Masaaki Kitaru

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Masaaki Kitaru (木樽 正明)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Masaaki Kitaru pitched for 11 years in the Nippon Pro Baseball and won a MVP.

Kitaru was drafted by the Tokyo Orions in the second round of the 1965 NPB draft. He started 13 games with a 3.00 ERA as a rookie, and collected 3 wins. The Chiba native became a long reliever in 1967, and had a 8-8 record with a 2.53 ERA. He ranked 10th in ERA, .78 behind Mitsuhiro Adachi. However, he suffered a injury and missed most of the 1968 season; he allowed 9 runs in 14 1/3 innings that year. He even wanted to become a outfielder (he was a career .185/.249/.255 hitter), but legendary pitcher Masaaki Koyama stopped him. Kitaru broke out when he recovered in 1969. He was selected for the 1969 NPB All-Star Games, but allowed 4 runs in 2 innings in Game 1. The talented pitcher had a 15-9 record (primarily as a reliever; 45 relief appearances, 6 starts) with 70 Ks in this season, and won his first ERA title with a elite 1.72 ERA, .31 ahead of runner-up Toshihiko Sei.

The Chiba native joined the rotation in 1970, and collected 21 wins with a solid 2.53 ERA. He was 3rd in wins (4 behind Fumio Narita), 6th in strikeouts (86 behind Keishi Suzuki) and 4th in ERA (.48 behind Koichiro Sasaki). He started in 1970 NPB All-Star Game 3, and allowed one run in 3 innings. The Orions won the Pacific League pennant, and Kitaru won his first Best Nine award and also won PL MVP. In the 1970 Nippon Series, he completed 10 innings in Game 1, but the Yomiuri Giants still beat them with Tsuneo Horiuchi's 11-inning shutout and Yukinobu Kuroe's walk-off solo shot. His next start was Game 3 against Horiuchi, and he pitched 6 innings with 3 runs allowed to collected a no-decision; Koyama got the lose in 11th inning. He relieved 2 1/3 innings in Game 4 and the Orions finally won a game. In Game 5, although he didn't have any rest, Kitaru still relieved Koyama in the 7th inning. However, he allowed 2 runs with Masaaki Mori's clutch triple, and Kazumi Takahashi completed the game for the Giants to beat the Orions.

Kitaru collected a league-leading 24 wins in 1971 with a 3.45 ERA, and ranked 4th in strikeouts (100 behind Suzuki). He was selected into the 1971 NPB All-Star Game, and collected 2 shutout innings. The Chiba native struggled in the next year as his ERA rose to 3.88, and he was moved from the rotation. He bounced back and had a 14-7 record with a 2.84 ERA, ranking 6th in wins (7 behind Narita) and 6th in ERA (.37 behind Tetsuya Yoneda) in 1973. He attended the 1973 NPB All-Star Game, and collected 2 2/3 shutout innings.

In spring training of the 1974 season, Kitaru was hit by a comebacker from Takeshi Ueda, right on his face. He missed a month, but still went 13-6 with a 3.09 ERA. In the 1974 Nippon Series, he relieved Narita in his bullpen day in Game 1, but then left the mound after Tatsuhiko Kimata hit a double. Choji Murata relieved him, but Morimichi Takagi's walk-off double gave the Chunichi Dragons their first win. Kitaru started in Game 2, allowed 3 runs in 4 2/3 innings and ended up with a no-decision. His next appearance was in Game 5, and he shutout the Dragons and beat Takamasa Suzuki who started 7 innings and allowed only 2 runs. The Orions beat the Dragons, and he won his only Nippon Series title.

Kitaru suffered a waist injury in 1975, so he struggled and only went 5-14 with a 3.96 ERA. His ERA rose to 5.50 in in the next season, then the 29-year-old Kitaru announced his retirement and became a coach. He was the batting coach for the minor league team of the Orions from 1983 to 1986, and worked for their big club from 1987 to 1988. He managed their ni-gun team from 1989 to 1990, and became a scout for the Orions from 1991 to 2001. He was on the staff of the Yomiuri Giants from 2002 to 2011. Kitaru also coached Choshi Shogyo High School from 2014 to 2020.

Overall, Kitaru was 112-80 with a 3.05 ERA, struck out 841 and pitched 1,610 innings in 11 seasons in NPB.

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