Nishikawa, Arihara lead Fighters
Haruki Nishikawa broke up an eighth-inning tie with a two-out, three-run triple off Reed Garrett (3-2), lifting the Nippon Ham Fighters to a 6-2 win over the Seibu Lions at Sapporo Dome on Saturday afternoon.
Sean Nolin allowed nine base runners but just two runs over six innings in his second start for the Lions, and Kaima Taira walked two in a scoreless seventh before the Lions’ luck ran out in the eighth.
With two outs, Takuya Nakashima fouled off three two-strike pitches before walking on nine pitches. Taishi Ota singled and Garrett hit Go Matsumoto to load the bases. A 1-1 splitter failed to tumble and Nishikawa hit a fly to the warning track. Center fielder Yuji Kaneko, was playing Nishikawa to pull and the ball fell just out of reach.
Sho Nakata followed with a drive near the top of the imposing center-field wall to drive in Nishikawa but was held to a single when he stumbled rounding first.
Kohei Arihara (4-6) who started the season 1-5 with three quality starts in his first eight games, has now rolled off four-straight solid outings. Some big plays from Nakashima at shortstop helped Arihara hold Seibu to two runs on six hits over eight innings.
Sean Nolin, making his second start since joining the Lions in the offseason, brought a very good fastball, but inconsistent location cost him. He allowed two runs on six hits, three walks and a hit batsman, while striking out 10.
Kensuke Kondo singled in both of the Fighters early runs, while the Lions answered with Ernesto Mejia’s eighth home run, in the second, and a Hotaka Yamakawa RBI single in the sixth.
Japanese baseball 101: Don’t get high
Nearly every Japanese language description of a good pitching effort will include the phrase, “he was consistently low in the zone,” while the kneejerk reaction to nearly every hit is, “he left that up,” whether the pitch was actually well-located or even up in the zone.
The reason for this is that the Japanese game is so rooted in the way young kids are taught to hit grounders to the left side of the infield. They are taught this way because young children don’t field well and hitting the ball to the left side increases the batter’s chance of reaching on an error.
So instead of trying to launch pitches that miss up, the first instinct of many players trained here is to chop down on those balls and smash through the left side of the infield. The “best” pitchers are those who keep batters from hitting hard ground ball singles.
The Fighters’ first illustrated this. Nolin got slugger Sho Nakata to wave at a high fastball for Strike 3, but three other high pitches were chopped between third and short in textbook fashion: back-to-back one-out singles and a two-out chopper to the hole to bring in a run.
“Forrest Gump” Nakamura stars for Marines
Even when the Lotte Marines can’t get it right, they somehow still manage to compete against the SoftBank Hawks. On Saturday, Marines second baseman had a kind of Forrest Gump box-of-chocolates game, since he seemed to be present at numerous junctures in their 5-4 win at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
The visitors squandered two good scoring chances, and Nakamura had as up and down a day as one can have. He homered to open the scoring, only for a couple of fielding near-misses on defense at second base contribute to two infield singles in the Hawks’ three-run sixth. He also literally knocked out the Hawks’ starting pitcher, and assisted in the final scene.
“The margin of victory was paper thin, because of my mistakes,” Nakamura said. “I played very aggressively even in the field. I messed up in the field so I’m glad I could contribute with my bat.”
The win improved the Marines’ record against the Hawks since the start of last season to 24-11-1. In three seasons as Lotte’s manager, former Hawk Tadahito Iguchi now has a 33-26-2 mark against the three-time defending Japan Series champions.
With two on and no outs in the first, Ikuhiro Kiyota bunted into a force out before a fluke 6-5-4 double play ended the Marines’ inning. Leading 1-0 in the third after Nakamura homered off Shota Takeda, Ikuhiro Kiyota was thrown out easily at the plate trying to score from first on a one-out double. With two on and two outs, rookie Toshiya Sato hammered a hanging breaking ball straight to first baseman Kenji Akashi.
Marines starter Manabu Mima (6-2) allowed four runs, three earned, over seven innings. Takeda was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning, when he was hit in the gut by a Nakamura line drive. Takeda threw him out at first as he collapsed to the turf. Yuta Watanabe, who made his first-team debut the night before, got the final out, and lefty Shunsuke Kasaya worked a perfect sixth.
Mima got three ground balls to open the sixth. Nakamura nearly made a tremendous play to retire the leadoff hitter but the ball stayed in his glove on an attempted flip to first. With one out and one on, he made a good play to pick a grounder up the middle but his throw to first was wide, resulting in another infield single.
Yurisbel Gracial, who’d hit his third home run in two days in the fourth, lined a pitch up the middle to tie it 2-2. With two more runs in the inning, Kasaya was in line for the win. Unfortunately, he only retired one batter in the seventh as the visitors got a run back on a Nobuhiro Matsuda error and two singles.
With one out, right-hander Yuki Matsumoto came on to face Nakamura, who missed his second home run by a few feet, driving in two with a two-out double high off the wall in left.
Mima worked a 1-2-3 seventh, and Yuki Karakawa did the same in the eighth. Matsuda earned some redemption with a leadoff single against closer Naoya Masuda. A sacrifice moved pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto to second and he took third on a wild pitch, but with the infield in, Keizo Kawashima hit a bullet to Nakamura at second and he sealed the win by doubling the stunned Shuto off third.
Tanaka, Asamura power Eagles
Kazuki Tanaka homered twice and Hideto Asamura hit his third in two games and the Rakuten Eagles beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-5 at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Tanaka hit a two-run shot in the first off Sachiya Yamasaki (2-4). Adam Jones singled to open the Buffaloes’ three-run second against Takahiro Shiomi (4-5), but Asamura turned the game around again by going deep with two on for his 21st home run.
Yamasaki left after five innings, but not before surrendering Tanaka’s second homer.
Shiomi allowed three runs over five innings. Kazuhisa Makita, the Eagles’ fourth pitcher, threw a scoreless eighth, catching a liner off Jones’ bat for the final out, while Alan Busenitz surrendered two runs in the ninth before locking down his 10th save.
Masataka Yoshida extended his hitting streak to 23 games in the Buffaloes’ third, nine short of Atsushi Nagaike’s Pacific League and franchise record and 10 short of Yoshihiko Takahashi’s NPB record.
Soto slugs Carp as Onuki goes distance
Two-time defending CL home run champ Neftali Soto homered twice and scored three runs as the DeNA BayStars took a hammer to the Hiroshima Carp 10-1 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Carp ace Daichi Osera (5-4) failed to make it through the fourth inning for his second start in a row, surrendering eight runs in 3-1/3 innings on nine hits.
In a season that started on June 19 following weeks of improvised preparations due to the coronavirus pandemic, most teams were talking about easing players into the season. Despite that, the Carp ace was allowed to throw back-to-back complete games in his first two starts. He has been deactivated once already due to lack of fitness after going just two innings in Yokohama on July 24.
Takayuki Kajitani doubled to open the game and scored on a one-out Soto single. A Keita Sano single and a groundout plated Soto with the visitors’ second run.
Shinichi Onuki (6-2) scattered eight hits over the distance while striking out four and walking none in his first career complete-game victory.
Soto made it 3-0 in the third with his 11th home run and his second in two days. He capped DeNA’s six-run fourth with a three-run shot.
Hard to Swallow
For the second time in three days, the key play for the Yakult Swallows was a tie-breaking two-run error as center fielder Kotaro Yamasaki raced to catch a fly in the gap for the final out of the 10th inning, only to have it hit off his glove in a 3-1 extra-inning loss to the Chunichi Dragons.
The Swallows had 15 hits but were being shut out until they tied it in the eighth with three singles off lefty Hiroto Fuku, who was pitching for the third-straight day.
Closer Raidel Martinez (2-0) worked out of a one-out bases-loaded pickle in the ninth by striking out the Swallows’ most productive hitter, Munetaka Murakami, and getting Norichika Aoki to ground out.
The Dragons opened the scoring in the fourth when Nobumasa Fukuda’s opposite-field drive to right went for a triple and he scored on a Dayan Viciedo single.
Fujinami comeback hits 11-run snag
For the first time since he returned to the mound this year, the story about Shintaro Fujinami was why he’s fumbling ground balls. Instead, the one-time elite pitching prospect allowed a career-high 11 runs in the Hanshin Tigers’ 11-2 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium.
Giants starter Nobutaka Imamura (3-0) got the win after allowing one run over eight innings.
Fujinami (1-5) allowed nine hits and six walks while striking out six. Fujinami’s career basically slid into the tank when Tomoaki Kanemoto became manager in 2016. The good news was that Tigers manager Akihiro Yano yanked him after he’d thrown 125 instead of letting him labor past 160 like Kanemoto once did when Fujinami displeased him.
The 11 runs was also the most ever allowed in one game by a Tigers pitcher.
Active roster moves 9/5/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 9/15
Starting pitchers for Sept. 4, 2020
Fighters vs Lions: Sapporo Dome 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT
Eagles vs Buffaloes: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT
Hawks vs Marines: PayPay Dome 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT
Swallows vs Dragons: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Tigers vs Giants: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Carp vs BayStars: Mazda Stadium 1:30 pm, 0:30 am EDT