Kodai Senga threw hard at the start, hitting 161 kph against his first batter but was missing all over, especially with his splitter, but it was good enough for a winning debut as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-3 in the Pacific League on Tuesday.
Senga had been out with a calf injury compounded by arm issues, and only went five innings. Yuki Yanagita tied it with a two-run first-inning homer at PayPay Dome off Hayato Yuge (2-1). Ryoya Kurihara homered in the second to make it 3-2 only for Hideto Asamura to hit his ninth home run and tie it in the third. Yanagita broke the tie in the fifth with a hard-hit RBI single.
Albers corners Fighters in Buffaloes’ win
Andrew Albers (1-1) allowed two hits but no walks over seven innings while striking out eight for the Orix Buffaloes in their 7-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Aderlin Rodriguez opened the scoring against right-hander Toshihiro Sugiura (1-1) in the second with his second homer in three games, and Adam Jones’ two-run double made it 3-0 through three. Masataka Yoshida went 4-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs.
Former San Diego Padre Christian Villanueva went 1-for-3 in his Fighters debut.
Fighters activate Villanueva
The Nippon Ham Fighters activated third baseman Christian Villanueva on Tuesday. The infielder, who did not re-sign with the Yomiuri Giants over the winter following his first season in Japan, had an appendectomy in May.
Seibu’s Kona Takahashi struck out nine batters but ran into a buzz saw in the fifth and sixth inning in the Lions’ 8-6 loss to the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s wind-swept Zozo Marine Stadium.
Leonys Martin’s two-out, two-run fifth-inning double broke a 1-1 tie, and rookie Hisanori Yasuda’s two-run homer capped a three-run sixth for the Marines.
Marines right-hander Yuki Ariyoshi (1-0) allowed two runs over six innings, but the bullpen coughed up four runs to make it close.
Dragons lose in 10th with no hitters left
The Chunichi Dragons loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th inning but lost 2-1 to the Yakult Swallows. Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda burned through his nine reserve position players and sent reliever Takuya Mitsuma up to pinch-hit with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th.
Mitsuma fouled off one two-strike pitch before swinging and missing to end the game.
Norichika Aoki led off the Swallows’ 10th with a walk. With one out and first base open, Yoda ordered an intentional walk of red-hot Naomichi Nishiura. But Taishi Hirooka walked with two outs, and 36-year-old career minor leaguer Suguru Ino walked on six pitches to force in the run.
With two outs and runners on the corners in the bottom of the 10th, Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu ordered the bases loaded to bring the Dragons pitcher’s spot up with no position players left on the bench.
“It was 100 percent my mistake,” Yoda said according to Sports Nippon. “I mean one has to have at least one position player on the bench. I was conflicted about that last change and it came back to bite me.”
There are days when robots might be preferable.
And then there was Takatsu’s turn…
Takatsu himself had one of Japan’s most famous relief pitcher pinch-hitting appearances. In 1995, Central League manager Katsuya Nomura ordered Takatsu to pinch-hit for Hideki Matsui after Pacific League skipper Akira Ogi called Ichiro Suzuki in from right field to face the future major leaguer. Suzuki pitched to future big leaguer, just not the one people wanted to see.
The Rakuten Eagles made it look easy last week taking five of six against the Lotte Marines in Sendai — when the Marines entered on the back of an eight-game win streak. The Hawks went 3-2 with a tie at Sapporo Dome against the Fighters.
Tonight will be the 2020 season debut of Hawks ace Kodai Senga. He injured his right calf on the first day of spring training, and hurt his right forearm when he was on the verge of returning to fitness.
Senga starts out Eigoro Mogi with hard stuff, hitting 161 kph on his 4th pitch and gets him looking at a 159 kph inside fastball. If he can keep this location up when he starts with his secondary stuff it could be a long night for the Eagles but a fast game.
Daichi Suzuki hits the first pitch that isn’t a four-seam fastball, a 1-2 cutter away down the line in left for a single. Blash is rung up checking his swing on a low 3-2 slider. That’s about the closest call I’ve seen on a checked swing strike this year. The umps have been pretty forgiving unless a guy has gone well around.
Senga and Kai try to get Hideto Asamura to chase on 3-2 but he’s not biting. It’s two on with two outs for Hiroaki Shimauchi, who survives a close call on a low 1-2 fastball to stay alive. Shimauchi fouls off a cutter inside. Senga misses straight and down the pipe and Shimiuchi drills it over Yuki Yanagita’s head in center for a two-run double. Eagles 2, Hawks 0.
Stefen Romero pops up a first-pitch fastball, and the Eagles are done in the first at the Casa de Pepe.
Ryoya Kurihara, who is in left today, to lead off for the Hawks against the 1.93-meter lefty Hayato Yuge. The lefty clips him on the arm and the leadoff man is on. Mr. “300 sacrifice-bunts” Kenta Imamiya is up, and the announcers, of course, have to mention that, although no show of displeasure that he’s not squaring around.
Imamiya misses a fastball and rolls to short, not hard enough for a GDP. Yuki Yanagita takes a big swing on a first-pitch cutter that floats up in the zone and he miss-hits it just a little but still propels it into the home run terrace in left. We’re tied. Hawks 2, Eagles 2.
Yuge tried so hard to stay away from Yanagita, and he had no business swinging at that pitch, but what are you going to do. He strikes out Coco Balentien on a bouncer that gets away from catcher Hikaru Ota for “furinige” as Balentien reaches on an uncaught swinging third strike.
Keizo Kawashima, the right-handed-slap-hitting utility infielder is batting behind Coco and playing first. It’s like manager Kimiyasu Kudo lost a bet with someone. Kawashima reaches on an infield single, and Nobuhiro Matsuda smashes a bouncer into left and the bags are juiced.
Yuge appears to have regained his composure and strikes out the lefty-swinging Seiji Uebayashi, and the pops up Takuya Kai on the first pitch and the Hawks leave them loaded.
Ginji Akaminai leads off with a four-pitch walk, and now with the speed and the hit-and-miss location, it feels like Kodai Senga is REALLY back. Senga hangs a splitter up in the zone, but Eagles catcher Hikaru Ota looks at it for Strike 3.
Mogi grounds to first and Kawashima — can’t get used to him wearing No. 99 — gets the force at second for the second out. Daichi Suzuki up with runners on the corners but quickly down 0-2 and looks at a strike on the outside corner — that Senga was trying to go inside with.
With one out, Ryoya Kurihara barrels up a straight 1-0 fastball in the heart of the zone and pulls it into the permanents seats in right. Hawks 3, Eagles 2.
Yuge’s location is also kind of here and gone. He loses Imamiya on a 3-2 pitch, to put a man on for Yanagita. Yuge misses in the zone with his first pitch, but Yanagita misses, too, and fouls it off. Two hard ones inside and Yanagita grounds out to first.
Balentien, who pretty much never saw anything over the plate in Sapporo, gets a fastball in the zone and one inside for 1-1. Yuget gets him on a changeup low in the zone that Balentien lines softly to short.
Blash opens the third with a smash to short that nearly knocks Kenta Imamiya off his feet for the first out. But just like that, Hideto Asamura hits his eighth home run and we’re tied. That’s a decent curve from Senga, but Asamura is all over it and drives it 12 rows back in the permanent seats. Hawks 3, Eagles 3.
Very rare for the announcing crew to comment on the umpiring, but they do when Romero takes an 0-2 pitch down the middle and umpire Kunio Kiuchi dutifully gives the batter the benefit of the doubt. Romero hammers the next pitch through the box for a single, that Senga does well to duck. But Senga recovers by getting Akaminai on a pair of curves, that he apparently calls sliders.
Kawashima grounds out to open the Hawks’ third and the Hawks go down in order.
Fun fact:On Jan. 1, 2008, Kawashima was traded by the Nippon Ham Fighters with pitcher Yoshitaka Hashimoto and Takehiko Oshimoto to the Yakut Swallows for lefty Shugo Fuji, right-hander Yataro Sakamoto and current Rakuten manager Hajime Miki. On July 20, 2014, the Swallows sent him and lefty Ryo Hidaka to the Hawks for Nagisa Arakaki and submarine right-hander Hirofumi Yamanaka — who has the distinction of being the only player to still be active after a trade involving Kawashima.
I was thinking about that last week, when Kawashima was starting against the Fighters, playing for a team that had won five of the last six Japan Series after being a middling piece in a trade over 12 years earlier.
With one out, Ryosuke Tatsumi walks for the second time but is cut down on a throw from Kai that reminded us what he was like back in 2018 as the Japan Series MVP basically for his ability to gun down runners.
Yuge needs 11 pitches, six of them on Kai, to get a 1-2-3 inning.
Senga gets Suzuki to fly out on an 0-1 fastball but runs the count full to Blash, who entered the game third in the league in strikeouts and second in walks. But Blash actually swings and misses this time for the second out.
Senga’s location is getting incrementally better as the game goes along. Asamura is up and he fouls a 1-1 fastball in the zone, and a high slider, too. Asamura nearly gets hit with a splitter that gets away and it’s 2-2. The inning ends with a strike zone as Senga hangs a splitter up high and Asamura misses it.
A throwing error by shortstop Eigoro Mogi allows Kenta Imamiya to start the inning at second, and Yuki Yanagita drives a fastball over the inside half of the plate toward the gap in right-center. What a beautiful swing, balanced, compact. Oh if it weren’t for service time manipulation. Hawks 4, Eagles 3.
Yuge gets Balentien to hit into a double play and survives a two-out Kawashima single. Yuge is up to 75 pitches.
Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the PL’s 2019 rookie of the year, is on in relief for Senga, who allowed three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out six.
The first two Hawks go down on three pitches, and they have to rush Takahashi out of the clubhouse to start throwing on the sideline. Taisei Makihara goes up there and apparently has been ordered to take some time up there. He fouls off three, two-strike pitches before grounding out on Yuge’s eighth delivery.
The Eagles bat for catcher Hikaru Ota, and Yuya Ogo flies out on the first pitch. Umpire Kiuchi has not been a big fan of pitches at the bottom of the zone, and lets Tatsumi draw his third walk on a low 3-2 pitch.
Mogi flies out on the first pitch, but Suzuki smashes a hanging 0-1 breaking ball down the pipe and pulls it into right for a single, bringing Blash to the plate with Asamura on deck. Blash reaches when Kawashima can’t hang on to a low throw from Imamiya.
The bases are loaded for Asamura. He misses an 0-1 pitch in the heart of the zone, and Takahashi gets a perfect strike on the outside edge for 1-2. A fastball inside misses, 2-2. The right-hander misses up in the zone, and Asamura fouls out to Kawashima.
Right-hander Tomohito Sakai on for the Eagles. Yuge allows four runs, three earned, over six innings. He gave up six hits and a walk and hit a batter while striking out three.
Sakai jams Kurihara, and Imamiya chases a low 2-2 pitch and flies out. Yanagita swings at a first-pitch strike and flies out to center.
Cuban lefty Livan Moinelo on for SoftBank to take on the Eagles’ fifth, sixth and seventh spots. He strikes out two in a 1-2-3 inning.
Sakai on for his second inning of work and he keeps it close, retiring Balentien, Kawashima and Matsuda.
Yuito Mori is on to close out the one-run game against the bottom of the Eagles’ order. Kazuya Fujita offers at a first-pitch breaking ball up and grounds to short. Tatsumi grounds a 1-1 fastball to second, and Mogi flies out to short to end it.
On Saturday morning, we learned that SoftBank Hawks players Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial will depart Cuba for Japan. This is good news for the Hawks fans, whose team has struggled over the first two weeks of Nippon Professional Baseball’s season.
It also reminds us that Japanese society is not an inclusive or particularly fair one. I suppose that given human nature, asking for a society to be fair is like asking for a government to be honest.
The issue is that people who live, work, pay taxes and contribute to society in a lawful manner are treated differently depending on the group they belong to. If you were born, raised and lived your entire life in Japan, you are a permanent resident, but if you happen to be outside Japan at this moment, you can’t return.
Your family is here? Your work is here? So what? Only Japanese citizens are currently allowed entry. Ostensibly, however, that won’t be a problem if you are a baseball player, whose team’s parent company can pull sufficient strings.
It has been the same way with testing for the coronavirus. Tests are plentiful in Japan, but the government has been miserly about allowing doctors, concerned about their patients health, from having them tested.
Essentially, the only individuals who get tested are:
those who have been identified as having close contact with someone outside their family who has tested positive.
those with the proper symptoms that are so severe as to necessitate hospitalization
professional athletes with or without symptoms
In April, after the government declared a state of emergency, the National Training Center, a facility dedicated to improving Japan’s Olympic performance, was shuttered. But many argued it should be reopened because it is extremely important that Japan achieve its gold medal target for the Tokyo Olympics if they are held.
It was not opened before the state of emergency was lifted, but the very idea that athletes SHOULD get special treatment in the eyes of those in government is striking.
It’s a confirmation to many that who you know and what group you belong to in Japan matter more than anything, and that if you don’t belong to the right group, you really are expendable to a government that for all intents and purposes has worked harder to preserve its Olympic wet dream than it has to protect the lives of its citizens and other less desirable residents.
Japan’s sporting life
There is no smoking-gun evidence that Japan was suppressing its infection counts and limiting testing in February and March in order keep the Tokyo Olympics on track to start on July 23, 2020, but the chart of confirmed infections in Japan is essentially flat until March 24. That’s the day the International Olympic Committee informed Japan that postponement was necessary.
There were 39 confirmed infections on March 24. There had been more than that a number of times in preceding weeks. On March 31 there were 87. On April 7 there were 252; on April 12, Japan peaked at 743. In the span of 20 days it had increased roughly 15 times.
Why then and not now?
It’s on the rise again and although testing is slowly becoming more accessible, it is still limited. Since the state of emergency was lifted and professional sports were put back on the table, the number of infections in Tokyo and around the country are doubling every nine to 10 days.
There are no longer daily briefings by the governor of Tokyo, and my wife keeps wondering allowed why nobody seems to care about the steady increase–which is much sharper than the one that forced pro sports to stop letting in crowds in February–although one might suspect that the official flat curve at that time was faked and that the government was looking at scarier data.
This would account for the huge spike after the Olympics were postponed, that the curve was not that steep at all but had been officially under-reported until March 24. That would partly explain why the government felt the need to act much more quickly in February when there were 30 to 50 new cases a day, than it does now, when there are 150 to 200 new cases a day.
Having set July 10 as the day from when fans will be able to attend Japanese pro baseball games, executives have gone from “We’re not even thinking about getting fans into the park in these dire times” to “Of course we want the maximum number of fans in the park from Day 1.”
And now that MLB and its union have agreed to start their season, they should be looking to see how Japan has handled it and the potential pitfalls that await.
Hawks go 1st
The SoftBank Hawks, who will host the Rakuten Eagles in a six-game series from July 7, will open the doors to between 1,500 and 5,000 invited fans for the final three games at PayPay Dome. The Hawks said they will sell 5,000 tickets through a lottery for their games between July 21 and 31.
From Aug. 1, when teams have agreed to admit about half their stadiums’ capacities, the team will sell up to 20,000 seats, first come, first served.
They were quickly followed by other clubs as teams gear up to sell tickets and start cutting their losses.
House of cards
To its credit Nippon Professional Baseball has worked hard to establish testing and quarantine protocols with the help of leading public health experts. And compared to the United States, the situation is reasonably stable.
But stable is not safe, and the government is still encouraging social distancing, although one wouldn’t know it around the closest major station to my office. Shimbashi, especially the north side, is filled with tiny eating and drinking joints. Whenever there is breaking news at night and TV crews need man-on-the-street interviews, they flock to the “steam locomotive” plaza north of the station where people are constantly milling about.
Walking through Shimbashi is seeing a world of people determined not to care about the risk to their health or others. Tokyo isn’t a hot spot at the moment, but it sure looks like it’s not far removed from being one.
The government of Trumpist prime minister Shinzo Abe has steadfastly kept the brakes on testing, so there is no real feel for how bad the situation is. On Wednesday, Tokyo announced 55 confirmed infections, its highest total since May 5.
So while things appear normal on the surface, there has been no concerted effort to test and control the virus, so we’re all guessing, and crossing our fingers that this house of cards doesn’t come tumbling down with the help of baseball teams rumbling to get paying fans back in the seats.
Major trouble on the horizon
While Japan’s situation appears fragile, seeing the majors talk about opening up when minor leaguers and team staff are producing positive test results and infection rates in many parts of the United States is positively scary.
At least in Japan, the virus has not become politicized.
Getting back to work is not seen by anyone as a patriotic duty. Wearing a mask is not a sign of political dissent. Through MLB owners’ greed, the politicization of the virus and scientific research as a whole and the surging rates of infection, and MLB may need a tremendous amount of luck to avoid being part of a public health catostrophe.
No fans will be in the stands, but that won’t stop people from flocking to ballparks located in neighborhoods with bars, as Japan has shown.
Crowding outside closed doors
Even without fans in the stands, fans are being drawn to watering holes to crowd together and support their teams with like-minded fans. This comes at a time when, according to the ministry of health labor and welfare, Japan and Tokyo in particular is experiencing a gradual increase in the number of daily infections.
On Wednesday, the Yukan Fuji reported on the problem of people opting to socialize rather than social distance and suggested that by packing into bars, the fans were far more likely to be exposed to the virus than at ballparks.
The story also showed fans flocking to the stadium gates to catch glimpses of whatever they can, without paying much attention to social distancing.
Angel Sanchez, who went 17-5 last year in KBO for the SK Wyverns, had a rocky start in his NPB debut Sunday, but earned the win as Kazuma Okamoto and Gerardo Parra homered to lift the Yomiuri Giants to a 7-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers and a three-game series sweep at Tokyo Dome for the defending CL champs.
Sanchez allowed one run, on a leadoff homer to Koji Chikamoto, allowed four walks and four hits, but lasted 5-2/3 innings.
Morishita shines in pro debut for Carp
Masato Morishita, Hiroshima’s top draft pick out of Meiji University, struck out eight in his pro debut against the DeNA BayStars. The righty, who I had a look at in the spring, walked two and gave up four hits in a 104-pitch, seven-inning outing at Yokohama Stadium.
Unfortunately, there was no fairy tale finish in Morishita’s debut as four-straight BayStars batters hit line drives off Tyler Scott in the ninth. Toshiro Miyazaki finishes it off by finding the gap against the drawn-in outfield and two runs scored to end it.
“I believe that our strategy was good but that guy was real good. He has the potential to be an ace pitcher. I was glad they took him out of the game,” DeNA skipper Alex Ramirez said.
BayStars right-hander Kentaro Taira allowed a run over six innings on a walk and five hits, while striking out two.
“It was a great game all the way from the beginning. Taira did a great job from the beginning and the relievers did a great job.”
Yuki Kuniyoshi worked two scoreless innings of relief, and Spencer Patton, who worked the eighth, got the win.
Lions rookie Yoza solid in losing debut
Kaito Yoza allowed three runs over six innings in his first-team for the Seibu Lions, but the bullpen blew up over the final three innings in a 12-2 loss to the Nippon Ham Fighters. Solo homers from Sho Nakata and Taishi Ota gave the visitors an early lead they would never give up.
Mima wins Marines debut
Manabu Mima, who joined Lotte over the winter as a free agent from the Rakuten Eagles, allowed a run while striking out nine in just five innings in the Marines’ 5-1 victory over the SoftBank Hawks.
Seiya Inoue homered in the second off reliever Yuki Tsumori after the Hawks starter, journeyman Akira Niho loaded the bases by hitting Shogo Nakamura in the head. Pitches that strike a batter in or around the head are referred to as “kikenkyu” (dangerous pitches) and call for an automatic ejection for the pitcher.
Former major leaguers Brandon Laird and Leonys Martin reached base before Nakamura was hit and scored as Inoue put the game out of reach early.
June 21 Live blog: Buffaloes vs Eagles
Off to a bit of a slow start on Sunday, folks. Having a look at Orix and Rakuten today, because my favorite Japanese pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is on the mound for the Buffaloes.
Yamamoto has consistently the best stuff in Japan, and it looks like he’s put some muscle on his once spindly frame. He struck out the side in order in the first and got a one-run lead in the home half, but two ground balls in the second produced the Eagles’ first hit.
Dangerous Hideto Asamura grounds out softly to 2nd.
Hiroaki Shimauchi gets a grounder through between 1st and 2nd
Former Buffaloe Stefen Romero grounds to short and the enigmatic Ryoichi Adachi starts the inning-ending double play.
Eagles starter Ryota Ishibashi went 8-7 as a rookie last year and was second on the team in innings pitched with 127-1/3 because the club’s two best starters, Takayuki Kishi and Takahiro Norimoto missed time with injuries
Ishibashi’s average fastball velocity last year was 145.2 kph, and he’s a four-seam, cutter, splitter, and two-seam guy, although be aware the two-seam description generally encompasses two distinctly different pitches, a hard running fastball and a two-seam sinking fastball–which is the rarer of the two in Japan.
Kenya Wakatsuki grounds out.
Ryoichi Adachi singles to center.
Shunta Goto singles to right to put runners on the corners for Takahiro Okada.
Okada, who slid home headfirst to score on Keita Nakagawa’s sac fly in the first, singles in the Buffaloes’ second run.
Aderlin Rodriguez looks like a player built for Japan, a smooth compact swing, who makes excellent contact. Ishibashi hangs a forkball and Rodriguez hits it high up the wall in left for an RBI double, Buffaloes 3, Eagles 0.
Rodriguez, however, contributes an out on the bases, thanks to some slick defense by Eagles first baseman Ginji Akaminai. Ginji goes to a knee to stab a ball off the bat of Masataka Yoshida, makes the play at first and then throws behind Rodriguez who is trapped between second and third.
Akaminai, who wears “Ginji” on his uniform as his registered name, grounds out to second, topping 1-2 splitter.
Catcher Hikaru hits a little comebacker to Yamamoto for the second out.
Ryosuke Tatsumi, the PL’s 2018 rookie of the year swings and misses at a low fastball for another 1-2-3 inning. The thing about Yamamoto is that he has so many quality pitches, that it’s very common to see everyone guessing wrong and getting terrible swings even at mistakes in the zone.
Adam Jones had two hits on Saturday, and put a sweet swing on a straight fastball in the first for a single that contributed to Orix’s first run. Ishibashi gets a generous call on a low pitch from home plate ump Masanobu Suginaga, and Jones goes down looking.
Keita Nakagawa, who had a strong rookie season playing all over the musical chairs game the Buffaloes’ infield resembled last year, flies out to left.
Koji Oshiro, another of those versatile infielders from 2019, grounds out to short.
Eigoro Mogi gets under a high 151-kph fastball and flies out to left.
Daichi Suzuki, the former Marines captain who moved to Sendai as a free agent over the winter, swings under a high 1-2 running fastball to go down swinging.
Jabari Blash, who struck out looking in the first, flails at a beauty of an 0-2 curve.
Buffaloes catcher Kenya Wakatsuki launches a hanging first-pitch slider away to the warning track for an opposite-field leadoff double.
Adachi tops an attempted sacrifice bunt in front of the plate, and Ota throws out his opposite number at third.
Akaminai, playing in tight at first base, makes a good play on a little chopper by Goto.
Okada, who raked in the spring and in practice games, pulled a high hanging forkball over Akaminai and down the right-field line for his second double of the game and a 4-0 Buffaloes lead. This is quite a turnaround for Okada, whose career has been in decline for nearly a decade, and who spent most of the 2019 season on the farm after a handful of sloppy at-bats and fielding misplays at first base.
Ishibashi snaps off a nasty curve to send Rodriguez down swinging.
Not a great fastball, but Asamura doesn’t get a great swing on it and pops up down the left field line.
An easy fly to lefty by Shimauchi and Yamamoto appears to be operating on cruise control.
He works carefully to Romero, who ends a good 6-pitch at-bat by fouling out.
Rookie right-hander Taisei Tsurusaki on the mound for the Eagles after Ishibashi gives up four runs in four innings. Tsurusaki is making his debut against the middle of the Buffaloes lineup. He looks to have a repeatable delivery, comes over the top and keeps his hand on top of the ball.
Yoshida, one of the best hitters in the PL, swings at a huge 12-6 curve before taking a cutter on the outside corner for Strike 3.
Jones provides less of a challenge, grounding a first-pitch fastball away to second.
Nakagawa walks on seven pitches and steals second easily.
Oshiro walks on 6 pitches.
Wakatsuki flies out off the handle, and the rookie survives without any damage done.
Nice at-bat by Ginji, but he tips a 2-2 shoot into Wakatsuki’s glove for Strike 3.
Backup catcher Ayatsugu Yamashita batting for his catching partner Ota and grounds out easily to first.
Yamamoto is toying with Tatsumi, going after the corners with his hard stuff while getting three strikes with his curve. Tatsumi goes down swinging at one low out of the zone.
Veteran lefty Wataru Karashima on the mound for the Eagles. He had a serviceable year in the rotation last season, going 9-6 in 117-1/3 innings. He is in middle relief this year with closer Yuki Matsui moving back into the rotation. He’s basically a fastball, slider, curve change guy.
I love watching Ginji Akaminai play first base. He is everywhere on everything, and knows where to look and when to throw. Another good play opens the first as he throws out Adachi to open the seventh.
Goto flies out to left.
Okada’s confidence is dialed up to “11” now after floundering for several seasons. He is balanced at the plate and ready to attack EVERYTHING. He walks to bring up Rodriguez.
And Rodriguez, short to the ball on an inside pitch and pulls it down the line in left for a double. Okada to third.
Okada, a small guy with a quiet stance in the left-handed batters box, doesn’t look like he should be dangerous, but he has serious power and plate discipline. Not this time though, as Karashima gets him to ground to short.
Don’t remember when the PL started the innovation of playing the visiting team’s Lucky Seventh song on the stadium speakers, but it is a nice touch, since no matter what park you’re at in the top flight there will be at least five or six hundred fans on the visitor’s side of the outfield waving their flags and cheering on their guys.
With no fans in the stands, the Kyocera Dome scoreboard was showing Eagles fans cheering from home on streaming video while, the Eagles song, what Casey McGehee called the “Igloo song,” plays.
Mogi grounds out to open the visitors’ seventh.
Suzuki misses a 3-2 inside fastball for Yamamoto’s 10th strikeout.
Blash grounds one up the middle for an infield single.
Asamura miss-hits a cutter to short for an easy out.
Tomohiro Anraku, who made a name for himself in high school with his brutal pitch counts, comes in to pitch the seventh for the Eagles.
Jones looks at two fastballs low and away before grounding out to second.
Nakagawa lined a pitch to short right center, and nearly got caught out thinking it would get through when Tatsumi cut it off in center.
Pinch runner for Nakagawa at first, and Yuya Oda swipes second. Oshiro flies out to center but not deep enough to send Oda to third.
Wakatsuki grounds out and we’re going to the 8th with the Eagles trailing 4-0.
Shimauchi flies out to first on the second pitch.
Romero flies out to second on the second pitch.
Yasuhito Uchida, batting for Ginji, who may have twisted something when he miss-stepped making that play to open the seventh, rips a single to right.
Yamashita his what they call a “bonda” in Japanese, an easy out, on a grounder to second.
That’s 94 pitches for Yamamoto and with a four-run lead, he won’t be back. Thirty years ago, I guarantee, he’d be getting ready for the ninth. Back then, there was no good excuse for lifting a starter who was leading. “How can you take him out? It’s a close game” or “How can you take him out with that big lead.” You name it, there was an excuse for it.
Anraku, the Eagles’ top draft pick in 2014, is back for the ninth.
Adachi lines out.
Goto fouls off two, two-strike pitches before striking out swinging in an eight-pitch at-bat.
Anraku finally makes Okada look like the guy who could possibly be lost at the plate as he hesitates on a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner for Strike 3.
United States international closer Brandon Dickson on in the ninth. He was a productive starter for the Buffaloes for six seasons, but last year, with no one else to turn to, he was thrust into the closer’s role, where he’s been dynamite. He finished 2019 as the closer for Team USA in the Premier 12.
Pinch-hitter Kazuya Fujita flies out to left.
Mogi grounds out to second.
Suzuki fouls off a tough two-strike fastball on the outside corner. Takes a ball low for 2-2, and puts a good swing on a fastball but lines it straight to Goto in center for the Buffs’ first win of the season.
Before the nitty gritty about today’s live blog, here are some other NPB quick hits.
Baby shark warning
367 days after he introduced the Baby Shark to Washington Nationals fans, Gerardo Parra hit his first regular season home run in Japan in the Yomiuri Giants’ 11-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers. We don’t know what the Giants players were doing during their layoff but they apparently had been doing their baby shark homework assignments.
Yamada 28, 29 and counting
Tetsuto Yamada is going to have to hustle to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a 120-game season, but he’s off to a good start. He hit his second home run on Saturday and grabbed his first stolen base in Yakult’s 6-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons.
The Swallows second baseman is the only player in NPB history with more than one season with a .300-plus average, and 30 or more steals and home runs. This accomplishment of .3, 30, 30 is mangled in Japanese as the “Triple Three.” Yamada has done it three times.
Although scouts have been salivating over the possibility of Yamada playing in the majors, more of them seem certain that the other guy with two homers this year, Seiya Suzuki of the Hiroshima Carp will go.
Suzuki homered twice on Saturday in a 10-5 win over the DeNA BayStars. Veteran minor league pitcher Michael Peoples allowed one run over six innings and striking out seven for the BayStars.
Wada strong, but Hawks lose
Former Chicago Cub Tsuyoshi Wada struck out seven, while allowing a run over 6-1/3 innings–on a leadoff homer by former Yankee Brandon Laird in the second–in the Hawks’ 3-2 loss to the Lotte Marines. Former Cleveland Indians reliever Frank Herrmann picked up the in relief.
The balls are jumping, but
Home runs have not been more frequent this year than they were over the same period last year. Last year, there were 29 hit out over 215 innings. Although two pitchers homered on Friday, there have been 21 over 216 2/3 innings the first two days of the 2020 season.
Lions Fighters live blog June 20, 2020
Switching to the Pacific League today and the Lions-Fighters game from empty MetLife Dome.Top of 1st
Wataru Matsumoto on the mound for the Lions. According to Delta Graphs, he gave up 29. 1 percent hard contact last year, 2nd best among Lions pitchers with 50-plus innings, but had the fourth-worst DER behind him (.692). Flyball pitcher primarily fastball, cutter, split last year.
Haruki Nishikawa strikes out on a steady diet of fastballs to open the game.
Taishi Ota singles, hits a cutter away off the end of the bat.
Kensuke Kondo strikes out swinging at a 3-3 fastball, Ota caught stealing for the DP.
Fighters starter Takayuki Kato played an important role as a rookie in 2016, when the Fighters starting rotation was without Shohei Ohtani for much of the summer. Kato, the second pick the previous autumn, went 7-3 as the Fighters won the PL pennant and the Japan Series.
He’s a lefty with a low-velocity(137 kph avg) fastball and has thrown about every pitch in the book
Corey Spangenberg strikes out on five pitches, slider, slider, splitter, fastball and splitter out of the zone.
Sosuke Genda, LHB, strikes out swinging at a high 1-2 fastball away after being set up with a slider and a curve out of the zone.
Tomoya Mori, last year’s PL MVP, lays off three two-strike pitches away and singles off a 3-3 fastball.
Hotaka Yamakawa, the 2018 MVP and two-time defending PL home run champ flies out on a 1-0 fastball away.
Sho Nakata, the biggest power threat in the Fighters lineup since the departure of Ohtani (Angels) and Brandon Laird (Lotte Marines) refused to chase three out of the zone but flies out on a low 145-kph fastball. Matsumoto is throwing harder today than he did for most of his 2019 rookie season.
Wang Po-Jung flies out on a first-pitch curve in the zone.
Ryo Watanabe, one of the big surprises for the Fighters last year, again declines to chase three pitches out of the zone but grounds a 3-1 fastball to short.
Takeya Nakamura takes two inside fastballs for strikes before missing a splitter out of the zone
Takumi Kuriyama, who is along with Giants outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei, one of the favorite veteran grinders of the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast. He fouls off a pair of two-strike pitches before singling on the eighth pitch.
The plate discipline theme is in mid-season form as Lions No. 8 hitter Fumikazu Kimura walks on six pitches.
Yuji Kaneko hits a potential double play grounder to second, but Watanabe fumbles it and they can only get the force.
With two out and runners on the corners, Spangenberg grounds a first-pitch fastball to second.
Kazunari Ishii flies out on a curve. Seeing quite a few from Matsumoto today.
Yuki Nomura, who was born in the States, and made his top-flight debut on Friday and went 0-for-2, walks.
Catcher Yushi Shimizu grounds into a double play, something the Lions were pretty good at on defense last year.
Genda flies out on five pitches.
Mori flies out to center
Yamakawa singles on a 3-2 splitter that Kato leaves up and over the plate.
Sotozaki walks on five pitches.
Nakamura strikes out, again, on a split out of the zone, again.
Nishikawa opens with a single when Matsumoto misses up and in with a fastball.
Matsumoto strikes out Ota with a big beautiful curve that drops out of the zone.
Kensuke Kondo, who walks as much as anyone in Japan, took four and is on first base, inviting a mound meeting.
Wang strikes out swinging at a splitter that had virtually no spin on it. If they weren’t prevented from licking the ball, I’d be suspicious of that one.
Watanabe walks and the Lions bench is restless.
But Matsumoto escapes further damage against Watanabe, who can’t handle a pair of high-inside fastballs and pops out.
Kuriyama leads it off for the Lions with a walk. It’s not really a surprise that guys are having trouble locating. They typically enter the season after nearly two months of bullpens and preseason games. This year they started with that, then stopped, and went back to work at the end of May.
Kimura gets jammed on a fastball and flies out.
Kaneko pokes a fastball away into right and there’s two on.
Spangenberg up. Kato throws low 3/4 and when he throws his splitter away to lefties, it looks a lot like the slider, but Spangenberg is able to foul those off. He has no answer for the slider away though, and goes down swinging.
Nomura pops out to first on the first pitch.
Shimizu pops out to short as Matsumoto is using the fastball-cutter combination to miss barrels.
Nishikawa completes the game of “Three Flies out” by popping out to second on a high fastball.
New pitcher for Nippon Ham. 28-year-old right-hander Shota Tamai, who pitched in 65 games last season. Fastball, two-seamer, cutter, curve. Has had his best results with a shoot (essentially a reverse cutter) and the cutter last year.
Mori strikes out looking at 2-2 fastball that nails the bottom of the zone.
After four outside pitches to the right-handed-hitting Yamakawa, Tamai gets him on an inside fastball.
A 2-1 fastball runs in on Tonosaki and he also grounds it to third, where the 19-year-old Nomura makes a nice grab and throws on the run.
Matsumoto, among the league leaders in infield fly percentage last year, gets his fifth straight to open the sixth as Ota flies out to first.
Kondo, who drew 103 walks last year, draws his third of the year.
Nakata flies out to left.
Wang grounds to first.
Nakamura avoids striking out for the third time by popping up a 143-kph first-pitch fastball from Tamai to second.
Kuriyama singles singles to right.
Kimura watches three running fastballs before flying out on a cutter.
Kaneko flies out to left to end an easy inning for Tamai.
Watanabe draws a 6-pitch leadoff walk on Matsumoto’s 90th pitch.
Ishii smashes a grounder to first after costing himself two strikes trying to bunt.
That’s all for Matsumoto. Stocky, hard-throwing righty Kaima Taira comes in to face Nomura, who hits a low fastball on the screws but straight to Tonosaki at second.
No. 9 hitter Shimizu strikes out looking at slider.
Time for the Lions “Lucky 7th.” With no fans in the park, the scoreboard is showing fans on a streaming app singing the Lions’ team song, while the mascots and cheer leaders perform.
Lefty Katsuhiko Kumon up for the Fighters, with Spangenberg probably happy not to see anymore of Kato’s sliders leading off.
Unfortunately, the new import doesn’t have any more luck with Kumon’s slider than he did Kato’s, and goes down swinging for the third time, low and away.
Genda walks to put the tying run on base.
Mori flies out to center after Genda steals second.
Yamakawa up, but the lefty gets him to hit the first pitch to Nomura at third. Inning over.
Trailing by a run, the Lions bring in Tetsu Miyagawa to make his pro debut. The 24-year-old righty was the Lions’ top draft pick last autumn out of corporate league club Toshiba.
Nishikawa flies out on a 2-1 fastball.
Ota, who was a No. 1 draft pick in his previous existence as the Yomiuri Giants “Next Hideki Matsui” fans on some nasty sliders.
Kono gets ahead in the count before smashing a ball off the rookie pitcher’s glove for an infield single — fun fact: pitchers in Japan get no assist when the ball comes off their glove or body on a ground out.
Miyagawa is trying to paint corners, and walks Nakata on five pitches.
More avoidance of the strike zone brings pitching coach Fumiya Nishiguchi to the mound as Wang walks and the bases are loaded with two outs for Watanabe.
Watanabe hits a shot back to Miyagawa, who knocks it down and ends the inning.
Naoki Miayanishi, the Fighters veteran lefty middle reliever is on.
Sotozaki strikes out swinging at a high backdoor slider from Miyanishi.
Nakamura also strikes out on a pitch away after Miyanishi plays cat and mouse with umpire Kazuhiro Kobayashi, who isn’t inclined to cut the lefty any slack on that side till a 3-1 fastball misses completely and Miyanishi gets one on credit. Nakamura then swings at Miyanishi’s 3-2 pitch just as far out of the zone away and misses.
Kuriyama strokes a single to right but is called out trying to steal. Shimizu bounces the throw, but Kuriyama’s wheels aren’t what they were 11 years ago, when he last stole 10 bases in a season, and he’s out after a video request.
Second-year right-hander Ryosuke Moriwaki up for Seibu.
Ishii lines out to first.
Nomura flies out center.
Shimizu doubles to the warning track in left.
Nishikawa up with a chance to purchase some insurance with a base hit but walks on seven pitches. Two on for Ota.
Moriwaki balks on a 0-2 pitch to Ota, both runners advance. He’s called for not pausing three seconds. Ota grounds to third and is ruled safe at first as Shimizu crosses the plate. The call is overturned on appeal and we go to the bottom of the ninth with the Fighters leading 2-1.
At least until 2019, NPB owners were too cheap to give the umpires real TV monitors to view the replays, forcing them to use these 8″ portable monitors, which resulted in the fans in the stands getting a better view of the play than the umps under the stands did.
Right-handed side-armer Ryo Akiyoshi, acquired from Yakult after the only poor season of his career in 2018, became the Fighters’ closer ikn 2019 and saved 25 games. He’s on now looking for Save No. 1.
Kimura flies out on a 2-2 slider away to open the inning.
Kaneko battles and battles and battles before watching a backdoor slider cross the plate for Strike 3.
And for the first time in the game, Spangenberg gets to face a right-hander, but strikes (again) although this one was in the dirt.
Final score: Fighters 2, Lions 1
Haruki Ishikawa, whose hit was the 1,000th of his career is sporting his “1,000 hits” T-shirt for his post-game hero interview.
Swallows starter Masanori Ishikawa has had a couple of monster Opening Days, but after getting two easy outs in the first, the Dragons two big foreign hitters put the visitors on top. (Can we call a foul catch by Munetaka Murakami an easy out? He’s playing at third base for goodness sakes) Beautiful hitting by Zoilo Almonte, who missed most of last season, followed by a drive into the stands by Dayan Viciedo.
Bottom of 1st
Tomotaka Sakaguchi, one of the guys who has famously had a productive career after escaping Orix — I believe he threatened to dig a tunnel out of Kyocera Dome, beats out an infield single. Tetsuto Yamada then puts an easy swing on a fastball from Yudai Ono and lofts it over the wall in left center. The only player in NPB history to hit .300 with 30 homers and 30 steals more than once will have a tough job doing for the 4th time considering there’s only 120 games to work with, but gets a nice start.
Norichika Aoki follows with a double to left that Almonte is slow to get to and scores on a single by Murakami. The Swallows load the bases but Ono gets out of jai.
Top of 2nd
Nine pitches and Ishikawa is done in the 2nd, leaving the pitcher Ono to lead off the Dragons’ third.
Bottom of 2nd
Nice diving stop from second baseman Toshiki Abe gives Ono a 1-2-3 second. This guy’s career was going NOWHERE until Tsuyoshi Yoda took over as Dragons manager last year and took this guy who’d basically done nothing on the first team and the farm. He makes contact and he can play defense. Last year, the balls he hit found lots of holes and his numbers made him look like an all-star.
Top of 3rd
Singles by leadoff man Yohei Oshima and a little ground single again to the right side from Zoilo Almonte, who has apparently been picking up tips from Chunichi’s masters of slap-hitting zen, give Chunichi an opportunity as the rain picks up. Ishikawa, however, escapes trouble as Aoki gloves the final out after circumnavigating left field as only he can do.
Bottom of 3rd
The ground crew was out doing damage control between innings, as nobody wants to give away a game this year when makeups may be impossible.
I swear Yakult’s Takahiro Shiomi looks so much like Aoki as a hitter, that I have to do a double take to see if Aoki hasn’t started switch-hitting.
Top of 4th
After Ono cruised through the bottom of the third, allowing only an opposite-field flair, it’s Ishikawa’s turn. At 1.67 meters, Ishikawa is one of the shortest pitchers in NPB. The lefty came up just short of turning two hits into outs as Shuhei Takahashi bounces one over the mound and up the middle for a leadoff single.
Abe lines a high 2-0 fastball away down the right field line for a double, and Yota Kyoda ties it with a foul sac fly to Aoki. Alcides Escobar grabs a ground ball on the next play, fires behind Abe at second in plenty of time, but Yamada waits for the runner to slide into his tag and he fails to comply. First video request for me this season comes up empty for new Swallows skipper Shingo Takatsu.
Bottom of 4th
Longtime Eagle captain Motohiro Shima doubles off the top of the wall, and Ishikawa bunts him to third, giving Yakult a chance to end this after 4-1/2 innings. Sakaguchi smokes a pitch low out of the zone and rips it up the middle for RBI single and Yakult is up 4-3 with one out and and a man on.
Aoki goes deep off a lefty and its 6-3 Swallows. That was his 111th career home run in Japan and like a lot of the balls we saw going out in practice games, it didn’t look he had much energy on that swing. It was his 27th off a lefty but only his first off Ono.
Top of 5th
It’s really raining and looks like they shouldn’t be playing but Ishikawa gets into a two-out jam on a Viciedo single and a Takahashi double. But Murakami, probably the worst fielding first baseman in Japan last year, stabs a ball at third and throws Abe out to end the inning. Ishikawa, who has never completed his first start of the season, pumps his fist but the umps play on so he won’t go the distance this time either.
Bottom of 5th
We’re into the bullpen now, with Ono gone after 83 pitches. Right-hander Katsuki Matayoshi allows a two-out single to Escobar, but nothing else.
Top of 6th
And who cares about the rain?
After facing 24 batters and throwing 84 pitches, Ishikawa is gone in favor of lefty Yuki Hasegawa, who promptly gives up a leadoff double to Kyoda and a single by catcher Takuma Kato. Nobumasa Fukuda, the Dragons’ top pinch-hitter bats for Matayoshi and pops up. I have no idea why it is, but NPB hitters don’t suffer the same pinch-hitting penalty that Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin documented regarding major leaguers in “The Book.”
Yohei Oshima grounds into a force out as Kyoda scores from third, Swallows 6 Dragons 4. Right-hander Noboru Shimizu in to face Ryosuke Hirata, who pops up to the catcher, Shima and it’s time for more joy in mudville as the umps say play on.
Bottom of 6th
The hardest throwing pitcher we’ve seen so far tonight is on, Chunichi right-hander Hiroshi Suzuki. Good movement on his cutter and his four-seamer. Still, he surrenders a leadoff pinch-hit single to Takeshi Miyamoto. Takahashi falls behind 3-0 to Sakaguchi then throws three straight near the bottom of the strike zone where with some charity from home plate ump Masaharu Kasahara, gets Sakaguchi to ground out.
It may be the middle of June but Takahashi’s location looks like he hasn’t pitched in a while.. He walks Yamada and it’s two on and one out for Aoki, who gets ahead before striking out on a low fastball.
Murakami, however, singles in Miyamoto and its a 7-4 Swallows.
Top of 7th
Elsewhere, the first appearance by Orix’s bullpen proves disastrous, as 12 Rakuten batters put up eight runs in the eighth in Osaka to break up a 1-1 game.
At Jingu, 21-year-old righty Yugo Umeno is on for Yakult. He had a very respectable 2019 in middle relief, pitching in 68 games last season. But ANOTHER good at-bat by Almonte results in a single and a four-pitch walk to Viciedo puts the tying run at the plate with no outs.
A beautiful swing from Shuhei Takahashi plants a double into the gap in right and only Jingu’s infield mud hazard prevents Viciedo from scoring. He does come home, when Abe puts the ball in play and grounds into the first out.
A nice swing by Yota Kyoda on a decent low fastball singles home the tying run and its 7-up. That’s followed by a straight one that substitute catcher Takuya Kinoshita lines to right and Umeno is done.
Bottom of 7th
Right-hander Daisuke Sobue allowed Alcides Escobar’s second single of the game but nothing else in a scoreless inning. Alas for a pitcher whose name sounds like “subway,” the Dragons reliever comes nearly straight over the top when he should be serving up submarine deliveries.
Top of 8th
Scottt McGough, who had a strong 2019 debut season with the Swallows, strikes out two in a scoreless eighth.
Bottom of 8th
Cuban right-hander Raidel Martinez got Yamada to hit into a double play and erase Sakaguchi after the leadoff man open with a single in a scoreless inning against the top of the Swallows lineup.
Top of 9th
Taishi Ishiyama delivers Yakult’s second 1-2-3 inning of the game..
Bottom of 9th
… only for Hiroto Fuku to do the same in the home half and send this puppy into extra inning, period. NPB games, which had gone to 12 innings before being called and declared ties, will only go 10 this year due to the coronavirus.
Top of 10th
Ryuta Konno, who in six pro seasons with the Rakuten Eagles has pitched a total of 23-2/3 innings, gets the ball for the Swallows in the 10th. A walk, an error on Konno and a single load the bases with no outs and a game that was once in hand in peril.
A Naomichi Donoue sacrifice fly puts the Dragons in front for the first time since the first inning, and there’s still time for more.
Another former Eagle, catcher Motohiro Shima due to lead off the Swallows’ 10th from the No. 8 spot.
Dayan Viciedo flies out but a wild pitch erases any force play as the Dragons look to add on here. Abe makes contact, again, grounding between second and third, and it’s 9-7 Dragons.
Bottom of 10th
Two-out single by rookie Yudai Koga against veteran lefty Toshiya Okada brings Yamada up with a chance to tie it. He survives a possible third strike on a checked swing before beating out an infield single to short.
Okada gets two strikes against Taishi Hirooka but can’t get him to chase two sliders he buried. The lefty hangs the next one and Hirooka lines it into left to load the bases.
Munetaka Murakami, who blasted 36 home runs last year as a 19-year-old rookie is up with a chance to walk it off. But two swinging strikes, and Okada pumps his fist as the Dragons get away with the win.
Wayne Graczyk used to refer to these games as the lid lifter, and even after all this time I can’t think of a Giants home game at Tokyo Dome without seeing Wayne in my mind’s eye on the sideline.
We all miss you so much, from asking whether I brought a bento or whether I would eat in the media salon, “the chow hall” or go out for something to checking to see whether I brought coffee or not since he’d stopped at Mr. Donuts in Kichijoji and brought me my “Jim Allen Special” — a plain old fashioned.
Opening Day is always special and Wayne always made it more so. So today, all of us honor you, because like so many of the wonderful kind and hard-working players and coaches who came to Japan to ply their trade, you made Japan and Japanese baseball better. It was Wayne’s world, and we were privileged to have a place in it.
If you’re a fan of major league baseball, you have a right to be upset that greedy owners are holding you and the game you love in contempt, while a deadly virus makes a mockery of many things you thought of as normal and threatens lives and livelihoods. Things have turned upside down. I get it. I feel your pain and your anger.
That being said, it looks like you will have your baseball in one form or another. And it’s about goddamn time you appreciate that part of it and stop complaining about the package it’s coming in.
I know that’s hard, but stop whining just because it’s not the baseball you’re used to.
Sure, there are concerns. We want the players and coaches and people working around them in the game to all be safe. And I don’t just mean the people we pay to see but the people we don’t, the clubhouse managers, cooks, security guards, batboys and umpires.
A lot of people are affected by the coronavirus and the callous way the owners have treated them and everyone concerned with baseball including the fans is worthy of a serious karmic kick in the privates.
I also get that a huge chunk of our love of baseball is a stable foundation, a predictable format of a certain number of games followed by a postseason. Twitter is now awash with serious people questioning whether a shortened season will be legitimate, and I suppose that’s a valid question in an era where the phrase “small sample size” is as common a feature in a baseball broadcast as “clutch performer.” Baseball’s grand moments are truly grand because they stand out from a long-established pattern. Those moments, those special seasons become musical riffs we hear in our memory that have the power to take our breath away years later.
We worry that losing the commonality of a long grinding regular season will deprive us of the joy of placing that year’s accomplishments neatly on the shelf next to the others in our history and the knowledge that it is just one more completed piece of an orderly baseball universe.
People whose opinions I thrive on are upset that awards handed out for a 50-game season will lack luster, and I don’t blame them. But if we expect players to compete, if that’s what we’re really here for, the human reach and struggle to win and overcome adversity, then hell yes, the awards have meaning. OK, so we won’t learn as much about how good a team is over 162 games. Spare us all the lectures. We know it in our hearts.
All my life, I’ve listened to people say the true test of greatness is a 162-game season only to turn around in October and say exactly the same thing about a seven-game world series. The same people often utter both and are completely unconcerned with the apparent contradiction. We love both, the long grind and the final decision. One is a test, the other a crapshoot. But let’s face it, who doesn’t like a game of chance now and then.
If you like, boycott this unfamiliar experiment because it’s a contrivance of the greedy bastards who couldn’t give two shakes for either the beauty of the game, the artisans who produce it, or the human beings who invest their time and money into it. The game would be so much better run by people who loved baseball as much as they love guaranteed returns on investments.
Do what you can to never give the owners a penny. They don’t deserve you. Encourage the people who play and teach the game to quit MLB and form a better union. But don’t complain about having baseball.
If any of you look at this season and say “That’s not baseball,” then you’re getting on the same viral cruise ship with the morons who say baseball in Japan or in Korea or Taiwan is not baseball because it’s different — because it’s different from what they’re accustomed to.
But having seen baseball through Japanese lenses for more years than I like to say, seeing something familiar from a different perspective teaches you as much about where you’ve been as about where you are.
So fight for change, support the players and human rights and abandon the charlatans who run MLB, but treasure this season for what it is, a special riff in baseball’s musical universe. I guarantee you’ll never forget it.
A long time ago, in a baseball-loving nation far, far away there were two leagues where the owners were not greedy extortionists bent on sucking all the short-term profits out of the game while leveraging their monopoly status to abscond with local taxpayers money and land.
In that nation, labor and management believed in peace, harmony, loyalty, and duty as stewards of the game. In that land, the owners never collude with the players union to hamstring amateurs’ bargaining power, and don’t have draft slot allotments or signing bonus pools, minor leaguers on starvation wages or labor strife.
I’d tell you that was Japan and the leagues were the Central and Pacific, but we all know that such a place only exists in fiction. While compared to MLB’s return-on-investment real-estate-development barons, Japan’s owners appear downright humanistic, and labor strife is (except for four dates erased from the 2004 season by Japan’s only players strike) is all but unheard of.
There were no pay cuts by owners, because the rule structure didn’t permit it, and on Monday, four days away from Opening Day on June 19, the players union said it will go into the season without a service-time agreement in place. Like the owners inability to cut salaries because of the law and their rules, the players’ inaction likely has nothing to do with altruism.
By going into the season without an agreement, the union is on the verge of giving owners an extra year of team control in addition to the seven-to-nine they already have. Essentially, players need 145 days on the first-team roster in order to qualify for one year of service time. But this year’s 120-game schedule will span just 151 days, meaning anyone deactivated for anything other than an injury, will not get a full year.
A typical 143-game season takes place over a span of 190 days, and the players want the rate for service time increased so that one game counts as more. They are also concerned about players making less than the first-team minimum of 16 million yen. These players get pro rated up to the minimum, but with fewer games, a player appearing in all 120 games might not come close to the minimum.
So the players are worried that if they go into the season without an agreement, the owners will, say thank you very much for your understanding then tell them say no one forced them to agree to terms favorable to the owners.
The players are going to do it, however, because they are unaccustomed to fighting for their rights. On one level there is a desire to play, and on another level, there’s a fear of appearing disloyal to the fans. But the real bottom line is that labor rights, although engraved in Japan’s constitution, are frequently ignored. Japanese court decisions are overwhelmingly pro-business, and the players have done little to maneuver themselves into a position of leverage.
The union fought the teams’ ability to control players’ image rights and lost, with the judges’ decision boiling down to, “Well the owners have a lot of expertise in selling things, so let’s just let them keep managing these things shall, we.” That decision was made despite the owners’ experience in managing licensing rights as waiting for people to throw them money and not always messing up the deal.
Labor negotiations in Japan make the MLB-MLBPA talks seem positively progress and engaging. More often they look like this:
Labor: “We’d like better raises, given all we’ve done.”
Management: “So would I. Our policy is not to give raises.”
This process is repeated forever until the labor negotiators, who are not paid for their time, get worn down by the sheer futility of it all.
What the union needs to do is attack some of the huge gaping holes in the Pro Baseball Agreement that governs Nippon Professional Baseball and exploit those for meaningful concessions, such as shortening the amount of service time needed or creating a real pension plan.
The real place to start would be Japan’s reserve clause, which a former GM said recently are essentially unconstitutional, with courts rejecting the claim of companies and pro sports teams that their contracts allow them to block the movement of entertainers and pro athletes.
“The reserve clause is inherently unconstitutional,” he said. “I have to think it will fall under the slightest challenge.”