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二宮清純「ノンフィクション・シアター・傑作選」 : 第109回 「核弾頭の明暗」 〜石井琢朗vs.松井稼頭央〜<前編>
投稿日時: 2007-10-26 00:00:00

「最初の1打席に賭けていました。転がしてしまいさえすれば、あとはヨーイドンの勝負だなと……」
 惜しくもシリーズMVPは逃したものの、22打数8安打(打率・364)、1打点、3盗塁、出塁率5割の活躍で優秀選手賞に輝いたベイスターズの石井琢朗は、そう切り出した。

 初戦、横浜スタジアム。前日までの雨が緑の人工芝を湿らせていた。石井はライオンズの先発・西口文也の2球目を、いきなり三塁前へ転がした。絶妙のセーフティバント。たたみかけるように2番・波留敏夫の3球目に二盗を決め、3番・鈴木尚典のライト前ヒットで先制のホームを駆け抜けた。
 この1点、単なる先制点以上の価値を持っていた。西口を崩し、横浜に勢いをもたらすと同時に、シリーズの流れをもたぐり寄せた。その意味で、文字どおり石井はリードオフマンの役割を果たし得たのである。

 石井は続けた。
「実はあのバント、(シリーズの始まる)3日くらい前が考えていました。理由は二つあります。まず、一つは雨で人工芝が濡れていたこと。僕はサードの経験があるから分かるのですが、濡れているとボールが跳ねないのです。いい具合にコロコロと転がってくれる。ちょっとでも(サードの)前進が遅れたら、ヒットになる確率が高いのです。
 二つ目は、西口の投げ終わった後の姿勢にありました。シリーズ前、ビデオを見ていて、あることに気づいたんです。西口はクロス気味に投げるため、投げ終わった後、やや一塁方向に体が流れるんです。あぁ、これはバントに弱いんじゃないか。ピッチャーにとらせても面白いんじゃないか……。そう考えたんです。ジャイアンツの桑田さんのように、投げ終わってすぐ構えられたら、こちらもやり辛いんですけどね。
 いずれにしても、そういう理由から仕掛けてみる価値はあるかなと。もしアウトになったとしても、少しくらい西武を慌てさせることはできるでしょう。そう思えば躊躇もしませんでした」

 石井はこのバント安打も含め、6戦中4戦、初回の出塁に成功した。ヒットであれ四球であれ、とにかく出塁し、走る。波留がつなぎ、鈴木尚が返す――。西武のキャッチャー伊東勤は、この石井の“足攻”に全くついていくことができず、3戦目以降、マスクを中嶋聡に譲った。石井のバットと足は、ライオンズの頭脳をもベンチに追いやってしまったのである。
 彼こそは間違いなく38年ぶりの日本一の真の立役者であった。振り返れば、28歳の若さながら、波瀾万丈の野球人生を歩んできた。

 足利工高のエースとして2年の夏に、甲子園に出場。大学に進もうか、社会人に行こうかと悩んでいた時、当時の江尻亮スカウトに見い出され、ドラフト外でプロに入った。
 上背もなく、力で押さえ込むタイプではなかったが、コントロールには自信があった。ルーキーながら安定したピッチングを見せる石井は、先発もリリーフもこなせるためファームの指導者からは重宝された。
 ペナントレース終盤には一軍に上がり、スワローズ相手に8回1/3を投げ、初勝利を飾った。ドラフト外入団の高校卒ルーキーとしては上々の滑り出しだった。

 しかし、プロの水は甘くなかった。2年目と3年目には一軍とファームを行ったり、来たり。ケガにも見舞われ、石井は徐々に自信をなくしていく。上背がないため、ボールに角度がつきにくく、少し甘く入ったボールはファームといえども、ことごとく痛打された。誰よりも石井本人が、投手としての能力に限界を感じていた。

 3年目のオフ、すなわち21歳の石井は野球人生最大の勝負に打って出る。
「もう限界です。野手に転向させて下さい」
 当時の須藤豊監督に野手転向を直訴したのである。たとえていうならば、ヒラ社員が社長に希望部署を申し出るようなものである。とりわけタテ社会のプロ野球において、それは到底、許されることではなかった。

「その若さで限界とは何だ!」
 須藤が怒るのも無理はなかった。チーム構成上、投げられるピッチャーは一人でも多く欲しい。コントロールのいい石井は貴重なリリーフ投手として、翌年の“須藤構想”の中に、しっかりと組み入れられていた。
「オレはピッチャーとしてのオマエに期待しているんだよ」
 怒気を含んだ口調が、諭してなだめるようなそれに変わった。心理的にはこういう時こそ、むしろ上司には逆らいにくいものである。

 だが、石井は一歩も譲らなかった。監督に逆らえば、最悪の場合、クビになるケースだってありえる。これ以上、突っ張っていいものか……。監督室のドアがバタンと閉まって、はじめて石井は事の重大さに気がついたという。
「大変なことを言ってしまったな……」
 サードのレギュラーポジションを奪い取ったのは転向して翌年のことだった。

 晴れの大舞台、最初の1打席に賭けた男は実はその7年前、野球人生最大の勝負を演じていたのである。
「その時の決断に比べれば……」
 そう水を向けると、遠くを見つめるような目で、サラリとつぶやいた。
「1打席捨てることくらい、どうってことないでしょう……」

(後編につづく)

<この原稿は『Number』(文藝春秋)1998年11月19日号に掲載されたものです>


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