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Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010

SPORTS SCOPE

Pair of veteran hurlers still have something left to give


A pair of veteran pitchers briefly turned back the clock.

Jason Coskrey

Seibu Lions hurler Fumiya Nishiguchi said it was, "old guy power." Chunichi Dragons pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto simply didn't know what to say.

Call it what you want, but in an era where seasoned veterans ring in at about 24 years old (the age of sixth-year Lions ace Hideaki Wakui), the two old guys in the room scored one for the senior circuit last week.

The 37-year-old Nishiguchi kept the Lions in the race for the Pacific League pennant with six shutout innings against the Orix Buffaloes Thursday. Yamamoto did him one better the next night, tossing a six-hit shutout against the Yomiuri Giants, becoming the oldest NPB pitcher to throw a shutout at 45. The two are a throwback to a different era, when major league baseball wasn't yet believed to be an option and the cream of the crop plied their trade in Japan.

They're proof that in baseball, the line between aging and old is a fine one. Old pitchers don't have anything left. Aging hurlers have something left in the tank and can be still be productive at times.

Seibu's Kimiyasu Kudo is old. At 47, he's still attempting to hold on to the trappings of his youth. An exercise more futile with each passing summer.

Yamamoto is nearing that point and Nishiguchi's effectiveness is waning.

The difference is, they've still got a little left to give.

Nishiguchi has come on strong recently, going 2-0 with a 0.52 ERA in his last three starts. Yamamoto returned from injury to make his season debut on Aug. 7 and is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in five starts.

News photo
Still going: Fumiya Nishiguchi sent Seibu back into first place with a win on Thursday. KYODO PHOTO

Neither should have any aspirations of breathing new life into fading careers, but last week showed they can still get it done sometimes.

Which could be big when the playoffs roll around.

Nishiguchi is a Sawamura Award winner (1997) in his 16th season in the NPB. He'll be 38 on Sept. 26 and has pitched in 383 games. His 166 wins are the 41st most all time in Japanese baseball and third most among active pitchers.

Yamamoto has played nearly a decade longer, currently in his 27th season with 544 appearances.

He's won 209 games (and is the oldest to do so), tied for 19th all time in Japanese baseball, leaving him trailing only Kudo (224) among active players.

He's also one of only 24 pitchers to reach 200 wins, and don't expect that club to let anyone else in anytime soon.

Among active players, Nishiguchi is closest to 200, with Yokohama BayStars pitcher Daisuke Miura 26 more behind him.

At this point in their careers, Nishiguchi and Yamamoto are running on fumes.

The game belongs to the young hurlers now.

The new generation led by Yu Darvish, Wakui, Kenta Maeda and others has relegated the group before them to the shadows.

But as Nishiguchi and Yamamoto showed last week, a few members of the older generation still have enough left for a few final, fleeting moments in the sun.



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