Hanshin Tigers right-hander Shoki Murakami, 25, started against the Yomiuri Giants on April 12 and pitched a perfect game until the bottom of the seventh inning. He hadn’t allowed a single batter to reach base and struck out five. But in the top of the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead, manager Akinobu Okada pulled Murakami for a pinch-hitter. He had only thrown 84 pitches, a controversial move for a pitcher who was pitching a perfect game. A reliever gave up the tying run in the eighth inning, costing him his first professional victory, but it was a seven-inning perfect game that put Murakami’s name on the map.
He graduated from Toyo University and was drafted with the 5th overall pick in the 2021 draft. In his second year with the team, he went 1-0 with a 16.88 ERA in two starts last year.
A pitcher who didn’t win a game in the previous two seasons has turned into an ace this season. Murakami earned his first professional win on April 22 with a nine-inning shutout against the Chunichi Dragons. In 22 appearances this season, he has a 10-6 record and a 1.75 ERA, ranking first in the Central League in ERA and fifth in wins. After pitching 5⅓ innings last year, he has pitched 144⅓ innings this year.
Murakami was ready for fall baseball after a five-inning, 64-pitch outing against Junichi on Sept. 25. It was an extended break considering the number of innings he pitched in his rookie season. As the coaching staff intended, Murakami came out well-rested and won his first fall game.
Game 1 of the Central League Climax Series Final Stage at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, on Oct. 18. He pitched a three-hit, one-run shutout against the Hiroshima Capps until the sixth inning. The starter hit the game-winning double in his at-bat. His two-hit performance clinched the win.
Tied 0-0 in the top of the fourth inning, Hiroshima struck first. Leadoff hitter Kaito Gozono hit a triple to right field off Murakami. A sacrifice bunt later scored a run.
Hanshin answered right back. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, No. 3 Morishita Shota hit a tying home run. 1-1.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hanshin’s bottom of the order came alive.안전놀이터
One out later, #7 Seishiro Sakamoto walked. No. 8 Kinami Seiya singled to right. With runners on first and third, No. 9 Murakami doubled to right field. Hiroshima right-hander Guri Aren fouled off a fastball changeup. It was the game-winning hit in a 4-1 victory.
Murakami said, “I was nervous from the time I arrived at the ballpark. I was glad I pitched the first game with a lot of pressure. (In the bottom of the fifth inning, with runners on first and third,) I thought I shouldn’t try to get a hit because there were good hitters behind me, but I’m glad I didn’t get a hit.” Murakami struck out swinging in his first at-bat earlier in the inning.
With runners on first and third, No. 1 Koji Chikamoto hit a two-run double to center field. The momentum quickly shifted to Hanshin.
Murakami is the first Hanshin pitcher to get a hit in a postseason game. Since the introduction of the Climax Series in the Central League, the team that wins Game 1 of the Final Stage has advanced to the Japan Series 95.2% of the time. The league leader begins the Final Stage with a one-game advantage.