Monday, November 29, 2021

Daisuke Yamai

With the 2021 Nippon Series in the books it's time to get serious about doing posts about players who've announced their retirements.  I've got a list of about 15 or so players so far and it wouldn't surprise me if the list gets larger either because someone new announces they're retiring or someone already announced it but I haven't heard about it.  I thought I'd start off this round with long time Dragons pitcher Daisuke Yamai.

Daisuke Yamai spent a couple years playing for Kawai Musical Instruments in the corporate leagues after graduating from Nara Sangyo University and therefore was already 23 years old when the Dragons took him in the sixth round of the 2001 draft.  He kicked around between the ichi- and ni-gun squads for a couple of seasons due in part to injuries.  A shoulder injury sidelined him the entire 2006 season.  He got his big break in 2007 when manager Hiromitsu Ochiai had him replace Masahiro Yamamoto in the starting rotation mid-season - he went 6-4 the rest of the season and really poured it on in September, going 4-1 with an ERA of 3.00 to help the Dragons secure a second place finish and a spot in the first ever Central League playoffs.  He was named Player Of The Month for that September run.  

What happened next is Yamai's biggest claim to fame.  The Dragons swept both the Tigers in the First Stage of the Climax Series and the Giants in the Final Stage to meet the Fighters in the Nippon Series for the second straight year.  Yamai didn't pitch at all in the Climax Series or in the first four games of the Series.  With the Dragons up three games to one, Ochiai named him as the starter for Game Five in Nagoya.  All Yamai did was pitch eight perfect inning to get the Dragons three outs away from their first Nippon Series title in 53 years.  Unfortunately the Dragons had only managed to score one run during the game against Yu Darvish so Ochiai ultimately decided to have closer Hitoki Iwase pitch the ninth.  Iwase got the three outs needed to complete the perfect game and win the Series for the Dragons.  

If this were a movie, the shared perfect game would have been the start of a brilliant pitching career but unfortunately this wasn't a movie.  Yamai continued to be plagued by injuries over the remainder of his career.  When healthy he was capable of pitching well.  He got a no-hitter of his own in 2013 against the Baystars (who admittedly were dreadful but nobody else no-hit them that year).  His best season was undoubtedly 2014 when he went 13-5 with a 3.27 ERA, leading the Central League in wins and making the All Star team for the only time in his career.  In addition to 2007, he also appeared in the 2004, 2010 and 2011 Nippon Series with the Dragons.

His first baseball card was #148 from the 2002 BBM 1st Version set.  His first Calbee card wasn't until 2005 (#N-4 from the Nippon Series subset in Series One and regular card #120 in Series Two).  His inability to stick with the top team caused him to not have a lot of baseball cards - by my count he only appeared in 13 of the 40 BBM flagship sets (1st or 2nd Version sets) over the past 20 years and one of those was on a team checklist card rather than a "regular" player card.  Similarly it looks like he only had four(!) "regular" Calbee player cards over the years although he appears on another six subset cards (the afore mentioned "Nippon Series" card, a couple checklists, a "Title Holder" card, a "Star" card and a "Wins Leader" card).  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2002 BBM 1st Version #148

2005 Dragons "Official Card"

2007 BBM Nippon Series #S08

2010 BBM 2nd Version #791

2011 BBM Dragons #D18

2014 BBM 1st Version #249

2015 Calbee #070

2018 BBM Fusion #025

2021 BBM Dragons #D15

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