No need to touch rule book in Japan

Last night’s game between the Yakult Swallows and Chunichi Dragons featured NPB’s laughable interpretation of how to record an out at home plate — where a catcher can tag a runner out without even bothering to tag him.

In a scoreless game at Nagoya Dome between the Central League’s top-two clubs, the Swallows’ Shingo Kawabata tried to score on a single to right by Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, but a super throw from Dragons right fielder Atsushi Fujii arrived at the plate on a hop just barely ahead of the runner. Dragons catcher Masato Matsui waited for the throw a few feet from home up the third-base line and was obstructing home plate (illegal but permitted).

Kawabata slid into Matsui, who then caught the ball and juggled it. Meanwhile Kawabata’s momentum took him behind the catcher. The catcher, who never attempted to tag the runner, simply held the ball up for umpire Kazuhiro Kobayashi singled for the out on a tag play — or “touch” in Japanese — without a tag being attempted. This, too, is a violation of the rules in Japan but common practice.

The proper call would have been none, as Kawabata knowing he was out, but perhaps only knowing the rule book as well as Kobayashi, never bothered to touch home plate.

NPBreddit , found this video of the play.

A photo of the play’s finish can be found here.

Here‘s another play of the fairly common technique of catchers saving their energy by not tagging the runner.

 

Slipping through the cracks

As Dragons fans were reminded tonight, Nobumasa Fukuda is a pretty decent hitter. The 26-year-old right-handed-hitting first baseman hit his fourth homer of the season for Chunichi tonight and the question is not when he became good? but rather, at what point did we forget that he was good?

Fukuda’s been playing regularly in the Western League since 2009, and he MUST have appeared somewhere in annual scans of minor league hitters with outstanding results, but somehow he fell off the radar — his results have been consistently good although his OBP had been pedestrian until last year when he drew 34 walks in 334 plate appearances. He had a bad year in 2013 and that might have made it easier to overlook him. He’s not really young any more and he’s a first baseman.

But that being said, the Western League is a tough league to post gaudy batting numbers in and he’s been overshadowed by a barrel full of young Hawks guys who can hammer it, but Fukuda can play.

An injury to Masahiko Morino, one of Chunichi’s better players, and the Dragons are an improved team. Funny how things turn out.

 

Aoki’s streak lost in Japan’s Opening Day myopia

If you’re lucky you learn something everyday.

On Monday, Norichika Aoki hit safely in his 16th straight game, with eight of those coming this season for the San Francisco Giants and eight last year for the Kansas City Royals. Thus it was perplexing that Kyodo News Japanese language stories coming to my desk made no mention of his new record — Aoki had hit safely in 15 games for the Brewers in 2012.

Our diligent MLB desk on the 19th floor surely had to know, so I ran up and was told that of course they knew, but that for them it seems odd to add the previous season’s accomplishments to this year’s streak. And this is coming from a culture that touts Sadaharu Oh’s home run total as the greatest in history and loves to measure career accomplishments by adding NPB totals to MLB totals — which seems odd to me.

This fascination with cutting the cord on Opening Day makes sense in Japan, where the next game is ALWAYS the biggest game of the season and sports editors  put five months of expectation into making Opening Day the biggest game of the season. When at the Daily Yomiuri I was tasked with translating a piece about Ichiro Suzuki opening the 2012 season at Tokyo Dome with the Mariners in which some “reporter” said, “Of course, Opening Day tells you a lot about how the season will turn out.” If my colleague John E. Gibson had written that I would have threatened to knock him upside the head.

So what happens after Opening Day? The hangover hits and everyone admits that it was just one game after all, but the next step is honoring records from the start of the season and that goes on for several weeks.

This season, Japanese readers were treated to the “knowledge” that the Yakult Swallows set a record (to start the season) by allowing three runs or less in 17 games to start the season, breaking the old mark of the 1956 Nishitetsu Lions, who Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast listeners will remember were in the news for having a record “season-opening” win streak — with no mention of how they finished at the end of 1955.