As Japan’s No. 3 starter wins his team’s pool play
opener, Chiba City may have discovered its diamond in
Manager Hirofumi Oda doesn’t consider any one of his
players to be Chiba City Little League’s ace.
In a 3-1 victory over the Arabian American Little League
from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Saturday at Howard J. Lamade
Stadium, 12-year-old righthander Takuya Sakamoto’s
complete game shutout was just saiko.
In other words, “Lights out,” as teammates Tatsuhito
Otsuji and Yusuke Taira said through interpreter Bill
Lundy. “Incredible, the way [Sakamoto] pitched today.”
“‘Saiko’ was their word,” added Lundy.
In front of 12,250 spectators, Sakamoto’s commanding
performance will live as one of the best in 2005. In
addition to his two-hit shutout, the pitcher – who got
the nod despite being the team’s No. 3 starter – went
2-for-3 with a run scored.
Sakamoto was not the only pitcher who tossed a complete
game at Lamade Stadium today, though. Opposing starter
Alex Robinett pitched six complete innings for Saudi
Arabia, fanning six and allowing three earned runs on
“Alex is our No. 1 pitcher,” said Saudi manager Tommy
Bumstead. “We’ve been pumping him all year to go out and
try to beat Asia.”
Robinett, who showed his roots as an American citizen
when he featured Nomar Garciaparra’s trademark bat rock
at the plate, opened the international matchup with two
quick strikeouts before forcing catcher Kisho Watanabe
to ground out to second.
It was six up and six down through the first, as
Sakamoto started his nearly flawless outing by getting
the first three Saudi batters to ground out, fly out and
strike out, respectively.
“From a hitting standpoint we were a little bit tight
the first time through [the order],” said Bumstead.
In the second, right fielder Yuki Mizuma got Japan
rolling with a dribbler back to the mound. The right
fielder showcased the speed of the Japanese team by
beating out Robinett’s throw to first.
Two batters later, first baseman Tomokazu Kaise hit a
single that looped over the head of Saudi Arabia’s
five-foot second baseman before falling into shallow
With two on and only one out, Robinett found his second
out of the inning in Yuto Kata’s fielder’s choice
grounder that forced an out at second. With runners on
the corners, Robinett got himself out of trouble by
striking Shuhei Iwata out looking and leaving two
Sakamoto continued his dominance in the bottom of the
second, retiring three straight and extending his no-hit
bid to two innings.
In the top of the third, the pitcher took a turn
dominating the other end of a pitch. Sakamoto registered
the first hit of his pair with a hard-hopping double
down the third base line that bounced over third baseman
Nate Barnett’s glove and rocketed into the left field
A hit by shortstop Taira sent Sakamoto home for Japan’s
first run of the game. Taira would reach third on left
fielder George Luo’s error.
From there, the flood gates opened.
A bunt from pinch hitter Ryo Misawa placed runners at
the corners with no outs. Misawa advanced to second
after a wild pitch got past catcher Connor Clark.
Watanabe’s sacrifice grounder to short scored Taira,
making it 2-0 in favor of the Asia All-Stars.
After getting right fielder Mizuma to hit a groundball
to short for the inning’s second out, Robinett found
himself facing five-foot-two pinch hitter Otsuji.
Otsuji gave Japan a three-run lead, hitting a looper
into right field to score Misawa from third. Robinett’s
second wild pitch of the inning – a fastball in the dirt
– allowed Otsuji to take second base. Saudi Arabia got
out of the inning when Robinett got the next batter,
pinch hitter Kosuke Suzuki, to fly out to center.
the damage was done. Japan was ahead 3-0, and that was
all Sakamoto would need.
“Without that inning … and without that error, [the
game] possibly would have been much closer,” said
Japan’s skipper through Lundy.
“You never want to give a team additional outs in an
inning,” said Bumstead. “But nobody’s perfect,
especially 11- and 12-year-olds.”
But Sakamoto was remarkably close.
The Saudi mites got their first baserunner in the bottom
of the third, when first baseman Alec Dahlseide drew
Sakamoto’s only walk of the game. Dahlseide took second
after a passed ball got by Watanabe.
But that didn’t faze Japan’s hurler. He simply went and
got left fielder Luo and shortstop Matt Timoney to fly
out to deep left and right field, respectively.
Robinett came out again in the top of the fourth and
after two quick outs found himself in trouble again when
a Sakamoto single bounced through the gap between first
and second into right field, despite a great effort from
second baseman Kyle Al-Sughaiyer to block it.
The next pitch hit Taira, putting a runner on first and
another in scoring position. But Robinett showed his own
sparkle and struck out center fielder Kazuki Matsuo to
get out of the inning unscathed.
In the bottom of the fourth, a great throw by Taira just
beat the speedy Ryan Bumstead to first base. The
following strikeout of Robinett preserved Sakamoto’s
no-hit bid through 4 2/3.
But the stud hurler finally showed that he wasn’t, in
Al-Sughaiyer’s line drive down the base line knocked
Chiba City’s third baseman Iwata over and jetted into
left field for the first Saudi Arabia hit of the game.
The next batter, right fielder DeRon Horton, registered
hit No. 2 with another single into left field.
Sakamoto put a damper on Saudi’s run and struck out
Clark to retire the side with two left on base.
“Asia as a team is always well-coached and
well-disciplined,” said Bumstead. “We most likely played
the toughest team in our bracket.”
But Robinett did not let up. After getting the first out
of the fifth at first, Robinett faced Mizuma – who hit a
long foul ball before being hit by a Robinett pitch.
Then the Saudi Arabian defense kicked in, getting
Robinett out of trouble and out of the inning by turning
a 1-6-3 double play on Fumiki Sakuyama’s dribbler back
to the mound.
Sakamoto continued to command the game with a three-up,
three-down fifth inning.
After Barnett’s long foul ball into the left field
grandstands, Sakamoto got both the leadoff man and pitch
hitter Paul Kelsch to strike out.
But no matter how dominant and composed a pitcher is,
facing someone like Aaron Durley has to be just a little
unsettling. And though no pitcher looks down on any
batter here at the Series, there’s no looking down at
this six-foot-five, 226-pound 12-year-old, well, ever.
Sakamoto hardly noticed.
“Obviously, I have never encountered such a large hitter
before,” said Sakamoto through Lundy. “I was just
thinking, ‘What could I throw to him so he could only
get a single?’”
The pitching stud (who at five-foot-four stands 13
inches below his opponent) struck Durley out swinging.
When asked what he thought about stricking out Saudi’s
big man, Sakamoto said it was “nothing special.”
Robinett graced the mound once more in the sixth. After
a fielding error at third base put Kaise on first,
Robinett got his first out at second into a 6-4
The pitcher, whose pitch count was in the mid-70s, threw
his third wild pitch to put Kaise in scoring position
with one out and Sakamoto at the plate. After a slight
bobble by the second baseman, the throw just beat
Sakamoto’s grounder to finish out the inning.
Down 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, it was now or never
for the underdogs from the Transatlantic.
Timoney’s swing to lead off the bottom of the sixth sent
left fielder Sakuyama back to the warning track before
he pocketed the shortstop’s deep pop up. After Bumstead
struck out for the second out, it all came down to one
of the greatest battles in the game. A pitcher’s duel.
With Robinett at the plate, two down and a three-run
comfort zone, it was the perfect ending to a stellar
performance by the 12-year-old hurler from Japan. Though
Robinett battled hard, Sakamoto struck the pitcher out
to complete his two-hit shutout and lead Japan to a 1-0
start in pool play.
“I thought I did great,” said Sakamoto. “I was happy
with my control and my curveball was on.”
His skipper agreed. “He had a lot of control,” Oda said.
“He was pitching an excellent curveball and I was very
happy with it today.”
But Saudi Arabia doesn’t consider themselves down and
out with two games remaining in pool play.
“I think today proves that we can play with any team in
the world,” Bumstead said.
But no matter how you cut it, Saiko Sakamoto couldn’t
have been hotter. The Chiba City Little Leaguers may not
sport one team ace, but they certainly have a diamond in
© 2005, Little League Baseball
Please direct comments about this website to