NPB news: Oct. 3, 2022

I got back from vacation just in time to watch the PL pennant deciders, and see Munetaka Murakami achieve his twin goals of the batting triple crown and 56 home runs, which is a huge deal in Japan, but not what the media tells you it is.

The Swallows and BayStars wrapped up Japan’s regular season with retirement games for three Yakult players, Seiichi Uchikawa, Tomotaka Sakaguchi and Motohiro Shima.

There has been other news this past week, three bits of manager news, two pennants clinched, but since we have been waiting for more than half a month for Murakami to shoot for the single-season record of 60, let’s start there.

Monday’s game

Swallows 8, BayStars 2: At Jingu Stadium, Murakami needed to do no worse than 0-for-3 to clinch the batting title ahead of Chunichi’s Yohei Oshima, but grounded out weakly in the first.

Neftali Soto hit a two-run second-inning homer off Yasuhiro Ogawa in the second. Murakami singled in a run in Yakult’s five-run third, Uchikawa tied it with a double, and Patrick Kivlahan hit a three-run homer.

Rookies Soma Uchikawa and Hideki Nagaoka hit back-to-back homers in the sixth, and Murakami connected in the seventh, when the broadcast crew and the Fuji TV graphics proclaimed it a record for a Japanese player, which it was—but not because it surpassed Oh’s total but because it extended the youngster’s record for Japan-registered player.

With his two hits, Murakami finished the season with a .318 average and 114 RBIs. He also led the CL with 114 runs, 118 walks, a .458 on-base percentage, a .710 slugging average. His triple crown is the first since Nobuhiko Matsunaka’s in 2004 for the Daiei Hawks, and the first in the CL since Randy Bass‘ in 1986.

One of the Swallows’ sponsors, real estate sales company Open House, had publicly promised Murakami a home worth 100 million yen (about $700,000) for his 56th home run, but decided to triple that in honor of his winning the triple crown.

After the game, the Swallows held a ceremony for their three retiring vets that included a speech from manager Shingo Takatsu, the ubiquitous presentations of flowers, and speeches by the players. The highlight was that the flower presentations were made by people connected with their former teams.

Former Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo went out for Uchikawa, and Sakaguchi, the last active Kintetsu Buffalo, received his flowers from former Kintetsu teammate Kazuki Kondo.

The presentations were made in order of service time from Uchikawa, who is wrapping up his 22nd pro season, to Sakaguchi to Shima. The former Eagles catcher was the last to get his gift, as Jingu Stadium gave its second biggest applause of the night to Masahiro Tanaka, who came out with a bouquet for his former batterymate.

2 managers leaving, 1 returning

On Sunday, Lotte Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi, whose job was reported as being secure for next year, said he’s quitting. Under his leadership, Lotte finished second in 2020 and 2021 and out of the playoffs.

It will be interesting to see whether the Marines will maintain their hyper cautious treatment of Roki Sasaki‘s miraculous arm.

He’s joined at the exit by Hiroshima Carp skipper Shinji Sasaoka, who leaves after finishing out of the playoffs for the third straight season.

The new guy, or rather the old guy, is the news that Akinobu Okada is returning as Hanshin Tigers skipper for the first time since 2004 to 2008.

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