Hooray for the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Rick van den Hurk and Wladimir “Coco” Balentien wreck the Seibu Lions in Pacific League action on Thursday. Van den Hurk took a no-hitter into the eighth, and Balentien, Japan’s single-season home run record holder, homered twice, his first since moving from the Central League over the winter.
“I want to thank my boy Coco for doing what he did tonight. Before the game he said ‘Let’s go, the Kingdom of the Netherlands boys, let’s put a good game together.'”SoftBank Hawks pitcher Rick van den Hurk
Wheeler now a Giant
Zelous Wheeler leves the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles on Thursday after five seasons in Sendai, where he was the first import in franchise history to reach 100 home runs. The right-handed-hitting 33-year-old moves to the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants in exchange for 27-year-old lefty Shun Ikeda, who was a junior member of the first team bullpen in 2017 and 2018.
Both clubs are off to solid starts, although as Jason Coskrey points out, that COVID-19 may have played a hand in the Giants decision. With the pipeline to overseas talent the Giants often depend on for midseason reinforcements currently severed, Yomiuri may be looking to acquire spare parts for the coming months.
Live blog: Lions vs Hawks
I had planned to go with the BayStars-Dragons game tonight, but don’t get the cable channel that covers the BayStars home games and they’ve pulled off the streaming service I subscribe to, so its back to MetLife Dome, amid the reservoirs overlooking Tokyo.
For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.
Keisuke Honda starting for the Lions tonight, and he’s a guy I liked quite a bit last year. An easy fly out to open the game, an easy grounder, and Yuki Yanagita skies one to the warning track for a 1-2-3 inning.
I’m due to appear on the Sports Information System podcast, on Thursday in the States I think, and the host asked me about who was good at framing pitches. Well I don’t know if Tomoya Mori is good at it, but he certainly looks like he got the first on Yanagita by yanking a ball into the zone.
Rick van den Hurk on the mound for the Hawks for another abbreviated season. Injuries in the spring and the summer limited him to two regular season starts in 2019.
He fans Corey Spangenberg with his spike curve to open the game, and then gets a fly out to left, where Wladimir Balentien is playing tonight for the second out. Mori rips a first-pitch fastball, but it goes straight to second baseman Keizo Kawashima.
Honda misses in the heart of the plate with a 3-2 slider and Balentien drives it over the fence in left for his first Pacific League home run.
Yuya Hasegawa flies out on a high 1-0 fastball and beauty of a 2-strike changeup inside at the knees and Seiji Uebayashi looks at Strike 3 for the second out. Nobuhiro Matsuda grounds to short and we go to the bottom of the second. Hawks 1, Lions 0.
Two-time PL home run king Yamakawa pops up a high fastball, and Shuta Tonosaki walks. But Takeya Nakamura hammers a low fastball to shortstop Kenta Imamiya, who was shading the slugger toward third and started an easy double play.
Honda gets two quick outs to open the third, a 1-0 fly to left by Taisei Makihara, and a fly to center from Takuya Kai. Ryoya Kurihara, however, battles and draws a nine-pitch walk, and Kawashima singles up the middle to bring up Yanagita.
Yanagita fouls off the first two fastballs he sees, but lays off the next four pitches, the fourth being a 3-2 fastball over the inside corner for Strike 3.
Lions veteran Takumi Kuriyama goes down looking at a fastball on the inside edge and doesn’t look any happier than Yangita did, but umpire Shoji Arizumi has been calling them there all night. Fumikazu Kimura grounds the first pitch to third, and Yuji Kaneko grounds to short.
Balentien goes about as deep as you can go in his second at-bat, blasting a lazy fastball up and over the plate to the walkway behind the left-field stands. Coco 2, Lions 0.
But Honda has little trouble after that. Hasegawa strikes out swinging at a high fastball. Uebayashi grounds a changeup to second, and Matsuda misses a low 0-2 curve.
Spangenberg grounds out and Sosuke Genda gets jammed on a first-pitch fastball and flies out to center. Van den Hurk overpowers Mori, who hits a come-backer and we’re going to the fifth.
Tonosaki at second base well positioned to scoop a hard-hit grounder from Makiharafor the first out. Two easy flies from Kai and Kurihara make it 1-2-3.
Another 1-2-3 inning for van den Hurk as the Lions cannot get the barrel on the ball as he locates with the fastball and mixes in that slider and his curve.
Shota Hamaya, the Lions’ second draft pick last autumn out of the corporate leagues relieves Honda, and surrenders a leadoff homer to 1.73-meter Keizo Kawashima. Hawks 3, Lions 0. Hamaya issues a two-out walk to Yuya Hasegawa, but gets out of further trouble.
A groundout and two strikeouts against the Lions tail, and van den Hurk has now faced the minimum thanks to the second-inning double play.
A 1-2-3 for Hamaya against the bottom of the Hawks lineup.
Van den Hurk has needed 63 pitches through six, but no matter how easy he’s making it look, this lineup isn’t easy. Spangenberg hits a high changeup in the air to short. Genda and Mori both strike out swinging, and van den Hurk has seven on the night.
Three up, three down for Hamaya and we’re back to the star of the show for the bottom of the eighth.
Middle of the Lions lineup, and Hotaka Yamakawa swings and misses at a high fastball for Strike 1. He can’t hold up on a slider on the outside corner and its Strike 2. Yamakawa then hammers a high pitch out of the zone. Van den Hurk deflects it as it bounces past. Kawashima grabs it but can’t throw Yamakawa out at first and the no-hitter is no more.
Tonosaki grounds into a force, giving the Lions speed on the bases, but not quite enough to score when Takeya Nakamura finds the gap in right center for a double.
Kuriyama, a grinder who always dictates his at-bats, has looked lost tonight. A 1-0 curve catches the outside for a strike. Van den Hurk misses low with a fastball and way outside with a curve. A slider in the zone fouled back and it’s 3-2. He tops a breaking ball in the heart of the zone back to the pitcher, who gets the easy out. Hawks 3, Lions 1.
And that’s all for van den Hurk. Cuban lefty Livan Moinelo is on with a runner at third and two outs.
And we have a game. Kimura smashes a breaking ball between third and short to plate Nakamura, and the tying run is on. Hawks 3, Lions 2.
No. 9 hitter Yuji Kaneko up and quickly behind 0-2. Moinlo misses with two fastballs before whiffing Kaneko with another.
In relief of their second-round pick last year, the Lions bring in their top pick, Tetsu Miyagawa. The right-hander strikes out Balentien, but Hasegawa tattoos a pitch in the middle of the zone for a single.
Pinch runner Daiki Mimori on and steals second, and Uebayashi grounds to first. Matsuda barely gets the barrel on a curve and Kaneko can’t make the catch as he races in from center. Hawks 4, Lions 2.
Makihara walks and the Hawks have two on and a chance to put this game out of reach, and it’s battling Keizo Kawashima. But Miyagawa keeps the pesky right-handed hitter from doing any damage and we go to the bottom of the ninth.
Closer Yuito Mori on in the ninth to face the top of the Lions order. Mori falls behind gets Spangenberg to ground out on an offspeed pitch. Genda strikes out swinging and Ukyo Shuto, in left for Balentien gloves it for the win.