This is the start of Japanese baseball’s ugly “magic season.” It almost started after the all-star break, but the Yomiuri Giants prevented that by losing a bunch of games.
Tonight’s story from the Lions-Fighters game at MetLife Dome wasn’t about Shogo Akiyama but rather that the Lions’ win prevented the SoftBank Hawks’ magic number “lamp from being lit.”
The magic number in NPB is defined, not as the number of games one needs to clinch the pennant. It is that, of course, but that would be too simple for a nation where baseball is not really baseball unless it’s really, really anal retentive.
A Japanese magic number is much more. It is the number of games you have to win (or your nearest rival has to lose) for you to clinch the pennant, provided — and here’s the kicker — none of your wins come against that closest competitor. That last qualification decides when your magic number will appear. On occasion, teams needing to beat that team to win, will win a pennant without ever having a magic number at all.
The thing about the ugly magic season is that few teams are actually eliminated from contention in August, and nobody clinches, so newspapers waste a whole lot of copy inches writing about magic number lore, precedents and you name it. The earliest magic number in franchise history? You betcha.
And if the second-place team drops down in the standings, and is replaced by a team with more games against the leading pennant contender, then the magic number can vanish, prompting even more dumb stories from the nation’s ubiquitous sports dailies.
And now for something completely different: baseball.
Lions 4, Fighters 2
At MetLife Dome, on the day Shogo Akiyama qualified to file for international free agency this offseason, he singled in two runs to overturn a 1-0 deficit and give Seibu the lead in a win over Nippon Ham.
Zach Neal (7-1) only struck out one batter over six innings, but retired nine-straight batters at one stretch and six more at another to allow just a run on Haruki Nishikawa’s first-inning leadoff homer.
Bryan Rodriguez (6-4) started and went five innings, allowing two runs, one earned, as Nippon Ham seems to be giving Mizuki Hori a rest from his duties as opener.
Game highlights are HERE.
Marines 7, Eagles 3
At Zozo Marine Stadium, Ayumu Ishikawa (4-5) was his vintage self, striking out 11 over eight innings, while Takayuki Kishi (2-4) was misfiring, allowing three runs over 6-2/3 innings in Rakuten’s loss to Lotte.
Giants 2, Dragons 1
At Nagoya Dome, Yoshihiro Maru powered Yomiuri’s offense in the first inning, singling in Hayato Sakamoto with the game’s first run, moving to third on a fly out and scoring on a delayed double steal in a win over Chunichi.
Sakamoto’s first-inning double and Maru’s single represented the total of the Giants’ scoring opportunities through eight innings, the first seven against veteran lefty Yudai Ono (7-7). Giants starter Cristopher Mercedes (8-6) loaded the bases in the first with no outs, and left in the sixth with two on and no outs, but allowed just one run to earn the win.
Rubby De La Rosa earned his fifth save for the Giants after facing four batters in the ninth and striking out two.
Tigers 8, BayStars 0
At Kyocera Dome, DeNA walked Koji Chikamoto with two outs and two on in the fifth inning to load the bases, only for starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi (6-5) walked Seiya Kinami to open the scoring. Kosuke Fukudome followed with a three-run double to seal Hanshin’s win.
Tigers starter Koyo Aoyagi (6-8) struck out eight over 5-2/3 innings, including two back-to-back to escape a one-out, bases-loaded pickle in the second.
Jefry Marte iced the game in the seventh for Hanshin with a two-run home run.
Game highlights are HERE.
Carp 9, Swallows 8
At Mazda Stadium, Seiya Suzuki’s three-run ninth-inning homer off David Huff (1-3) tied it for Hiroshima, and Takumi Miyoshi singled in the winning run as Yakult blew a three-run ninth-inning lead.
Yakult appeared to have the game sown up after two-run, eighth-inning homers by Tetsuto Yamada and Yuhei Takai.