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石田洋之「神宮つばメ〜ル」 : 第34回 逆境に燃える古野正人
投稿日時: 2013-08-19 22:00:00

「とにかく低めに投げること。そうしないとファイアーしちゃうんで」
 坊主頭から汗を滴らせ、まじめにインタビューに応えていた男が、自身のピッチングについて問われると、突如、おちゃめな表現で言葉を返してきた。「ファイアー」……思わず、こちらがクスッと笑うと、反応を確かめてニヤリとした。出身は兵庫県宝塚市。笑いをとろうとするところは、さすが関西人である。
(写真:先発で結果を出しつつあるが、「次のゲームしか考えていない」と前を見据える)

 そんな2年目の右腕・古野正人が8月前半、東京ヤクルトの復調ムードに火をつけた。8月6日、浜松での中日戦。プロ入り2度目の先発マウンドに立った背番号40は、中日打線を6回4安打無失点に封じる。好投に導かれるように、リリーフ陣も虎の子の1点を守り切った。1−0の勝利でうれしいプロ初白星をゲットした。

 続く13日の神宮での中日戦。「いい球と悪い球がはっきりしていた」と本人は反省しきりだったものの、バックの好守備にも助けられ、9安打を浴びながら6回3分の2を1失点でまとめた。
「野手の方が常に声をかけてくれたので、“この試合を何とか潰したくない”。その一心で投げていました」

 古野の力投に触発されたのが、この試合もリリーフ陣が踏ん張り、ヤクルトは9回サヨナラ勝ち。ここまで3度の先発ゲームはいずれもチームが勝っている。勝ち星がなかなか増えず、最下位から抜け出せない現状において、勝利を呼ぶ男と言っていいかもしれない。

 もちろん運や偶然だけで結果を出せるほど、プロは甘い世界ではない。そのピッチングを見ていると、右打者の懐を突くシュートを効果的に使えていることが分かる。ストレートの球速は140キロ台前半ながら、スライダーとのコンビネーションで内外を広く使い、バットの芯を外す。初勝利をあげた中日戦では18のアウトのうち12個、神宮での同カードでは20個のアウトのうち12個がゴロで奪ったものだった。

 この武器はプロに入って手に入れたものだ。しかも、きっかけはハッタリだった。ルーキーイヤーの昨季、古野は右肩を痛めてファーム暮らしを余儀なくされていた。ようやくピッチングができる段階になった夏場、コーチから「インコースを突くボールがほしいな。シュート投げれる?」と訊かれた。

「はい、投げられます!」
 即答したものの、実はこの時まで古野はシュートを本格的に投げたことがなかった。
「じゃあ、投げてみろ」
 コーチが見守る中、ツーシームの握りでイチかバチか腕を振った。ボールは右へククッと曲がり、キャッチャーミットに収まった。

「いいじゃないか」
 この1球が運命を変えた。試合で使えるレベルになるまで、徹底して磨きをかけた。本人は「また狙っては投げられていない」と明かすが、力の入れ具合によって、若干ボールが沈むこともあり、バッターにとっては厄介なボールになっている。
「たぶん、あの時、シュートを投げて取り組んでいなかったら、たとえ1軍に上がれてもバッターに踏み込まれて打たれていたでしょう。今では自分のキーになるボールになっています」

 プロでのキャリアは浅いが、来月には27歳になる。ここまでの道のりには紆余曲折があった。報徳学園時代は2年までショート。「投げるのが好き」で3年からピッチャーになったが、1学年下の片山博視(現東北楽天)の控えだった。龍谷大に進学しても3年時までは泣かず飛ばず。当然、最初は社会人からの誘いもなく、野球を諦めて就職を考えざるを得ない状態だった。

 しかし、元ヤクルトの山本樹コーチ(現監督)の指導の下、4年になってリーグ戦で9勝を挙げる。それが認められ、滑りこみで名門・日産自動車に入社が決まった。喜びも束の間、入部直後に野球部は、その年限りでの活動休止が決定。わずか1年で三菱重工神戸へ移る。

 ここで主力投手になり、プロ入りも視野に入ってきた2011年、今度は腰痛が古野を襲う。病院での診断は椎間板ヘルニア。精密検査前の段階では「手術をしても野球ができる体に戻るかどうかわからない」と言われ、目の前が真っ暗になった。
「今度こそ野球ができなくなるかもしれないと、かなりヘコみました」

 だが、野球の神様は見捨てていなかった。検査の結果、手術をすればピッチングに支障がないレベルに回復することが判明。7月にメスを入れて残りのシーズンを棒に振ったが、それまでの実績が評価され、ヤクルトから6位指名を受けた。

 ところが、プロに入っても苦しい日々が続く。即戦力右腕として期待されるも、1年目の昨季は先述したように右肩痛で1軍登板なし。今季は4月に中継ぎで1軍デビューを果たしたが、初めて先発を託された7月3日のDeNA戦では3回3失点KO。味方が逆転して黒星はつかなかったものの、2軍降格を命じられた。そして、8月に入っての再昇格。「もう何度もチャンスはない。まずは自分のピッチングを出し切りたかった」と背水の陣で臨んだマウンドだった。
 
 幾度と野球人生のピンチを迎えても「野球をやめたいと思ったことはない」という。諦めず、自らを奮い立たせ、レベルアップしてきた。そんな生き様を体現するかのように、自らの真骨頂は「粘りのピッチング」と語る。
「正直、田中マー君(将大、楽天)のように、バッターを完璧に抑えて、お客さんをワーッと沸かせることはできません。でも何とか試合をつくって、チームの勝ちにつなげたいと思っています」

 ヤクルトは京セラドーム大阪で苦手・阪神に3タテを喫し、20日からは首位・巨人との3連戦である。クライマックスシリーズ圏内の3位・広島とは5ゲーム差。ここでさらに連敗が続くようだと、それは今季のゲームオーバーを意味する。崖っぷちのチームで大事な初戦の先発を任されるのが古野だ。

「巨人はめちゃ強いですよ。ホームランがどっからでも打てそうなイメージがあります。控えにもいいバッターが多い。ファイアーしないように頑張ります(笑)」
 意気込みは控えめだが、もちろん気持ちはメラメラと燃えている。対する巨人のピッチャーはエースの内海哲也。相手に不足はない。逆境を乗り越え、ここまでたどり着いた右腕の1球1球が、逆襲のロケットに再び火をつける。

(次回は9月2日に更新します)

(石田洋之)


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