Japan Series 2019 Game 1

The Hawks and Giants kicked off a revival of their formerly long-running rivalry, meeting in the autumn’s season-ending series for the first time in 19 years. So before the game all the focus was on something that had absolutely nothing to do with the proceedings: reminiscing about former Hall of Fame Giants teammates, Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima, who managed against each other in 2000.

If they wanted to reminisce about the “ON” series, perhaps they should have mentioned the neural surgeons, which I’ll get to later.

Senga gets the job done

Making his third straight Game 1 start, Kodai Senga allowed a run — on a second-inning homer by future Hall of Famer Shinnosuke Abe — over seven innings. He earned the wins as SoftBank pulled away against the Giants’ bullpen in a 7-2 win.

The Hawks have now won 13 straight Japan Series home games. On Sunday, the Giants will be going for their first series road win since they beat Masahiro Tanaka in Game 6 in 2013, the only loss Tanaka would suffer in that calendar year.

After Abe’s home run, Yurisbel Gracial turned on a high-but-straight fastball from Shun Yamaguchi and lined it into the field seats just inside the permanent wall at Yafuoku Dome, the Home Run Terrace to put SoftBank up by one.

Senga lacked control, but he could get batters out in the strike zone, while Yamaguchi got hitters to chase out of the zone and flail at a superb splitter. When his control sputtered in the sixth, he surrendered another run. The Hawks might have scored more, but Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo was determined to play small ball.

Hard-hitting shortstop Kenta Imamiya sacrificed to give Yamaguchi the only he could manage until Akira Nakamura‘s bases-loaded sacrifice fly made it 3-1, and helped the Hawks strand two.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kudo pulled pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa for pinch-hitter Keizo Kawashima to get a platoon advantage when the Giants flipped to a lefty to face Hasegawa. Both of these hitters are terrific, so there’s really nothing to be gained here, but the guys in the broadcasting booth were going nuts about how actively Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo was pushing buttons.

“We have home run power, but we also can execute a small-ball attack,” Kudo said with pride of a team that tied the Giants for the NPB lead in home runs during the regular season with 183.

Being stupid means being serious

Those of you who watch a lot of Japanese ball have probably caught on to this, but managers who let their players play or who try to be efficient with their resources, can be perceived as not trying hard enough to win. Thus, using one’s best hitters to sacrifice against a bunt shift, when a “successful” sacrifice will cost you runs, is perceived as showing fighting spirit.

Thus Kudo bunted with two-time batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa in the eighth inning, and brought in his ace reliever in the ninth with a six-run leave. There was no advantage to either move except to show you mean business.

And then there were the doctors

The 2000 Japan Series was known for something other than just the first postseason meeting between Oh and Nagashima. It was also the first Japan Series where the first three games were played on consecutive days, with the off day to allow for travel from Tokyo to Fukuoka taking place after the teams played Game 3 in Fukuoka.

This proves that not all Japan Series stupidity actually takes place during the series. NPB rules require all teams to secure their home stadium in case they play in the Japan Series, but some unnamed Daiei Hawks executive decided prior to the team’s pennant in 1999 that there was no chance the PL doormats would be in the 2000 series, and rented out Fukuoka Dome one day for a neural surgeon convention — the day when Game 3 was supposed to take place.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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