NPB news: June 23, 2023

Japan returned to league play Friday, with some great pitching performances in both leagues, and a tremendous home run. I’ve also got a wrap up of some news that’s been going on the past few days as the interleague dust settled.

On Saturday, Panama right-hander Humberto Mejia will make his Japan debut with the Dragons, who signed him in May. In two Western League games, Mejia struck out six batters without a walk in nine innings.

But before we get to that, a mention that the highlight of the Lotte Marines game was an appearance by the Narashino High School band and a huge group of students, who entertained before the game and transformed Chiba Marine Stadium into a Kanto version of Koshien for the night. I can’t get over how cool it is, that because of high school baseball’s popularity, this high school band is known nationwide.

Friday’s games

Fighters 5, Marines 3: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Nippon Ham’s Takayuki Kato (5-5) allowed two runs over 6-2/3 innings, but kept Lotte scoreless until he went into the seventh with a 4-0 lead. Chusei Mannami singled in Go Matsumoto in the first off Atsuki Taneichi (4-3).

Kazunari Ishii doubled, and Matsumoto singled to set up another run in the fifth. A walk, an Ishii RBI double, a sacrifice, and an RBI single by Kotaro Kiyomiya made it 4-0 Fighters in the seventh.

Gregory Polanco went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored two of Lotte’s runs. Nippon Ham’s Seigi Tanaka gave up a run in the ninth but left the tying run at the plate to secure his 12th save.

Cheering for Gregory Polanco with the help of students from Narashino High School.

Giants 5, Carp 3: At New Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, Kazuma Okamoto hit a mammoth blast to break a 2-2 fourth-inning tie, his 18th home run of the season, that looked like it cleared the screen behind the left-field stands put up to keep home run balls from landing in the railroad yards that serve nearby Hiroshima Station.

The Carp came back from a 2-0 deficit on a RBI doubles by Matt Davidson in the second and Takeshi Uemoto in the third. Hiroshima’s Allen Kuri (5-3) allowed three runs over seven innings to take the loss.

See if you can figure out where this thing landed. My guess is Iwakuni, in neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Hawks 7, Buffaloes 1: At Fukuoka Dome, Tomoya Mori hit a hanging slider off Kohei Arihara (2-0) in the first for his 11th home run, but the Hawks bounced back by hammering a string of bad pitches from Yoshinobu Yamamoto (6-3), who trailed 4-1 after two innings, but was untouchable after that. Arihara, a former Fighter and former Ranger, allowed three hits but no walks over eight innings while striking out six for his first win in Fukuoka since joining SoftBank this season.

Yamamoto surrendered seven hits in the first two innings, but like Arihara was untouchable after his early hiccups.

DeNA-Tigers highlights

Swallows 4, Dragons 0: At Nagoya Dome, Cy Sneed (5-3) improved to 7-0 in his career against Chunichi with a six-hitter for first shutout in Japan. Hidetaka Namiki broke up a hitless game in the fourth with a leadoff triple off Shinnosuke Ogasawara (4-5) and scored on Munetaka Murakami‘s two-out double. Namiki had three of the Swallows’ seven hits. His second infield single contributed to Yakult’s three-run eighth inning.

Sneed’s fifth and final strikeout came with runners on the corners and no outs in the ninth and allowed a groundball double play to end the game.

Imanaga strikes out Johan Mieses

Lions 5, Eagles 4: At Miyagi Stadium, Takeya Nakamura broke 3-3 eighth-inning tie with a two-out two-run double as Seibu won a see-saw game with the rain often pouring down in Sendai. Kento Watanabe doubled in the game’s first run off Takahiro Norimoto in the top of the first, and Nakamura added a sac fly to make it 2-0. The Eagles loaded the bases with one out in the home half but managed just a run. Former Lion Hideto Asamura tied it in the fifth with an RBI single off Wataru Matsumoto, before David MacKinnon‘s seventh-inning leadoff homer, his eighth, put Seibu back in front.

Ryosuke Tatsumi, who reached base four times, walked to lead off the seventh and Takero Okajima drove him in for the second time to tie it in the seventh. Asamura singled in a run in the eighth, but Lions closer Tatsushi Masuda held on for his 10th save.

Deniers 3, Tigers 1: At Yokohama Stadium, Shota Imanaga (5-1) struck out 10 over the distance. He lost his shutout in the ninth, when Yusuke Oyama led off with his eighth home run.

Jeremy Beasley (0-1) allowed two runs in three innings to take the loss for the Tigers. DeNA took the lead in the third after Beasley retired the first two batters. Keita Sano doubled and scored on a Shugo Maki single. Toshiro Miyazaki doubled in DeNA’s second, and Neftali Soto made it 3-0, leading off the sixth with his fifth home run.

DeNA-Tigers highlights

Putting interleague to bed

Although the interleague rules originally written in 2005, demanded the MVP come from the championship team, they know say the MVP should go to the player who “performs the most.” For that reason, Yomiuri Giants captain Kazuma Okamoto was chosen Interleague MVP and receives 2 million yen.

Okamoto led IL with eight homers, 19 RBIs and an .867 slugging average. Not too shabby. Shugo Maki of the DeNA Deniers and Kensuke Kondo won their league’s VP (Valuable Player) awards and 1 million yen each. Maki led with 27 hits and eight doubles, while Kondo was second in RBIs with 15, while leading in batting average (.416) and on-base percentage (.519).

Austin out

In Yokohama, manager Daisuke Miura said Tyler Austin, who is our guest on the next Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, had a right shoulder sprain, and that it had begun to hurt him during interleague. He was deactivated Tuesday.

The trade

In other notes of interest, the Chunichi Dragons and Nippon Ham Fighters swapped players this past week, which is usually of no interest. Teams rarely trade away players if they think they have any value at all, except in special circumstances, such as when a star refuses to accept a team’s contract offer (think Yoshio Itoi to the Buffaloes), or a player needs to be play closer to home – the likely reason Chunichi sent Iwate native Toshiki Abe to the Eagles over the winter in exchange for Hideaki Wakui.

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