NPB games, news of Oct. 11, 2019

“Our backs were to the wall tonight, but … that is where the Hanshin Tigers thrive.

–Hanshin Tigers third baseman Yusuke Oyama after his ninth-inning home run broke a 6-6 tie and allowed the Tigers to wintheir seventh elimination game in the past month.

Tigers 7, Giants 6

At Tokyo Dome, 39-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa worked two scoreless innings to collect the win as Hanshin won a see-saw Game 3 in the Central League Climax Series final stage on Friday to keep their season alive. League champ Yomiuri needs only a tie over the final three games to advance to the Japan Series for the first time in six years.

Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto just missed a third-inning grand slam, with a double off the top of the center field wall in Yomiuri’s three-run third. That gave the hosts a 3-1 lead. Hanshin, which had never led in the series until Ryutaro Umeno homered to open the scoring in the third, retook the lead in a five-run fifth.

The Giants faced bases-loaded situations in the third, fourth and fifth — when rookie Koji Chikamoto capped the inning with a three-run triple. The 23-year-old Okamoto tied it 6-6, however, in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer, his second of the series.

Each team wasted a good late-inning scoring opportunity before Oyama put an easy swing on a back-foot slider from lefty Kota Nakagawa and lofted it over Tokyo Dome’s shallow wall in straight-away right.

Asked about what it felt like to go into an elimination game, Oyama said, it was nothing new for the Tigers.

“We only got here after facing a bunch of these ‘must-win games’ at the end of the regular season, but that is where the Hanshin Tigers thrive,” he said.

Game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 7, Lions 5

At MetLife Dome, Kodai Senga struck out 10 while allowing two singles and three walks over eight innings as SoftBank pressed league champion Seibu to the brink of elimination.

For the second-straight day, Taisei Makihara singled to open the game and scored on an Akira Nakamura first-inning single. But while Nakamura was the Hawks’ big bopper on Thursday, it was their second baseman’s night Friday.

Makihara, who made a good play to defuse a third-inning situation before it erupted, doubled in two runs with a hard grounder over the first base bag in the second, hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and Senga did most of the remaining work.

The Hawks are trying to match a franchise record by appearing in three consecutive Japan Series, something their Osaka-based predecessors, the Nankai Hawks achieved from 1951-1953 and again from 1964-1966.

The Lions, meanwhile are trying to avoid becoming the first PL regular season leader to lose the final stage of the PL postseason since the Daiei Hawks lost to the Lions in 2004 and Bobby Valentine’s Lotte Marines in 2005.

Game highlights are HERE.

News

High school fireballer Sasaki completes talks with teams

Flame-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki met with scouts from the Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks and Seibu Lions on Friday, the last of 11 clubs slated to meet with the pitcher who will likely go in the first round of NPB’s amateur draft on Thursday.

The Nippon Ham Fighters, potentially a prime destination for a player with his eye on a major league future, did not meet with the youngster, although the club has already asserted it will nominate Sasaki as its first draft choice. Although Sasaki suggested last week he would play for any NPP team and had no thoughts at the moment about playing in the majors, the Fighters have a history of using the posting system to allow their stars to get an early start in the majors.

The Hawks, and the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, are at the other end of that spectrum, and to date have refused to post players, forcing them to wait until they are eligible for international free agency to leave.

The Hawks’ chief amateur scout, Yutaro Fukuyama, tried to sell the youngster on Hawks owner Masayoshi Son’s vision of creating the world’s strongest team and its strong development setup.

“He’s one of our candidates for the first pick,” Fukuyama said. “No player in my 20 years of scouting has offered the promise that this amazing athlete does. His ceiling is impossible to imagine.”

Fighters throw in towel for Hancock, Barbato

The Nippon Ham Fighters said Friday they will not bring first-year pitchers Johnny Barbato and Justin Hancock back for the 2020 season.

The 28-year-old Hancock injured his right shoulder on May 11, and has twice gone back to the United States for examinations. He pitched in eight games with one loss, two holds and two saves and posted a 9.00 ERA. Barbato, who was used in relief and as a short starter, pitched in 15 games, going 2-2 with one hold with a 5.63 ERA.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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