NPB news: Oct. 18, 2023

The good news is that I don’t have COVID again, although this cold is mimicking the COVID symptoms I had in March. The bad news is that it wiped me out for most of the past two days, right up until the end of Wednesday’s Foreplay Series final stage.

The six-game best-of-seven home-team-advances-on-a-tie series made Kansai Japan’s capital of baseball this week. The Orix Buffaloes sent Yoshinobu Yamamoto against Lotte’s Manabu Mima, which seemed like a horrible mismatch, while Shoki Murakami, who is going to get my vote for Central League Rookie of the Year, started for Hanshin against Hiroshima’s Allen Kuri.

On Tuesday, while I was enjoying an extremely high fever, we learned that the SoftBank Hawks have let manager Hiroshi Fujimoto’s two-year contract expire.

Wednesday’s games

Tigers 4, Carp 1: At Koshien Stadium, Shoki Murakami did it all for Hanshin, striking out six batters over six innings, and breaking a 1-1 tie with an RBI double as the Tigers took a 2-0 final stage lead into Thursday’s game, which will see Hanshin’s Masashi Ito go against Carp ace Daichi Osera.

Hanshin’s hitters came out swinging, and Kuri needed just seven pitches despite giving up a double to rookie Shota Morishita.

Kaito Kozono tripled to lead off the Carp’s fourth and scored on a Shogo Akiyama sacrifice fly to straight-away right that’s probably a two-run homer everywhere else in NPB. In the bottom of the inning, Morishita fouled off three two-strike pitches before Kuri hung a slider up in the zone and he crushed it for a solo homer.

The Tigers went to the well again after Murakami stranded a runner in scoring position in the top of the fifth. A one-out hit batsman and a Seiya Kinami single brought Hiroshima’s infield in, and Murakami’s routine grounder got past rookie Yuya Nirasawa for a double that could just have easily been ruled an error.

With the infield still in, another routine grounder got through the infield for a one-out two-run single by Koji Chikamoto because Murakami got as big a lead as he could get and scored easily from second.

Kuri got out of the inning, and neither team would mount a threat again.

Tigers manager Akinobu Okada, who unexpectedly quit in 2009 after being bounced out of the playoffs in the first stage for the second straight season, improved to 2-8 in the postseason in his managing career.

Buffaloes 8, Marines 5: At Osaka UFO Dome, Manabu Mima left with a game tied 3-3 after four innings, as Lotte tagged Yoshinobu Yamamoto for five runs, but it still was not enough.

Yamamoto went through a first-inning from hell. He made his pitches, but gave up three runs, on one well-hit ball and four lucky singles.

The first two Marines batters hit comebackers that Yamamoto was unable to snag. Lotte cleanup hitter Katsuya Kakunaka sacrificed and Gregory Polanco put a good swing on an inside fastball to make it 2-0 Lotte with a double. Another scratch single, two dinky liners that just missed being caught loaded the bases before a run scored on a ground out.

“It was still just the first inning, so my focus was on damage control. I thought that if I could prevent just one more run, I could hit my stride. But because I gave up three runs, I just put it behind me,” Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto got into trouble again the third, when he might easily have walked the bases loaded with no outs except for a lucky called third strike against Polanco from ump Hideshi Honda. But Yamamoto wasn’t missing by much.

Mima, who went 3-9 in the regular season with a 4.76 ERA, needed just 32 pitches to retire 10 of the first 12 batters he faced. Leandro Cedeno line a one-out single in the fourth. Marwin Gonzalez got two generous calls en route to a two-out walk. Kotaro Kurebayashi missed a fat hanging slider but rifled a high straight fastball for a two-run double.

Yuma Mune tied it when he was fooled on a big breaking slider up on the zone but got it past third on a lucky bounce for a single.

Yamamoto went to the mound in the sixth having already thrown 98 pitches, and after another tough call against him on the corner, Koki Yamaguchi lined a leadoff single. After a sacrifice and a strikeout, Takashi Ogino smashed a poor first-pitch fastball past the mound for an RBI single and a 4-3 Lotte lead.

The inability of both batteries to adjust to Honda’s fuzzy strike zone saw Cedeno draw a leadoff walk in the sixth. When Yutaro Sugimoto drove a ball to the gap, the sight of Cedeno chugging not stopping at third caused center fielder Hiromi Oka to double clutch, and the score was tied.

After two straight balls to the inning’s third hitter, Marines manager Masato Yoshii yanked pitcher Toshiya Nakamura. Yusuke Azuma wild pitched Sugimoto to third and walked Gonzalez. Kurebayashi chased a 2-2 pitch away and smacked it past the drawn-in infield to put the Buffaloes in front. A sacrifice and a groundout made it 6-4 and a hanging slider to Keita Nakagawa gave Orix a three-run lead.

Yamamoto got through seven but was throwing a lot of listless pitches in his final frame, when he surrendered back-to-back no-out singles but escaped with just one run allowed. Soichiro Yamazaki and Yoshihisa Hirano each stranded a runner in a scoreless inning, with Hirano becoming the oldest player to earn a postseason save, at the age of 39, since the stat became official in 1975.

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