We came oh so close to another no hitter on Wednesday, while coronavirus cases continue to surge in Japan, shining a light on Nippon Professional Baseball’s unexpected compassion.
There have been four no-hit shutouts in Japan this year, which ties 2022 with 1943 for second most in a season after the five thrown in 1940, when pitchers threw balls of mush.
We also hit a new record for coronavirus cases, crossing the 150,000 barrier just five days after we passed 110,000 for the first time. The positivity rate in Tokyo was down to 41.8 percent but that’s way above the norm so as testing increases, you know it’s going to soar a bit more before it calms down.
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And we thought they were the assholes
While Japanese pro baseball still prohibits vocal cheering at its games, full crowds are now a thing, and players have been let off the tight leash they were on in 2020 and 2021.
The one part of the NPB picture that has barely budged since the introduction of strict coronavirus measures when NPB re-opened for business in the pandemic on June 19, 2020, has been media access to players.
We are not allowed to enter clubhouses at any time, but we do have unlimited access to dugouts, the sidelines, and most stadium corridors players have to traverse. In those spaces, we are free to talk to anyone we like, although now and then some officious PR type will harass us when players chat a long time.
Since NPB restarted two years ago, reporters have been banned from areas where players are. Many parks require advance notice of reporters who intend to report on game.
Team media availability is strictly limited to online pressers, although this year, one member of the media, who has returned a negative test, is typically allowed into the room for each team participant, and they and they alone can ask one player or coach questions. Nobody else online is allowed to participate.
During the pandemic, teams’ social media presence has exploded to fill the gap. Between that and the relaxing of most other coronavirus restrictions on players and fans, it seemed like reporters were intentionally being shoved aside with teams using the coronavirus as an excuse to be rid of us.
But on Wednesday, it occurred to me that the teams, were not being draconian toward the media but instead have been trying to keep us safe from being infected by the droves of players who are contracting the virus.
So here’s to NPB. Thanks for looking out for us.
The Yomiuri Giants jumped on the corona train big time on Wednesday. As if they were embarrassed to be outdone by the Yakult Swallows having 14 people with their major league club go into isolation for COVID-19, the Giants reported 20 positive test results. Fourteen infections were among players, six among the coaching staff according to Nikkan Sports.
Matt Shoemaker, ace Tomoyuki Sugano, rookie closer Taisei Ota, cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto, first baseman Sho Nakata, center fielder Yoshihiro Maru and regular catcher Takumi Oshiro were all among those testing positive.
According to NTV, another 18 members of the team on the farm have also tested positive.
I’d like to apologize for the highlights being so inaccessible. PL TV is going through some ups and downs since they redid their pages and is making it harder to share them.
Buffaloes 2, Fighters 0: At Osaka Dome, rookie right-hander Ren Mukunoki, Orix’s top draft pick last autumn, allowed his only hit on a hanging two-out 2-2 slider in the ninth inning.
“I wanted to finish with a strikeout and that didn’t work out,” he said.
Mukunoki struck out 11 and walked three in his 116-pitch second game. He has now allowed three hits and five walks while striking out 18 over 14-2/3 career innings. The right-hander was 4-3 in eight Western League games with a 3.59 ERA, but has yet to allow a home run at any level as a pro.
Masataka Yoshida hit his 10th home run, with a man on in the third off Fighters rookie Haruka Nemoto (1-2). After Ryusei Sato got the Fighters’ first hit, Yoshihisa Hirano came on to retire the tough Kensuke Kondo and snap up his 24th save.
Both Mukunoki and Nemoto are “haya-umare” born between Jan. 1 and April 1, who represent a relatively small fraction of Japan’s pro baseball population, but who are well represented among the biggest skill positions, pitcher and catcher.
Carp 5, Tigers 3: At Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, Hanshin took a 3-1 lead off Drew Anderson but blew it with the help of back-to-back seventh-inning errors.
Trailing 3-1 in the seventh, Shogo Sakakura chased Yuki Nishi with a leadoff single. Yuta Watanabe retired left-handed-hitting veteran Ryuhei Matsuyama, but singles by Hisayoshi Chono and Kaito Kozono off Masumi Hamachi and an error on right fielder Teruaki Sato allowed in a run.
Yusuke Oyama and Kento Itohara each singled in a first-inning run and Kairi Shimada doubled in another in the second. The Tigers, however, managed just four more base runners over the remaining 1-1/3 innings.
Swallows 8, Giants 2: At Jingu Stadium, Yakult manager Shingo Takatsu returned from COVID isolation and the Swallows came back from a 2-0 deficit to win their first convincing victory in two weeks.
A pair of lefties, Yomiuri’s C.C. Mercedes and Yakult’s Keiji Takahashi, each allowed two runs in over five innings. Takahashi was spared a third run scoring when Giants third base coach Daisuke Motoki sent Mercedes home from second on a two-out fifth-inning single. The ploy was foiled by a superb relay from third baseman Munetaka Murakami.
Murakami singled in a run in the fourth, walked and scored in Yakult’s two-run sixth, and hit a three-run homer, his 32nd, in the seventh to welcome new Giants import Ian Kroll to Japan.
Marines 8, Lions 4: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Takashi Ogino sparked Lotte to a come-from-behind win, reaching base and scoring three times, and plating an insurance run with a sac fly.
Ogino reached on an error in the first and scored on Akito Takabe’s double off Dietrich Enns (6-5) for a 1-0 Lotte lead. Hotaka Yamakawa tied it with his 28th home run in the second off Ayumu Ishikawa (6-4). Rookie Lions catcher Yuto Koga walked and scored on a Shohei Suzuki single in the third, but Ogino singled and scored from first on a Takabe sacrifice to tie it in the home half.
The Marines leadoff man took third base on the bunt when the Lions failed to cover the bag and scored on a throwing error by Yamakawa at first. Koga put Seibu up 3-2 in the fifth with his first career homer, but singles by rookie Marines catcher Kou Matsukawa and Ogino set the table for a three-run Lotte fifth. Shogo Nakamura, whose three-run homer decided Tuesday’s game doubled in two and Seiya Inoue singled him home.
Eagles 17, Hawks 1: At Kitakyushu, SoftBank’s first two pitchers, Tomohisa Ozeki (6-5) and Ryota Nakamura underwent rookie hazing at the hands of Rakuten, combining to allow 15 runs over 3-2/3 innings.
Ryota Takinaka (2-5) allowed a run, on Alfredo Despaigne’s fifth homer in the second, over seven innings, while Ryosuke Tatsumi hit his sixth homer for the Eagles, Hideto Asamura his 16th and 17th, and Ginjiro Sumitani his second and third.
It was, by my count, the fourth time Sumitani has homered twice in a game, his first also came at cozy Kitakyushu Stadium against the Hawks as a rookie.
Afterward, Hawks manager Hiroshi Fujimoto declined to talk to the media for the first time.
Thursday’s starting pitchers
Marines vs Lions: Chiba Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Buffaloes vs Fighters: Osaka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Hawks vs Eagles: Fukuoka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 7/20/2022
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 7/30