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野球 : 千葉ロッテ・唐川侑己「ピッチャーは運動神経じゃない」(前編)
投稿日時: 2011-07-27 11:43:13

 3年前、中田翔(北海道日本ハム)、由規(東京ヤクルト)とともに“ビッグ3”として、ドラフト1位で千葉ロッテに入団した唐川侑己。1年目から先発ローテーションに入り、将来のエースとして嘱望されてきた彼が今年、大きな花を咲かせようとしている。27日現在、チームトップの8勝(2敗)を挙げ、防御率1,77と安定したピッチングでチームに大きく貢献している。唐川のプロ4年目の飛躍に二宮清純が迫った。
(写真:天性の柔らかさをもち、高校時代から力みのないフォームに定評があった)

 速いことは速いが、スピード違反の切符を切られるほどではない。変化球も多彩だが、どれも視界から消えるというほどではない。
 それでも打てない。打てそうで打てない。それこそがカラカワ・ワールドの真骨頂である。

 13試合に登板し、8勝2敗、防御率1.79。勝ち星はリーグ5位タイ。防御率はリーグ4位(7月12日現在)。文句のつけようがない。
 千葉ロッテの右のエースに成長した唐川侑己は、好調の要因をこう分析する。
「試合中、ピンチでも常に冷静に落ちついて投げられる。慌てることなく丁寧なピッチングができていることが(好調の)原因だと思います」
 マウンド上と同様のポーカーフェイス。淡々と語る口ぶりは、とても22歳のそれとは思えない。

 18.44m先で迎え打つ側はどう見ているのか。他球団の主力打者に聞いた。
 まずは昨季のパ・リーグのホームラン王、オリックスのT−岡田。
「一番いいのはスライダー。真っすぐと同じ腕の振りで投げてくるのでタイミングが取りづらい」
 続いて埼玉西武の3番打者・中島裕之。
「(ストレートが)スピードの表示よりも速く感じられるピッチャー」
 最後にセ・リーグで2度、ホームラン王に輝いている横浜の村田修一。
「スライダーが真っすぐの軌道できて、手許でスッと横に滑る。ホンモノという感じです」

 千葉・成田高時代、センバツで2度、甲子園に出場し、“高校ビッグ3”のひとりとして注目された。ちなみに後の2人は、北海道日本ハムの中田翔(大阪桐蔭)と東京ヤクルトの由規こと佐藤由規(仙台育英)である。
 甲子園での通算成績は1勝2敗、防御率0.90。2年春は2回戦で、3年春は初戦で敗れた。
 2007年の高校生ドラフト。1巡目で唐川を指名したのはロッテと広島。抽選の結果、地元のロッテがクジを引き当てた。

 開幕こそ2軍スタートとなったが、昇格3日後の4月26日、敵地ヤフードームでの福岡ソフトバンク戦に初登板。先発で7回を投げ、デビュー戦勝利を無失点で飾った。
「1年生といっても、ちゃんと自分を表現できていた。この世界、年齢は関係ない」
 敵将(当時)の王貞治は、こうルーキーを称えた。
「フテブテしいヤツだなぁ。コイツ、大物になる。そう感じましたよ」
 振り返るのは当時42歳でチームの長老格だった小宮山悟である。
「ひょうひょうとしていて、動じる素振りを全く見せない。僕なんか(24歳でプロに入ったのに)周囲に気を遣ってバタバタしていましたよ(笑)」
 交流戦に入って失速したものの、5勝4敗という数字は高卒ルーキーとしては出色だった。

 1年先輩には甲子園を沸かせた沖縄・八重山商工高出身の大嶺祐太がいた。彼も高校生ドラフト1巡目入団だ。
 うなりを生じてホップする大嶺のストレートは、それこそ猛禽のような迫力にみちていた。ロッテの剛球投手といえば、伊良部秀輝が思い浮かぶが、若き日の彼のストレートを彷彿とさせるものがあった。
 福岡に遠征に行った際、小宮山は唐川と大嶺を食事に誘った。その席で小宮山は唐川に、こう告げた。
「オマエは逆立ちしても、ものすごいピッチャーにはなれない。祐太には勝てないかもしれないが、一生懸命やっていれば、すごいピッチャーにはなれる」
 大先輩の忠告を、19歳の唐川は黙って聞いていた。

 小宮山の回想。
「今に見てろよ! と思ったのか、僕の言ったことを頭に叩き込もうと思ったか、それはわかりません。ただ、小さくうなずいていました」
 2年目、5勝8敗、ただし防御率は1年目の4.85から3.64と改善された。

(後編につづく)

<この原稿は2011年7月30日号『週刊現代』に掲載された内容です>


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