On the mound for All Nippon, the young pitcher felt confident, as if his opponents were the fellow high schoolers he had shut out just a few months before. On November 20, 1934, the one o’clock sun came directly over Kusanagi Stadium’s right-field bleachers, blinding the batters. He knew this. It had enabled him to retire the lead off batter on a pop fly and strike out Charlie Gehringer. The batters saw his silhouette windup, then a white ball explode in on them, just a few feet away. It was nearly unhittable. Fanning Gehringer thrilled the boy. Known as the “Mechanical Man” for his reserve and precise play, the batter’s swing revealed no flaws to the pitcher. When facing him the boy imagined them as samurai dueling to the death with glittering swords. It was a spiritual battle, to see who could outlast the other—will the other to submit. He felt that Gehringer was the only American player who showed the spirit of a samurai.1
The third batter strode to the plate. He was old (more than twice the pitcher’s seventeen years), and he was heavy (outweighing him by a hundred pounds), with a sizable paunch. His broad face usually bore a smile, accentuating his puffy cheeks and broad nose. His twinkling eyes and infectious good humor forced smiles even from opponents. Instinctively, the pitcher looked at his face—a mistake.
There was no friendly smile. The Sultan of Swat glared back like an oni—those large red demons that guard temple gates. The boy’s heart fluttered, his composure lost. Babe Ruth dug in.
Eiji Sawamura breathed deeply, steadying himself. This was, after all, why he had left high school early and forfeited a chance to attend Keio University—an opportunity to face Babe Ruth. He had read Sotaro Suzuki’s profiles of the Major League stars in Yomiuri Shimbun.