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NPB games, news of Aug. 20, 2019

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.”

Bad magic

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.

Pacific League

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.

Central League

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.

NPB games, news of Aug. 18, 2019

Pacific League

Buffaloes 2, Marines 1

At Kyocera Dome, Orix’s Kohei “K” Suzuki (3-5) allowed a run over 6-2/3 innings, Shuhei Fukuda and journeyman infielder Shuhei Kojima had second-inning RBI doubles, and Lotte came up short after losing a couple of key runners on the bases.

Suzuki, who surrendered five runs against the Marines the last time he faced them, allowed five hits but no walks while striking out four.

“The position players did so much to support me. That allowed me to get into a good rhythm on the mound,” Suzuki said. “I wasn’t really thinking about not walking batters but just about executing my plan against each hitter.”

Mariners starter Atsuki Taneichi (6-2) gave up five walks and a hit batsman, and that proved to be the difference. With two outs in the third, he hit Orix catcher Kenya Wakatsuki, and the two Shuheis followed with back-to-back doubles.

“I started out well, but it would have been better if I’d challenged hitters more in the strike zone,” Taneichi said.

Shogo Nakamura halved Orix’s lead in the seventh, with a one-out double after singles by Leonys Martin and Ikuhiro Kiyota. But Masataka Yoshida cut the ball off in the gap in left, and the relay from shortstop Ryoichi Adachi nailed Kiyota at the plate for the second out. Reliever Taisuke Kondo missed with his first pitch to Katsuya Kakunaka, but the Marines’ slugger lined it to Yoshida in left to end the inning.

Hirotoshi Masui, Orix’s closer until June 16, recorded a 1-2-3 eighth. The Marines’ first two hitters reached in the ninth against Masui’s successor, Brandon Dickson, but Wakatsuki picked Takashi Ogino off second for the first out. Dickson struck out the next two batters on curves in the dirt to record his 14th save.

“This is a game of situations, and if you look at that situation in the ninth inning, that (pick-off) was big,” Nishimura said after his team’s fourth-straight win.

The Buffaloes finished the weekend three games back of the third-place Rakuten Eagles, who now occupy the league’s final playoff spot.

Game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 5, Lions 4

At Yafuoku Dome, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Kenji Akashi hit back-to-back one-out doubles, lifting SoftBank to a see-saw win over Seibu, which had battled back from a 3-0 deficit.

For three innings, the Hawks’ Cuban contingent ruled the game, nine-straight outs from lefty Ariel Miranda and solo homers from Oscar Colas — on the first pitch he saw at the top level — and Yurisbel Gracial. But Miranda allowed five runners to reach in in a two-run fourth, and left two runners on base when he exited in the fifth with one out.

After Shinya Kayama got one out, Ryoma Matsuda walked two and hit one before escaping the inning and blowing the lead. The last four relievers out of the Hawks pen, however, were rock solid, striking out nine of the last 15 batters.

Colas, who turns 21 next month, had spent nearly two seasons on the Hawks’ farm team as a developmental player.

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 4, Eagles 4, 12 innings

At Sapporo Dome, Mizuki Hori, Nippon Ham’s go-to opener, blew a two-run lead in middle relief on a walk and a two-run home run to Hideto Asamura as Rakuten came from behind to earn a 12-inning tie.

Former Cleveland Indian Toru Murata turned out be the star for the Fighters, throwing three scoreless innings of late relief to preserve the tie.

Fighters starter Chihiro Kaneko blamed himself for the result after allowing two runs to the first 17 Eagles hitters.

“I fell behind in counts, got my pitch count up and made extra work for the relievers,” he said.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Giants 6, Tigers 3

At Tokyo Dome, 26-year-old rookie Daiki Masuda, making his second career start, tripled in the game’s first two runs and scored the third and stole two bases to spark Yomiuri’s win over Hanshin.

Masuda, taken out of the Shikoku Island independent league by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 developmental draft, has no pedigree except for success in the minors. That makes him typical of the kind of player that the Giants have gotten a lot of mileage out of since Tatsunori Hara first became manager in 2002. In the minors, he showed no power but he drew walks and was a good base stealer.

His triple should have been a sacrifice fly, but Kosuke Fukudome overran the fly ball to the warning track and it fell behind him.

Shun Yamaguchi (12-2) allowed three runs over 6-2/3 innings. He allowed eight hits and two walks, while striking out 10. The Tigers came within a run of tying it in the top of the seventh, but Alex Guerrero put the game away in the bottom of the inning with a two-run double.

Game highlights are HERE.

Swallows 3, Dragons 2

At Jingu Stadium, Yakult’s David Buchanan (3-6) executed some big pitches and got away with his mistakes as he allowed four hits without a walk over eight scoreless innings against Chunichi.

Lefty David Huff held on for his third save despite allowing four hits in the ninth.

“It was tough at the end, but I have all the confidence in Huff. He always gets it done,” Buchanan said. “I tried to keep the ball on the ground. They (the fielders) kept me in the game all night. I’ve got to tip my cap to the defense and we got the runs when we needed them and it’s a good team game.”

“Without my defense I couldn’t have done what I did.”

With one out and runners on the corners in the third, Wladimir Balentien singled off a tough curve from Takumi Yamamoto () to open the scoring and then apologized to teammate Tetsuto Yamada, who had taken off on what was apparently supposed to be a straight steal of second. Yamada scored on a groundout to make it 2-0.

The Dragons had a chance to tie it in the seventh, but a mistake to Dayan Viciedo with a runner on second was lined deep and into Balentien’s glove. Third baseman Kengo Ota followed with a diving catch of a liner headed for extra bases to end the inning.

BayStars 1, Carp 0

At Yokohama Stadium, Jose Lopez, who entered the game on defense, hit a leadoff home run in the seventh inning off Allen Kuri (6-6), and Shota Imanaga (11-5) struck out 10 over the distance as DeNA beat Hiroshima.


Hawks deactivate Despaigne

The SoftBank Hawks deactivated designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne on Sunday due to discomfort in his lower back. Despaigne, in his sixth NPB season, was diagnosed with an injury to his left
erector spinae muscle group in his back.

The Cuban has 30 home runs this season.

“As soon as he can move well enough, we’ll bring him back up,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said, suggesting the slugger might only be deactivated for the minimum of 10 days.