NPB news: Aug. 13, 2023

Japan had a special game Sunday that had nine hitless innings from a starter, a 10th-inning homer as one team took the lead against Japan’s most dominant closer and a come-from-behind extra-inning walk-off.

Before that, I have a brief explanation. There were no blogs Friday or Saturday, because I’ve decided to take family holidays and podcast recording days off from the daily blogs. Friday, Teruyo and I walked up Takaozan to enjoy eating at the beer garden with her friends and Saturday I went to Tokyo Dome during the day to talk to players and coaches before the DeNA-Yomiuri game and then did a podcast so that was that.

On Friday, the Seibu Lions, DeNA BayStars and SoftBank Hawks all got off to good starts in their weekend series, while the Dragons and Carp decided to get a head start on what was to be a weekend full of nail-biting early in a 3-3 tie, with Takahiro Matsuba allowing the only run given a Dragons starter would allow entire weekend and end with a bang.

The Hanshin Tigers eked out a tense 1-0 win over the Swallows for their eighth straight win in what was also a harbinger of the games to come, while in Sendai, Takayuki Kishi threw his first shutout in two years to beat Orix.

After their bright starts, the Hawks and BayStars got hammered Saturday, by the Fighters, and Giants, respectively, while Seibu closer Tatsushi Masuda (4-2) surrendered two ninth-inning runs in Chiba in a 3-2 loss to the Marines. Hanshin beat the Swallows again by one run, 4-3 for their ninth straight win, while Yuki Okabayashi hit safely in his 25th straight game, tying Chunichi’s franchise record, set by Hall of Famer Michio Nishizawa in 1949, in a 3-2 win behind seven scoreless innings from Hiroto Takahashi (5-7), who out-dueled Masato Morishita (6-3).

That brings us to Sunday, when the Dragons and Carp resumed their drama, big time. Meanwhile, the Tigers may be winning like nobody’s business, but they lost regular catcher Ryutaro Umeno for the foreseeable future when a pitched ball fractured his left ulna.

Sunday’s games

Dragons 2, Carp 1, 10 innings: At Nagoya Dome, Yuki Okabayashi hit safely in the first inning off Atsushi Endo, who threw seven scoreless innings for Hiroshima, but Yuya Yanagi threw nine hitless innings for the Dragons with nothing to show for it but being able to crack jokes on the hero-interview podium.

The Carp broke the deadlock in the 10th on Shota Dobayashi’s two-out home run off Raidel Martinez (2-1), but the lead didn’t last long. Carp closer Takuya Yasaki (4-1) took over in the home half to close it out and gave up back-to-back homers to Takaya Ishikawa and Shingo Usami.

“I was up there trying to get on base, and in the process, I hit a home run, so that was good. In the end, I expected Usami to do something and he did, so it worked out like I expected,” Ishikawa said of his new teammate.

Usami joined Chunichi this summer in a trade from the Fighters after regular catcher Takuya Kinoshita went out hurt. The 30-year-old now has three homers this season, two shy of his career high in 2022. It was the 16th of his career. Hero interviews, of course, are an exercise in white lies, so that’s exactly where someone says they expect real offense from a reserve catcher with a .599 career OPS in 827 plate appearances.

Okabayashi is now seven games shy of the Japan pro baseball record of 33 straight games with a hit, set by Hiroshima’s Yoshihiko Takahashi in 1979.

As pointed out by Jason Coskrey, Yudai Ono last year saw his no-hitter evaporate in the 10th inning against Hanshin in Nagoya, when Teruaki Sato, of all people, doubled with two outs. Ishikawa, was also a hero that day, singling in the winning run in the 10th with one out and the bases loaded.

Dragons-Carp highlights

Fighters 5, Hawks 3: At Fukuoka Dome, Carter Stewart Jr. pitched well until he didn’t on a day when he threw some awfully good pitches and got a little déjà vu when Ariel Martinez hit a two-run opposite-field homer into the home run terrace on a pretty good fastball, just like Orix Leo Cedeno did against him a few weeks ago.

He ended giving up four runs over five innings on five hits and three walks while striking out six. Stewart’s record fell to 2-3.

Another good swing on a tough pitch resulted in a flare down the line and a fifth-inning leadoff double. A sacrifice on which Stewart made a very good play and a ground single made it 3-0 before a walk to Martinez and a sac fly to the warning track by Kotaro Kiyomiya with the bases loaded put SoftBank in a hole it couldn’t dig out of.

Kensuke Kondo hit a two-run homer off former teammate Kenta Uehara (2-4), but that was the ballgame.

Giants 8, Deniers 1: At Tokyo Ugly Dome, Lewis Brison hit a first-inning grand slam, and Takumi Oshiro followed with a solo shot, while Yohander Mendez (4-3) struck out eight while allowing run in six innings. Kazuma Okamoto hit a solo homer, his 32nd.

Marines 3, Lions 2: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Kazuya Ojima (6-4) struck out eight over six scoreless innings, and Naoya Masuda surrendered a ninth-inning solo homer to Takumi Kuriyama but stranded two to hold on for his 29th save.

Buffaloes 1, Eagles 0: At Miyagi Stadium, five Orix pitchers with three innings from short starter/reliever Ryuhei Sotani held Rakuten to four hits and six walks. Ryo Ota singled to open the game against Takahiro Norimoto (6-5), was sacrificed to second, took third on a Keita Nakagawa single and scored on Tomoya Mori’s sac fly.

Tigers 5, Swallows 3: At Osaka UFO Dome, Yakult rookie lefty Taichi Yamano (1-1) allowed four runs over four innings to take his first career loss.

The Tigers came from a run down on a two-run third-inning single by Dan Onodera, who shares a birthday with Nat King Cole and myself, Hanshin lefty Masashi Ito (7-4) left after the fifth inning, when Tetsuto Yamada’s two-run homer made it a one-run game.

All the games in this series seemed destined to be decided by one run, at least until catcher Seishiro Sakamoto, who entered as a pinch-runner, singled in Onodera in the seventh to make it 5-3.

Tigers-Swallows highlights

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