In a remarkable display of intestinal fortitude, two young Japanese high school pitchers hurled scoreless ball against each other for 49 innings and four days before one team finally scored in the 50th inning to win a semifinal game of Japan’s National High School Rubber Baseball Tournament. The winner, Taiga Matsui of Chukyo High School, threw 709 pitches, while his opponent, Jukiya Ishioka, threw 689. They dueled from August 28 to August 31.
Playing with a rubber ball is called Nanshiki baseball in Japan. Because the ball is not a hardball or softball, the ball doesn’t get the same distance off the bat, which leaves more balls in play. In the fifty innings played, there were 48 hits.
The teams played 15 scoreless innings each day on August 28th, 29th, and 30th. Matsui and Ishioka threw 1,252 pitches to 225 batters between them. As the two pitchers left the field they had this exchange: “See you next time” and “Yup, see you then.”
On Sunday, August 31, the two teams had one more chance; if they ended in a scoreless tie after 54 innings the winner would be decided in a drawing. The longest previous game in Nanshiki baseball had been 45 innings.
Matsui was already getting therapy for his aching back, and told his teammates that if Chukyo won the game they should pick up the coach rather than Matsui because the pain would be too great, bringing his coach to tears. The teams played four scoreless innings before they entered the top of the 50th. Ishioka, also in pain, remained stoic, saying, “It’s really hard, but I’m having fun.” He was also carrying the burden of rallying the citizens of the prefecture where he lived, who were traumatized by recent landslides.
In the top of the 50th inning, Chukyo loaded the bases with no outs. A double followed, scoring two runners, which was followed by an infield out, scoring another run. Matsui pitched a scoreless bottom of the 50th, and the game ended.
Matsui said after the game, “This game was the physically hardest ever for me. But I showed my spirit. As my teammates scored three runs (in the 50th inning), I was able to throw in a relaxed manner in the bottom of the inning. Ishioka was a good rival for me.”
Ishioka acknowledged, it was “a good experience for me to pitch until the last. I had fatigue not only today [Aug. 31] but also yesterday and the day before yesterday. But I asked our coach to use me as a starter today.”
Matsui wasn’t done; he had to play the same day in the final against Miura Gakuen from Kanagawa. Chukyo won the final game 2-0, as they scored in the sixth and seventh innings, mercifully winning the game in the regulation nine innings.