Baseball’s DNA

The novel coronavirus has changed the world. Shutdowns, slowdowns and–in Japan–self-restraint, have allowed wild life to flourish and cleared our skies of airborne filth. We are now locked in a cultural debate about how we can return to normal or if this is the new normal.

Authoritarian regimes across the globe have used this as an opportunity to restrict liberties and that goes for baseball as well. No one should be surprised at this. After all, following rules in baseball—particularly “unwritten ones”–is praised to the skies as “playing the right way.” Suppressing free spirits is as much a part of America’s game as three strikes and you’re out.

There is no doubt that baseball values rule-keeping, but the children’s game we love also seems to be a vehicle powered by those who want to make sure others obey their rules as well.

Japan reverts to old ways

With the pandemic forcing changes left and right, Nippon Professional Baseball opened its season on June 19 behind closed doors. In addition to scrapping its all-star series and trimming five league games from each team’s calendar, the leagues opted out of interleague play. The Pacific League trimmed its postseason playoffs from a three-team, two-stage affair to a two-team final series that is a best-of-five instead of a best-of-seven. The Cemtral League, citing its old-fart rallying cry of “giving priority to league games,” did away with its postseason tourney.

What that means for fans is more of the CL “playing its game the right way”—read “old way”—and fewer meaningful games for fans. Once the Yomiuri Giants clinched the pennant on Friday, Oct. 30, the 24 remaining games became meaningless. If teams were allowed to fill up their parks during the pandemic, it would be obvious that the old way is bad for everyone except those who consider preserving the old way a virtue.

That’s why in 2007, the CL adopted the same PL format it had been ridiculing for three years, because most PL teams were playing meaningful games until the final days of the season, while the CL games were just there to make the weight.

The PL pennant might be decided, but who gets to be in the Japan Series is not. In both leagues, there is a razor-thin margin between third and fifth. That difference is meaningless in the CL, but cause for excitement for fans of a league that is less concerned with “playing the game the right way.”

The gate keepers

Decades before he was the Fighters’ general manager, Nippon Ham exec Hiroshi Yoshimura was a former sportswriter working in the Pacific League office. When I started publishing critical analytical books about the ways of Japanese pro baseball in 1994, he reached out to me. When I asked him how to contact team’s PR people, he said: “Japanese baseball PR people are gate keepers rather than facilitators.”

The attitude of PR people has softened some since the 1990s, when PR people would sometimes interrupt and threaten English-speaking journalists having pregame conversations with players and tell them they were forbidden to talk without permission. Often this kind of behavior was dependent on the individual then in charge of the team’s PR department. The Pacific League, less uptight from top to bottom, tended to be cooperative, while Central League clubs tended to cast a more suspicious eye.

There have, however, been outstanding individual PR guys in Japanese baseball. I don’t want to get him in trouble for singing his praises, but the all-time superstar of NPB PR guys was a former player who used to run the Yomiuri Giants’ PR shop. His attitude of going out of his way to help the media do good stories about the Giants and their players would probably not sit too well with their current boss.

So far as I can tell, the Giants, the Tigers—notoriously the least cooperative and most authoritarian—and Yakult Swallows have all used the pandemic as an excuse to block out media requests to interview their players. The DeNA BayStars, to their credit, have not, and although that organization is perhaps the most authoritarian in Japan, they have procedures and they are simply sticking to them rather than using the coronavirus as an excuse to be as pernicious as possible.

As expected, most of the PL teams have been about as welcoming and helpful as they usually are with special shout-outs to the Fighters, who have bent over backwards in these difficult days. It seems that if your league is bent on being innovative, as most PL teams have been, there is less room for an authoritarian disposition in your organizational culture.

Baseball’s cultural divide

Something I’ve long struggled with is the intelligent former ballplayers who have leaped onto the authoritarian-side–or “traditional-side” if your sensitivities demand a euphemism–of America’s current culture wars. These people are, for the most part white, although not exclusively so.

The response to publicity surrounding police brutality and Black Lives Matter, has been met with ridicule by many white former players I know who at the same time have the highest respect for black former teammates as individuals of character. These people are not demonstrably racists, but something is going on that is tough to figure out.

For a long time, I’ve attributed this to people not understanding the scope and impact of white privilege. Until a few years ago, I understood aspects of white privilege without being able to give it a name or explain it well. I figured ballplayers who also grew up in homogeneous mostly white communities might be in the same boat I was.

If one grows up in a homogeneous environment, one sees that those who succeed often have ambition, talent or money, while those who fail often don’t. It is unfair but easy to label our peers’ failures as their individual failings, and also to see failure anywhere as the failure of those individuals.

This sense must be particularly acute for athletes, who are taught early on not to whine about failure but to perform better. Such people might attribute the lack of success of those from other socio-economic groups in the same way they view those from their community who failed.

But I now think that while that an inability to recognize white privilege might be a small influence, a bigger one might simply be baseball itself, a sport that nurtures and promotes authoritarianism, and that some people are just wired to think that way.

It could be genetic

In a 2014 New York Times opinion piece, Thomas B. Edsall surveyed research of a genetic component in one’s disposition toward authoritarianism. He cites the work of Steven Ludeke, Wendy Johnson, and Thomas J. Bouchard Jr. They concluded that “authoritarianism, religiousness and conservatism,” which they call the “traditional moral values triad,” are “substantially influenced by genetic factors.”

Baseball is played by a code, although a code that differs from culture to culture, with each culture referring to its code as the unwritten rules that prescribe the “right way” to play. In Japan, players can land on home plate with a handspring after hitting a home run and no one worries about a fastball behind their ear, but they will be ostracized if they suggest that current doctrine is nonsense.

Promotion in pro baseball is a long arduous process of enculturation, limiting the number of cultural outliers who make it to the elite levels. At every step, on-field success is rewarded with promotion but deviance from the unwritten rules is punished.

It’s easy to see how, given two players of equal promise and quality, the one who better represents baseball conservative values will likely be promoted ahead of a free spirit.

It’s not that baseball is inherently authoritarian, but it is a culture that more easily rewards those who are inclined to follow the rules and insist others do as well and preserve a kind of idealistic status quo.

NPB 2020 Oct. 31

Saturday’s games

Other news

Futaki, Marines get over hump

Kota Futaki (8-3) had one hiccup in his seven-inning stint, Stefen Romero’s ice-breaking three-run fourth-inning home run, but allowed nothing else as the Lotte Marines snapped a four-game losing streak to beat the Rakuten Eagles 6-3 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium on Saturday.

The win gave the second-place Marines a two-game lead in the fight for the Pacific League’s final playoff spot over the Seibu Lions, who were busted up 11-2 by the SoftBank Hawks. The Eagles, in fourth, are another half-game further back.

Futaki allowed only one base runner before the fourth and retired the last 10 batters he faced after hanging a 2-2 pitch that Romero blasted into the left-field stands for his 24th home run.

Eagles starter Ryota Ishibashi (1-6) allowed four runs over 5-1/3 innings. D.J. Johnson got Rakuten out of the five run inning, retiring all five batters he faced, while J.T. Chargois also stamped his initials on the proceedings in a scoreless ninth.

HIrokazu Sawamura, the loser on Friday, worked a scoreless eighth for the Marines, while Naoya Masuda recorded 30 saves for the first time in seven years.

Hawks tattoo Lions

Shuta Ishikawa (10-3) allowed a run over six innings, and Kenji Akashi doubled twice, tripled, singled scored three runs and drove in four in the SoftBank Hawks’ 11-2 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome.

Seibu’s Ernesto Mejia enlivened the game in the seventh inning by scoring after hitting his first triple in six years.

Kawano ends win drought

Nippon Ham Fighters rookie Ryosei Kawano (3-4) allowed a run over six innings in a 6-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes and southpaw Andrew Albers (4-8) at Sapporo Dome. Kawano, who hadn’t won since August, gave up three singles. The lefty struck out three without issuing a walk.

Okamoto powers Sugano to victory

Kazuma Okamoto hit his Central League-leading 29th home run, a three-run shot that bumped his league-best RBI total to 89 as ace Tomoyuki Sugano (14-2) allowed a run over five innings despite giving up five hits, walking two and hitting two in the 6-4 win at Tokyo Dome.

Rubby De La Rosa worked the ninth for his 17th save.

Giants-Swallows highlights

Yokawa bombs Yokohama

Naomasa Yokawa gave the Hanshin Tigers the early lead with a first-inning grand slam and added a solo shot in a 13-5 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium, although his home runs might not have been as memorable as two of the three hit by the BayStars.

Jose Lopez’s fourth-inning solo shot off Takumi Akiyama (10-3) was his 11th of the season and was his 1,000th hit in Japan. He is the xth imported player to reach the milestone and only the third player to reach that figure in both NPB and MLB after Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

Lopez is the 11th import to reach 1,000 hits in Japan and the fourth Venezuelan after Alex Ramirez, Bobby Marcano and Alex Cabrera.

Tyler Austin reached 20 homers in the 61st game of his debut season, while Yamato Maeda took former teammate, retiring Tigers reliever Kyuji Fujikawa out in the ninth for two runs.

Jefry Marte and Jerry Sands also helped power the Hanshin onslaught. Marte went 2-for-2 with two runs and three walks, while Sands went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and two RBIs.

NameGHlast year
Alex Ramirez1,7442,0172013
Tuffy Rhodes1,6741,7922009
LeRon Lee1,3151,5791987
Leon Lee1,2561,4361987
Bobby Marcano2,5991,4181985
Boomer Wells1,1481,4131992
Alex Cabrera1,2391,3682012
Jose Fernandez1,2531,2862013
Robert Rose2,0371,2752000
John Sipin1,8891,1241980
Jose Lopez9891,0002020*
Wladimir Balentien1,0819912020*
Japan’s 1,000-hit foreign imports through Oct. 31, 2020 and the next guy

Aizawa, Carp get ‘lucky’

Tsubasa Aizawa’s three-run eighth-inning double brought the Hiroshima Carp from behind against a lefty whose last name means luck in Japanese, Hiroto Fuku (5-5) in a 9-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Nagoya Dome.

Active roster moves 10/31/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/10

Central League

Activated

DragonsP59Takumi Yamamoto

Dectivated

BayStarsP48Masaya Kyoyama
DragonsP25Yu Sato
DragonsIF55Nobumasa Fukuda
SwallowsP91Hiroaki Saiuchi

Pacific League

Activated

LionsIF0Daichi Mizuguchi
FightersP17Hiroshi Urano
FightersP31Toru Murata
FightersP63Ryuji Kitaura

Dectivated

LionsIF3Hotaka Yamakawa
FightersP25Naoki Miyanishi
FightersP27Nick Martinez
BuffaloesP19Taisuke Yamaoka

Starting pitchers for Nov. 1, 2020

Pacific League

Fighters vs Buffaloes: Sapporo Dome 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT

Kohei Arihara (7-9, 3.52) vs Hitomi Honda (-)

Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT

Wataru Matsumoto (5-6, 4.58) vs Shunsuke Kasaya (4-3, 2.60)

Marines vs Eagles: Zozo Marine Stadium 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT

Daiki Iwashita (6-7, 4.20) vs Ryota Takinaka (2-1, 2.97)

Central League

Giants vs Swallows: Tokyo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Seishu Hatake (3-4, 3.52) vs Albert Suarez (4-3, 2.62)

BayStars vs Tigers: Yokohama Stadium 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Kosuke Sakaguchi (0-2, 11.57) vs Haruto Takahashi (5-4, 2.28)

Dragons vs Carp: Nagoya Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Yuya Yanagi (5-6, 3.88) vs Masato Morishita (9-3, 2.04)

NPB 2020 Oct. 30

Friday’s games

Other news

Giants tie up title

The Yomiuri Giants got exactly what they needed to clinch their second straight pennant on Friday after the second-place Tigers tied. Knowing Hanshin had been held to a 3-3 tie in Yokohama. The Giants began celebrating as soon as they held the Yakult Swallows scoreless in the top of the 10th at Tokyo Dome in their own 3-3 tie.

The Swallows tied it 3-3 in the eighth, and Scott McGough allowed the Giants to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth but kept them from scoring, which was pretty much the story of the game as both team had big chances to score but failed at the last hurdle.

Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, whose team remained mired in a five-game losing streak and who barely scraped out a tie, said the game was a fitting pennant clincher in a season that only barely happened and said he was proud of the effort baseball had made to get it in.

The Swallows tied it in the fifth but failed to break the game open, stranding multiple runners in scoring position in the fifth and seventh.

The Giants, turned away in the fourth by starter Hiroaki Saiuchi, took the lead in the sixth when Yoshihiro Maru doubled and scored on a Takumi Oshiro single but left the bases loaded against rookie Naruki Terashima.

Kazuma Okamoto put some juice with a one-handed swing on a low straight fastball from Saiuchi in the bottom of the third to raise his league-leading home run total to 29 and make it a 2-1 game after Taishi Hirooka homered off Nobutaka Imamura in the top of the third.

Hirooka singled in the fifth, stole second and scored the tying run on singles by 19-year-old rookie Hideki Nagaoka and Yasutaka Shiomi.

Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto, their 31-year-old shortstop, moved within four hits of 2,000 in his career. Giants flame thrower Thyago Vieira hit 101 mph on the gun in the Swallows’ scoreless 10th.

Giants-Swallows highlights

BayStars tackle Tigers

Jose Lopez tied it in the ninth with a two-run home run off Tigers closer and fellow Venezuelan Robert Suarez. Lopez’s homer was his 10th of the season and his 999th hit since coming to Japan in 2013 with the Giants. With one more hit he will join Hideki Matsui and former Seattle Mariners teammate Ichiro Suzuki as third player with 1,000 hits in both MLB and NPB.

Joe Gunkel started for the Tigers and allowed a run over six innings and got the Tigers first-run started with a third-inning leadoff single. Jefry Marte went 2-for-4 with a walk, two doubles and an RBI, while Gunkel sacrificed a runner to contribute to the Tigers’ third run. Jon Edwards pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the visitors.

Carp blow up Dragons

Rookie leadoff man Minoru Omori and No. 2 hitter Kosuke Tanaka each drove in four runs and Seiya Suzuki came off the bench to deliver a game-tying seventh-inning single before hitting a two-run homer in the eighth as the Hiroshima Carp flayed the Chunichi Dragons in a 17-3 whipping at Nagoya Dome.

Rookie catcher Ariel Martinez marked his first-team return after a 10-week injury layoff by coming off the bench to bat for Cuban compatriot Yariel Rodriguez and delivered tie-breaking pinch-hit double in the fifth. Rodriguez allowed two unearned runs over five innings.

More zeros for Higashihama

Nao Higashihama (9-1) threw eight scoreless innings and Yuito Mori closed it out for his 30th save after Takeya Nakamura’s two-run ninth inning homer made it a one-run game as the SoftBank Hawks held off the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome 4-3.

Higashihama, the Hawks’ Opening Day starter has now thrown 24 consecutive scoreless innings, and has allowed two runs over his last 39-2/3 innings. Ukyo Shuto extended his record streak of consecutive games with a stolen base to 13.

The Lions’ loss left them in third place, one game out of the second and final Pacific League playoff spot and only half a game ahead of the fourth-place Rakuten Eagles.

Eagles go back to basics with Matsui

Former closer Yuki Matsui struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth to preserve a 2-1 Rakuten Eagles win over the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium in his first save of the season after Takayuki Kishi (6-0) allowed a run over eight innings.

Kishi struck out 10 without issuing a walk while allowing four hits. Hideto Asamura drew a leadoff walk in the eighth and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by Hirokazu Sawamura (0-2). Matsui’s return to the starting rotation was a key part of the Eagles plans this season, but he moved to middle relief after making 10 starts.

Yamaoka goes distance

Orix Buffaloes Opening Day starter Taisuke Yamaoka (4-5) allowed two runs over the distance while striking out eight to outduel Nick Martinez (2-7) in a 3-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome. Steven Moya halved the Fighters’ 2-0 lead in the fourth with an RBI double.

Active roster moves 10/30/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/9

Central League

Activated

BayStarsOF52Seiya Hosokawa
TigersP49Joe Gunkel
DragonsC57Ariel Martinez

Dectivated

BayStarsOF37Taishi Kusumoto

Pacific League

Activated

LionsP36Sho Ito
LionsOF53Aito Takeda
HawksOF32Tatsuru Yanagimachi
EaglesP15Jon Thomas Chargois
EaglesP20Tomohiro Anraku
FightersC22Shinya Tsuruoka

Dectivated

LionsP57Tsubasa Kokuba
LionsOF72Seiji Kawagoe
HawksP37Matt Moore
EaglesP52Taisei Tsurusaki
EaglesOF46Ko Shimozuru
FightersIF44Christian Villanueva

Starting pitchers for Oct. 31, 2020

Pacific League

Fighters vs Buffaloes: Sapporo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Ryusei Kawano (2-4, 5.59) vs Andrew Albers (4-7, 3.55)

Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Ken Togame (1-1, 6.16) vs Shuta Ishikawa (9-3, 2.54)

Marines vs Eagles: Zozo Marine Stadium 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Kota Futaki (7-3, 3.50) vs Ryota Ishibashi (1-5, 6.05)

Central League

Giants vs Swallows: Tokyo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Tomoyuki Sugano (13-2, 2.05) vs Yasuhiro Ogawa (10-6, 4.29)

BayStars vs Tigers: Yokohama Stadium 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Shoichi Ino (6-6, 3.56) vs Takumi Akiyama (9-3, 3.00)

Dragons vs Carp: Nagoya Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT

Takahiro Matsuba (3-7, 4.24) vs Yuta Nakamura (3-3, 2.08)

NPB 2020 Oct. 29

Thursday’s games

Other news

‘Stars relievers stuff Giants again

For the second straight night, a Yomiuri Giants hitter who had tied the game earlier with a home run came up with a chance to turn the game around with the bases loaded but were turned away by the BayStars bullpen. Two straight sixth-inning strikeouts stemmed the tide in DeNA’s 5-2 win at Yokohama Stadium.

The Giants loss completed a three-game sweep and prevented them from clinching the pennant in Yokohama. Their magic number, however, dropped to one after the Dragons lost to the Tigers.

Yoshiki Sunada struck out slugging on-base machine Yoshihiro Maru swinging on a 3-2 changeup and right-hander Shingo Hirata got Hiroyuki Nakajima looking at a 3-2 strike to enable starter Kentaro Taira (4-5) to earn the win after allowing a run in 5-1/3 innings.

Taira, who turned pro with the Giants, only pitched in one game for them before he was plucked from among the unprotected players on Yomiuri’s roster as compensation for the signing of free agent and current Toronto Blue Jay Shun Yamaguchi. This puts Taira in the same boat as his outgoing manager, Alex Ramirez, who finished his career in Yokohama after being discarded by the Giants, for whom he won two CL MVP awards.

And while Ramirez tends to be egregiously positive and would have congratulated his former skipper Tatsunori Hara had they clinched in Yokohama, you had to think that sweeping them and preventing them from celebrating in their home park had to be sweet.

Angel Sanchez (8-4) allowed two runs over six innings to take the tough loss and the BayStars piled three runs on after Sanchez was replaced with lefty Kazuto Taguchi. Tyler Austin and Neftali Soto each drove in a run in the inning.

Maru’s home run was his 26th of the season and the 200th of his career.

Jose Lopez had two hits, moving within two of 1,000 in Japan, a milestone that would make him one of three players with 1,000 in both MLB and NPB along with Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto also had two hits, moving him within five of Japan’s iconic 2,000-hit milestone.

Nishi takes cue from Ono

Yuki Nishi (11-5) allowed six hits and a walk over the distance as the Hanshin Tigers took advantage of poor control from Yudai Ono (10-6) to beat the Chunichi Dragons lefty in a 3-1 win at Koshien Stadium.

The irony is that Nishi’s fourth complete game came against Ono, the guy they’e now calling “Mr. Complete Game” because he’s gone the distance in 10 of his 19 starts — a figure that seems incongruous in this age.

Nishi gave up the opening run, a leadoff shot in the first when Yota Kyoda barreled up a waist-high changeup and just cleared the fence at the right-field pole for his fifth home run. The right-hander overcame a two-out “triple” on a miss-played single to right and then shut down the Dragons the rest of the way.

Ono took the mound without his pin-point location but the Tigers only barreled up one of his mistakes in a two-run first. It went: bad pitch + bad swing = leadoff single; bad pitch + good swing = RBI double; tough pitch + good swing = infield single; and an RBI groundout when Yusuke Oyama chased Ball 4 but grounded to short.

The Tigers runs snapped Ono’s streak of 45 consecutive scoreless innings, and the loss dropped the Dragons into third place behind Hanshin.

Chono spoils Swallows’ rookie’s starting debut

Yakult Swallows 20-year-old rookie Yuto Kanakubo, their fifth pick in 2017, threw five scoreless innings in his first career start, but Hisashi Chono’s pinch-hit homer tied it in the Hiroshima Carp’s three-run seventh and both teams left the bases loaded late in the 3-3 10t-inning tie at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Hawks speed past Marines

The SoftBank Hawks’ Ukyo Shuto set an NPB record by stealing a base in his 12th consecutive game and pinch-runner Go Kamamoto scored the winning run from second on a two-run wild pitch from closer Naoya Masuda (3-5) in a 4-3 win over the Lotte Marines at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.

Matt Moore went eight innings for the Hawks, allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits while striking out nine and walking none. Marines reliever Hirokazu Sawamura allowed the Hawks to close within a run in the eighth on a home run by Takuya Kai.

Eagles keep Lions at bay

The Rakuten Eagles took extra BP after the first pitch, hammering Zach Neal (5-8) for five runs over two innings on six hits and three walks in a 13-5 win at MetLife Dome over the Seibu Lions, who remain one game back of the Marines in the battle for the PL’s second and final playoff spot.

Rookie Eagles catcher Takaya Tanaka, a 28-year-old purchased from the Giants on Sept. 28 after two games with them, went 3-for-3 with his first career home run, a squeeze and three RBIs.

Fighters squeak past Buffaloes

Christian Villanueva tied it with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly, and Haruki Nishikawa manufactured the winning run in the 10th in a 4-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.

The Buffaloes’ back-of-the-bullpen duo, setup man Tyler Higgins and closer Brandon Dickson, kept the game tied 3-3 through nine with one perfect inning apiece. Nishikawa singled with one out and stole second. He slid headfirst and took third after catcher Torai Fushimi’s throw hit off him and into right field for an error. Ryo Watanabe then did his duty with a drive to right to score Nishikawa.

Bryan Rodriguez worked a scoreless inning of relief for the Fighters.

Viciedo out with shoulder injury

Chunichi Dragons’ first baseman Dayan Viciedo injured his left shoulder making a diving catch in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium and was deactivated on Thursday.

The Dragons, who are the least forthcoming of Japan’s 12 teams regarding player injuries, said he was deactivated due to “insufficient upper body fitness.” This makes me wonder whether would use that catch-all to describe a player losing an arm in a traffic accident.

Active roster moves 10/29/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/8

Central League

Activated

DragonsOF6Ryosuke Hirata

Dectivated

TigersP64Kentaro Kuwahara
DragonsC52Takuma Kato
DragonsIF66Dayan Viciedo

Pacific League

Activated

EaglesP58Wataru Karashima
MarinesP15Manabu Mima
FightersP57Toshihiro Sugiura
FightersIF24Yuki Nomura

Dectivated

EaglesP12Hiroki Kondo
FightersP36Drew VerHagen
FightersP49Katsuhiko Kumon
BuffaloesP17Hirotoshi Masui

Starting pitchers for Oct. 30, 2020

Pacific League

Fighters vs Buffaloes: Sapporo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Nick Martinez (2-6, 4.83) vs Taisuke Yamaoka (3-5, 2.69)

Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Katsunori Hirai (5-4, 4.24) vs Nao Higashihama (8-1, 2.18)

Marines vs Eagles: Zozo Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kazuya Ojima (7-8, 3.84) vs Takayuki Kishi (5-0, 3.75)

Central League

Giants vs Swallows: Tokyo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Nobutaka Imamura (4-2, 3.48) vs Hiroaki Saiuchi (1-2, 4.18)

BayStars vs Tigers: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Masaya Kyoyama (2-1, 4.88) vs Joe Gunkel (1-4, 3.54)

Dragons vs Carp: Nagoya Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Yariel Rodriguez (3-4, 4.38) vs Hiroki Tokoda (3-8, 5.37)

NPB 2020 Oct. 28

Wednesday’s games

Other news

Ise saves the day, delays Giants march to “C”

Reliever Hiromu Ise (3-0) helped delay the Yomiuri Giants final push toward their second straight Central League pennant on Wednesday when he got league-home run leader Kazuma Okamoto to hit into a double play, allowing the DeNA BayStars to pull out a 10-6 win at Yokohama Stadium.

The result kept the Giants from lowering their magic number to one following a loss by the second-place Chunichi Dragons. To clinch on Thursday, the Giants will need to win and the Hanshin Tigers will need to come out on top in what could be a great pitchers’ duel between Yudai Ono (10-5) and Yuki Nishi (10-5).

Okamoto, whose 27th home run, a three-run third-inning shot, tied the game 4-4 came up in the fifth with no outs, the bases loaded and the BayStars leding 8-4. But Ise got him to ground to third. A run scored as Okamoto beat the throw to first that would have completed a triple play.

Tyler Austin and Neftali Soto each had two hits for the BayStars, with Soto’s two-run double highlighting a four-run first. Spencer Patton worked an inning of scoreless relief for the hosts.

Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto went 1-for-2 with a walk and a sac fly to move within seven of Japan’s iconic 2,000-hit milestone.

The BayStars’ Jose Lopez went 0-for-4 with a walk to remain four hits shy of becoming the first imported player with 1,000-plus hits in both MLB and NPB. Two Japanese players, Ichiro Suzuki, and Hideki Matsui, have accomplished the feat.

Fujinami overcomes shaky start

Shintaro Fujinami, making his first start since Sept. 13, cruised after leaving the bases loaded in a one-run first inning and left after four innings in the Hanshin Tigers 9-1 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium.

Fujinami, once considered the top pitching prospect in a draft class that included Shohei Ohtani, is only now rebuilding his career after a four-year skid. At the end of September, he was put into middle relief, and was impressive.

“He was good in that role,” manager Akihiro Yano said according to Sponichi Annex. “So I thought about keeping him there, but I also wanted to see him start once. Now I want him to start next time.”

Fujinami issued a bases-loaded walk in the first inning after he lost a good-looking third strike on an umpire’s call, but retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced and notched six strikeouts.

Jerry Sands singled and scored the tying run for the Tigers in the sevond, and Jefry Marte doubled in a run and scored in the fifth, and delivered a seventh-inning sacrifice fly. Jon Edwards worked a scoreless inning for the Tigers.

Carp withstand Murakami homers

Atsushi Endo (4-6) allowed a run over seven innings and the Hiroshima Carp scored three runs in the first off lefty Masanori Ishikawa (2-8) in a 3-2 win over the Yakult Swallows at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Munetaka Murakami moved into a tie for second place in the race for the CL home run title with his 25th and 26th home runs, tying him with Hanshin’s Yusuke Oyama.

Geronimo Franzua recorded his 17th save.

Hawks knock off Marines

SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga (10-6) struck out 12 over eight innings in a 2-0 win on Wednesday over the Lotte Marines at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.

The loss by the second-place Marines left them just one game ahead of the third-place Seibu Lions in the fight for the Pacific League’s final playoff spot after the Hawks clinched the pennant on Tuesday.

Senga allowed four hits and three walks in a 128 effort, while former major leaguer Chen Wei-yin (0-2) also went eight innings. Ryoya Kurihara opened the scoring with his 15th home run to lead off the fifth. Yurisbel Gracial doubled to open the seventh and pinch-runner Yusuke Masago scored on a Nobuhiro Matsuda single.

A day after throwing 39 pitches in a marathon ninth inning, Hawks closer Yuito Mori worked the ninth for his 29th save.

Shuto ties record 11-game stolen base streak

SoftBank’s Ukyo Shuto tied Hall of Famer Yutaka Fukumoto’s NPB record of stealing a base in 11-straight games when he broke toward second base before a pickoff throw to first by the lefty Chen and then slid in safely. Fukumoto, who played his whole career for the PL’s Hankyu Braves, set his record in 1974.

Shuto, like a number of Hawks regulars including Senga and catcher Takuya Kai, turned pro on a non-roster developmental contract. He leads both leagues in steals with 47.

Lions hold off Eagles, close on 2nd

Fumikazu Kimura homered and Takumi Kuriyama hit a two-run double off former Lions ace Hideaki Wakui (11-4) and Seibu closer Tatsushi Masuda overcame a leadoff homer in the ninth inning to close out his 31st save in a 4-3 win over the Rakuten Eagles at MetLife Dome.

The win pulled the Lions to within a game of the Marines for the second and final playoff spot and a berth in the best-of-five PL Climax Series.

Kimura opened the scoring with his seventh home run, a two-run second-inning shot, and Lions rookie Shota Hamaya (3-2) was saved a run in the fourth when first baseman Hotaka Yamakawa threw a runner out at the plate on a groundball to first. Kuriyama’s sixth-inning double off his former teammate made it 4-1 in the sixth.

VerHagen shuts out Buffaloes

Drew VerHagen (8-6) struck out 13 while allowing two hits and no walks, and catcher Shingo Usami singled home the only run in the ninth inning off Orix Buffaloes closer Brandon Dickson (0-4) in a 1-0 win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Buffaloes setup man Tyler Higgins struck out all three Fighters he faced in the ninth, including Kensuke Kondo and Sho Nakata, but Dickson walked two in the ninth to set up the tie-breaking run.

Active roster moves 10/28/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/7

Central League

Activated

GiantsIF68Kazuya Katsuki
GiantsIF98Estamy Urena

Dectivated

GiantsP40Yuri Furukawa
GiantsOF39Soichiro Tateoka

Pacific League

Activated

HawksP18Shota Takeda
FightersP62Daiki Mochizuki
FightersOF3Wang Po-jung
BuffaloesP17Hirotoshi Masui

Dectivated

HawksP21Tsuyoshi Wada
FightersP19Chihiro Kaneko
FightersC60Takuya Khri
BuffaloesP61Tsubasa Sakakibara

Starting pitchers for Oct. 29, 2020

Pacific League

Fighters vs Buffaloes: Sapporo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kosei Yoshida (0-1, 5.84) vs Daiki Tajima (4-6, 4.20)

Lions vs Eagles: MetLife Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Zach Neal (5-7, 4.89) vs Wataru Karashima (0-3, 5.81)

Hawks vs Marines: PayPay Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Matt Moore (6-3, 2.69) vs Manabu Mima (9-4, 4.40)

Central League

BayStars vs Giants: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kentaro Taira (3-5, 2.35) vs Angel Sanchez (8-3, 3.05)

Tigers vs Dragons: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Yuki Nishi (10-5, 2.10) vs Yudai Ono (10-5, 1.79)

Carp vs Swallows: Mazda Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kazuki Yabuta (1-2, 4.66) vs Yuto Kanakubo (0-0, 0.00)

NPB 2020 Oct. 27

Tuesday’s games

Other news

Hawks clinch 21st pennant

The SoftBank Hawks won the 21st championship in franchise history on Tuesday with a 5-1 win over their nemeses all season long, the Lotte Marines, at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.

Tsuyoshi Wada (8-1) struck out eight while allowing three hits and a walk over six innings. Wada, the winning pitcher in the team’s last clinching game, when they won the 2019 Japan Series, came out firing on all cylinders, pumping a fastball that usually sits at 87 mph up to 92. The lefty.

“I think we were all a little nervous today, so for Wada to come out and do what he did, it gave us all courage,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.

“This was a year that we didn’t even know would start, but we hung in there amid all the difficulties and uncertainty. We wanted to win so badly, but I don’t know if we could have done it without the players taking such good care of their conditioning during this very difficult year.”  

Tail-end hitter Hikaru Kawase put the hosts on the board in the fifth inning against Ayumu Ishikawa (7-5). He led off with a double, was sacrificed to third and scored on Akira Nakamura’s sacrifice fly. Hawks catcher Takuya Kai made it a 3-0 game in the sixth with his 10th home run, a two-run shot that plated Kenji Akashi.

Reliever Sho Iwasaki won an epic at-bat against pinch-hitter Katsuya Kakunaka to get out of the seventh inning with two men on, and lefty Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 eighth.

Closer Yuito Mori took the mound in the ninth and the Marines held his feet to the fire.

The right-hander allowed one run on Shogo Nakamura’s leadoff walk, and an error by center fielder Yuki Yanagita on Ikuhiro Kiyota’s one-out double. After a two-out walk, Mori appeared to be out of the woods on a bouncer to third, but Taisei Makihara, who entered the game for his speed and defense, fumbled the ball to load the bases.

That brought Shuhei Fukuda to the plate as the potential tying run. For years, the Hawks fourth outfielder, Fukuda moved to the Marines over the winter as a free agent. Mori finally got him on his 39th pitch of the inning.

The Hawks have now won three straight against Lotte but still trail in their season series 7-11 with one tie.

Lions ground Eagles on Mori homer

Tomoya Mori’s three-run home run off Rakuten Eagles ace Takahiro Norimoto (5-6) lifted the Seibu Lions to a 4-3 win at MetLife Dome that moved them to within two games of the Pacific League’s final playoff spot.

Mori’s ninth home run made a winner out of Kona Takahashi (8-8), who allowed three runs on four hits and three walks over seven innings. Kaima Taira and Tatsushi Masuda finished up with one scoreless apiece with Masuda earning his 30th save.

Fighters get past Buffaloes

The top two hitters in the Nippon Ham Fighters lineup, Haruki Nishikawa, who reached base five times, and Shota Hiranuma each scored twice in a 5-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Steven Moya tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the first for the Buffaloes with his 10th home run, while Bryan Rodriguez threw a scoreless inning of relief as the Fighters used seven pitchers on a bullpen day.

Nishikawa, who said last winter that he’d like to move to the majors in 2021 by way of the posting system, made his second costly base running mistake in a few days.

Lopez slams Giants

Jose Lopez, who spent his first two Japanese seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, hit a grand slam off his former team for his 996th career hit in Japan as the DeNA BayStars clobbered rookie Shosei Togo (8-6) in a 9-2 win at Yokohama Stadium.

The Giants’ magic number to clinch their second straight Central League pennant dropped to three thanks to the Chunichi Dragons’ 4-1 loss to the Hanshin Tigers.

Over the weekend, Lopez achieved his 2,000th hit between the majors and NPB, and is now four hits shy of joining his former Seattle Mariners teammate Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui as the third player to achieve 1,000-plus hits in both the majors and Nippon Professional Baseball.

Lopez’s home run was his ninth, while Tyler Austin hit his 19th for the BayStars. Shinichi Onuki (10-5) allowed two runs over six innings to earn the win.

Tigers win on grab bag of mistakes

The Chunichi Dragons’ bullpen which has been, after lefty starter Yudai Ono, the team’s biggest story this season, was snake-bit in a three-run, error-filled eighth inning in a 4-1 Hanshin Tigers win at Koshien Stadium.

With two outs and none on in the eighth, first baseman Dayan Viciedo dove to make a stop, and threw to the pitcher, who took his eye off the ball, allowing a runner to reach. On the next play, Fuku threw wide to first to put two on.

Dragons rookie Kaname Takino, whose first career hit over the weekend was unexpectedly greeted by fireworks at Jingu Stadium from a nearby event, made it a trifecta for Tigers fans. He tried to make a shoestring catch on a flare off the bat of Koji Chikamoto but kicked it away. The Tigers leadoff man was credited with a two-run triple before another run scored on a smashed infield single.

Tigers closer Robert Suarez surrendered a Viciedo leadoff double in the ninth before striking out the last three batters to record his 24th save.

Hanshin left fielder Jerry Sands, who was ejected on Sunday for abusive language toward a home plate umpire and fined 100,000 yen ($950) had two hits.

Kuri stuffs Swallows

Allen Kuri (8-5) threw his fifth straight solid start, hurling 7-2/3 innings for the Hiroshima Carp in a 2-0 win over the Yakult Swallows at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Kuri struck out 10 but loaded the bases in the eighth on a single and two walks, forcing lefty Atsuya Horie to come in and strike out Swallows batting star Munetaka Murakami to preserve the two-run lead. Geronimo Franzua worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save.

Over his last five starts, Kuri has allowed three runs, two earned, over 40 innings. During that stretch, he’s walked nine but struck out 38 and allowed no home runs.

Swallows right-hander Hirotoshi Takanashi (3-6) worked seven innings and took the tough loss.

Giants’ Mercedes out for season

Yomiuri Giants lefty Cristopher Mercedes is out for the season after having surgery to clean out his left elbow, the Daily Sports reported Tuesday.

The 26-year-old is 4-4 this season with a 3.10 ERA in 11 games. He will probably will be unable to resume training for at least a month.

Former Red Sox pitcher Tazawa goes undrafted

Junichi Tazawa, the 34-year-old right-hander who made history by snubbing Nippon Professional Baseball’s draft and becoming the first marquee Japanese amateur to turn pro with a major league club, was in turn snubbed by NPB teams in Tuesday’s draft.

As a Japanese citizen, Tazawa is only eligible to sign his first NPB contract after being selected in the draft. For years, he hoped to play for Japan’s national team but was blacklisted because of NPB’s infamous Tazawa Rule, which was recently revoked.

He is currently playing for the Musashino Heat Bears of the independent Baseball Challenge League, Japan’s largest independent circuit. He was not even selected in the developmental draft, from which a team could sign him to a non-roster contract with a 240,000-yen minimum salary (roughly $2,200).

There was some speculation that he was passed over because teams don’t wish to deal with players who are represented by agents.

Active roster moves 10/27/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/6

Central League

Activated

BayStarsP41Shuto Sakurai
BayStarsIF6Keito Mori
BayStarsOF00Shumei Miyamoto
DragonsP25Yu Sato
DragonsP36Yuichiro Okano

Dectivated

BayStarsIF44Keita Sano
BayStarsOF61Tatsuo Ebina

Pacific League

Activated

MarinesP42Frank Herrmann
BuffaloesIF67Keita Nakagawa

Dectivated

MarinesP49Chen Kuan-yu

Starting pitchers for Oct. 28, 2020

Pacific League

Lions vs Eagles: MetLife Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Shota Hamaya (2-2, 5.31) vs Hideaki Wakui (11-3, 3.20)

Buffaloes vs Fighters: Kyocera Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Hirotoshi Masui (2-2, 3.60) vs Drew VerHagen (7-6, 3.51)

Hawks vs Marines: PayPay Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kodai Senga (9-6, 2.49) vs Chen Wei-yin (0-1, 2.25)

Central League

BayStars vs Giants: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Yuya Sakamoto (4-1, 4.81) vs Yuki Takahashi (1-1, 2.77)

Tigers vs Dragons: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Shintaro Fujinami (1-6, 4.99) vs Akiyoshi Katsuno (4-4, 3.61)

Carp vs Swallows: Mazda Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Atsushi Endo (3-6, 4.35) vs Masanori Ishikawa (2-7, 4.61)

writing & research on Japanese baseball

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