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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Shota Imanaga Off to a Great Start in MLB Career

Cubs lefty Shota Imanaga is the first MLB pitcher since Dave Feriss in 1945 to have a 4-0 record and an ERA below 1.00 in the first five starts of his career.

Shota Imanaga has made five starts in his debut season as an MLB pitcher, and he's yet to be charged with a loss.

In his fifth start of the 2024 Major League Baseball season, the Chicago Cubs left-hander allowed five hits in 6⅓ innings against the Boston Red Sox on Friday, April 26. It was his longest outing of the year.

Imanaga struck out seven and walked one batter. He allowed only one run, a Tyler O'Neill solo homer to center in the fourth inning.

The Cubs defeated the Red Sox 7-1, winning their fourth in a row, and Imanaga improved to 4-0. He has a sparkling 0.98 ERA.

According to MLB.com, Imanaga is the first MLB pitcher since Dave Feriss of the Red Sox in 1945 to have a 4-0 record and an ERA below 1.00 in the first five starts of his career.

Pinpoint control has been a major component of Imanaga's success with the Cubs. In 27⅔  innings, the former Yokohama DeNA BayStars pitcher has 28 strikeouts. He's walked three batters.

Shota Imanaga
Shota Imanaga (KYODO)

Shota Imanaga is Building Rapport with His Teammates

Through Friday, the Cubs (17-9) sat in second place in the National League Central, trailing only the Milwaukee Brewers (17-8). Imanaga has been integral to the team's success.

For Imanaga, who signed a four-year deal with the Cubs in January, developing trust with teammates is an important factor in his success to date.

Just ask him.

"It's a lot harder to build trust than to break it," Imanaga said through his interpreter, according to MLB.com. "The fact that my teammates are trusting me and I've been able to build that up, I'm really glad."

Indeed, Imanaga should also be pleased that right now he's a likely candidate for the National League All-Star team in July.

Cubs manager Craig Counsell shared insights with reporters about Imanaga's personality and knowledge-driven focus before Friday's game.

"One of Shota's best traits is that he's very curious. He's very open," Counsell was quoted as saying by MLB.com.

The manager added, "He takes in information very well. I think he watches very well. And that leads to someone who's very good at making adjustments."

Shota Imanaga
Shota Imanaga pitches to a Boston Red Sox batter on April 26. (KYODO)

The Foundation of Imanaga's Pitching Repertoire

In holding the Red Sox to one run on Friday, Imanaga relied primarily on two pitches, a four-seam fastball and a splitter. His overall command of his pitches was impressive.

"I did have one walk, but I was able to attack the [strike] zone," he said through his interpreter, according to The Associated Press.

Imanaga demonstrated poise on the mound, too. With runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the sixth and the Cubs leading 4-1, he struck out Pablo Reyes to end Boston's scoring threat.

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Ski jumper Yukio Kasaya competes in the men's normal hill event at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. (KYODO)

Ski Jumping

1972 Olympic Champion Kasaya Dies at 80

Four-time Olympian Yukio Kasaya, who led Japan to a 1-2-3 finish in the men's normal hill competition at the 1972 Sapporo Games, passed away on Tuesday, April 23 in Sapporo. He was 80.

Kasaya had heart disease, according to published reports.

During the Sapporo Olympics, Kasaya and compatriots Akitsugu Konno and bronze medalist Seiji Aochi, who placed second and third, respectively, in the normal hill event, thrilled the host nation's fans.

Decades later, FIS (International Ski and Snowboard Federation) race director Sandro Pertile put Kasaya's career in context while mourning his passing.

"This is sad and a great loss for the ski jumping family. Yukio Kasaya has been one of the legendary Olympic champions in our discipline," Pertile said. "The historical victory on home soil [in] 1972 was a milestone in the Japanese ski jumping tradition."

Yukio Kasaya visits Miyanomori Ski Jump Stadium, the venue where he won the men's normal hill event at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, in November 2021. (KYODO)

Kasaya made his Olympic debut at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.

In the run-up to the Sapporo Olympics, Kasaya famously won the first three events of the Four Hills Tournament, which is held in Germany and Austria.

But Kasaya and the other Japanese ski jumpers left before the final Four Hills competition in Bischofshofen, Austria, in order to make preparations for the 1972 Olympics.

With victory in the Sapporo Games, Kasaya became the first Japanese to win a Winter Olympic gold medal.

His legacy as an inspiration for generations of Japanese athletes that followed in other sports, including figure skating and speed skating, is a living testament to his historic achievement.

Ryoyu Kobayashi flies through the air at a ski resort near Akureyri, Iceland, on April 24. (Predgrag Vuckovic/RED BULL CONTENT POOL/via KYODO)

Kobayashi Soars to an Unofficial World Record in Iceland

Ryokyu Kobayashi is one of ski jumping's most recognizable contemporary stars. And his long list of accomplishments in top competitions has kept his name in the spotlight for years.

The 27-year-old generated attention for a high-profile publicity campaign on Wednesday, April 24 in Iceland, attempting an unofficial world record ― targeting a 300-meter jump at the Hlidarfjall ski resort.

Kobayashi came close, flying 291 meters through the air.

In its detail-rich report, event promoter Red Bull called it "the longest ski jump in history."

Ryoyu Kobayashi holds a commemorative poster after his unofficial word record for the longest distance in ski jumping on April 24. (Mihai Stetc/RED BULL CONTENT POOL/via KYODO)

But because the location was not an FIS-approved hill, it was not eligible to be under consideration for an official world record. Other factors, including measuring devices, equipment and official attire not being OK'd by the sport's global governing body, prevented Kobayashi's jump from becoming an official world record.

Austrian Stefan Kraft holds the official world record (253.5 meters), which was set in 2017 in Vikersund, Norway.

After soaring through the air in Iceland, Kobayashi said he enjoyed the experience.

"I've always wanted to fly further than anyone ever has [and] I've been hoping to keep pushing the boundary of ski jumping," Kobayashi was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "It's a dream come true."

Reuters filmed Kobayashi's flight through the air in this captivating video.

Kobayashi enjoyed a successful 2023-24 FIS Ski Jumping World Cup season, placing second overall.

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Olivier Peslier guides Zenno Rob Roy to victory in the Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, on December 26, 2004. (©SANKEI)

Horse Racing

Star Jockey Peslier Retires

In the early years of the 21st century, Frenchman Olivier Peslier's name appeared in Japan's racing headlines again and again. And he was a huge star, winning 12 Japan Racing Association Grade 1 races.

He triumphed in the Arima Kinen in 2002, 2003 and 2004, with Symboli Kris S in the first two.

Peslier won the Japan Cup in 2001 and '04, and claimed back-to-back Tenno Sho (Autumn) titles in 2003-04.

Aboard the Sunday Silence-sired Zenno Rob Roy, Peslier was the 2004 winner in the Tenno Sho, the Japan Cup and the Arima Kinen.

Peslier's last Japan Racing Association G1 win was in the 2005 Mile Championship with Hat Trick. 

The 51-year-old jockey, a four-time Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, concluded his racing career on Thursday, April 25 at La Teste de Buche, France (near Bordeaux).

He expressed gratitude for the support he's received throughout his illustrious career, which included notable racing victories in nearly 20 countries. Peslier won 3,700-plus races, including a remarkable 165 G1 races.

"I just want to say thank you to everybody, and all the fans," Peslier was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. "Of course I will stay with the horses. I'll still be riding in the mornings because I love the horses and it's my job. It's very exciting to prepare the horse for the future."

Peslier Offers Parting Thoughts on His Career

Racing Post reported on Peslier's reflections on his career, citing an interview he did with Equidia, a French horse racing channel. In the interview, Peslier summed up his career this way: "I've no regrets whatsoever. I can look back on all the winners and the people I've ridden them for, on all the big races I've won in virtually every racing nation and achieved some extraordinary things."

Rio Takeda claims her second title in as many weeks at the 42nd Fujisankei Ladies Classic on April 21 at the Kawana Hotel Golf Course in Shizuoka Prefecture. (©SANKEI)

Golf

Takeda Wins Second Consecutive JLPGA Tour Tourney

Rio Takeda celebrated her 21st birthday on April 2. She had much more to celebrate in the weeks that followed in the same month. In her third year on the JLPGA Tour, Takeda won back-to-back tournament titles on April 14 and 21.

Takeda captured her first career title on the JLPGA Tour in the first of her glorious April weekends. She triumphed in the KKTcup Vantelin Ladies Open in Kumamoto with a three-round total of 7-under 209. In succession, Takeda shot a 1-over 73, a 6-under 66 and a 70 at Kumamoto Kuko Country Club. Karen Tsuruoka placed second at 5-under 211.

At the Kawana Hotel Golf Course in Shizuoka Prefecture the following weekend, Takeda, a Kumamoto Prefecture native, carded a 12-under 201, with a trio of 4-under 67 rounds. Mitsuki Kobayashi was the runner-up at 9-under 204.

Rio Takeda tees off on the fifth hole during the third round of the Fujisankei Ladies Classic. (SANKEI)

Victory on April 14 proved to be a boost for Takeda's chances in the next tourney.

"I was nervous on the last three holes, but last week's first win gave me confidence," Takeda told reporters on April 21, according to Sports Hochi.

She added, "I believed in myself until the end."

Rio Takeda putts on the 16th green during the third round of the Fujisankei Ladies Classic on April 21. (SANKEI)

Takeda Targets More Victories

Looking ahead, Takeda has set ambitious goals for herself. 

"I am looking forward to winning again and aiming for my third win," she was quoted as saying by the sports newspaper. "[And] I will do my best to compete for the championship next week and win again."

Takeda finished tied for fifth at 16-under 200 at the Panasonic Open Ladies Golf Tournament on April 28. Haruka Amamoto was the winner at 19-under.

Takeda's mother Satoko Hirase competed on the JLPGA Tour starting in 1990. Mayumi Hirase, her maternal aunt, was the JLPGA Tour Player of the Year in 1993 and '94.

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Soccer

Tottenham, Marinos Set to Play This Summer in Tokyo

The English Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur, led by former title-winning Yokohama F Marinos and Celtic FC manager Ange Postecoglou, will face reigning J.League champion Vissel Kobe in a friendly on July 27.

An announcement was made on Thursday, April 25, and the match will be held at Tokyo's National Stadium.

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Asashoryu in a February 2024 file photo. (KYODO)

Sumo

Former Yokozuna Asashoryu Recovering from Surgery

Retired yokozuna Asashoryu, 43, is hospitalized with an illness, he announced on X (formerly Twitter) on April 12, though he didn't give specific details about his condition.

On Friday, April 26, the former sumo wrestler provided an update on the social media platform, stating that he underwent a medical procedure.

"Good morning everyone," wrote Asashoryu, who was born in Mongolia. "The surgery was a success, and I am getting better and better every day. I'm sorry for worrying you, but I will continue to work hard to show you my usual healthy appearance and smile. I think Japan's medical technology and services are the best in the world. I have nothing but words of gratitude. Thank you Japan."

Basketball

Nebraska Governor Honors Tominaga

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen recently gave a special title to Keisei Tominaga.

The former University of Nebraska basketball star, who complete his college career at the 2024 NCAA Tournament, is now Nebraska's official Goodwill Ambassador to Japan, the governor declared on April 18.

An Athlete's Voice

"I want to adapt and I'm trying to adapt, but there are things that work for me and have gotten me to where I am, so I don't want to start slicing and dicing. There's a basis to my game and I want to stick to that, but also respect the court. It's a work in progress for me, but I'm watching a lot more matches on clay, I'm trying to do my homework as best as I can."

Naomi Osaka describes her approach to making improvements as a tennis player on clay, Eurosport reported from the Madrid Open. Osaka was eliminated in the second round by Liudmila Samsonova, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 on April 25.

Naomi Osaka hits a return to Russia's Liudmila Samsonova in a second-round women's singles match at the Madrid Open on April 25. (Susana Vera/REUTERS)


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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