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Rob Smaal

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Veteran fills role at age 45

by Rob Smaal (Nov 4, 2010)

At the age of 45, most men in the baseball business are usually working the fungo, coaching the bases, instructing in the minor leagues.

Not left-hander Masahiro Yamamoto, however. The Chunichi Dragons starting pitcher is still toeing the rubber for Hiromitsu Ochiai's club, and he's still getting the job done as well--most of the time, at least.

The 27-year veteran with the herky-jerky motion got the start in Wednesday's Game 4 for the Dragons, allowing three runs on four hits through three innings. That start made the 45-year-old veteran the oldest man ever to play in a Japan Series game.

Last month, in a CLCS Stage 2 start against the Yomiuri Giants, Yamamoto had already become the oldest player to participate in the postseason. Back in September, Yamamoto became the oldest man to toss a shutout in Japanese baseball when he blanked the Giants 3-0 at Nagoya Dome. It was the 67th shutout of his lengthy career, which has seen him pitch in 547 regular-season games, all with Chunichi.

Yamamoto's 23-consecutive-season streak with at least one win is a Central League record.

By contrast, the opposing pitcher Wednesday, Marines 21-year-old right-hander Yuki Karakawa, was not even born until Yamamoto was into his sixth season of professional baseball.

This year, Yamamoto, whose fastball tops out just below 140-kph, posted a 5-1 record in eight starts with a respectable 3.21 ERA. This came on the heels of a poor 2009 season in which he went 1-4 in six starts with an inflated 10.67 ERA, a period that saw him battling through shoulder, leg and back injuries. Of his 210 career wins, just six have come over the last two seasons.

Despite all his years in the game, coming into Wednesday's game Yamamoto was winless in his five previous career Japan Series starts, going 0-4. After Wednesday's no-decision, you can make that winless in six.

And, in case you were wondering, Yamamoto is not the oldest player in NPB. He's not even the oldest pitcher, for that matter. That honor belongs to fellow-rubber armed lefty Kimiyasu Kudo, a 47-year-old who recently completed his 29th season in NPB with the Seibu Lions and is in the process of looking for a free-agent deal for next season.


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