big win over South Korea in the semifinals, going the distance and allowing only one run.
In November 2009, Saito became the 100th team captain in Waseda school history. In November 2010, four teams picked Saito in the first round of the 2010 NPB draft, with the Nippon Ham Fighters winning bargaining rights; he was not the most popular college pitcher as Tatsuya Oishi was selected by six of the twelve teams.
With an overhand delivery Saito throws a fastball which tops out at 93 mph, slider, cutter, and a changeup.