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It’s still August and I’m wondering if I’m running out of superlatives for Munetaka Murakami, after he spent the weekend polishing his MVP credentials at the expense of the DeNA BayStars.
Japan’s media has already mentioned he’s on track to set the “Japanese home run record” which isn’t a thing, but if it were, wouldn’t be the one they’re talking about.
And because the baseball media revolves around squeezing “Giants” into a headline to increase clicks, stories are now circulating about how the 22-year-old is on the verge of tying Hideki Matsui’s career high of 50 home runs from 30 years ago.
Sunday wasn’t all about Murakami, though.
Kodai Senga, who entered the season as one of the most talked about players in Japan due to his upcoming international free agency, returned from a bout with COVID and was really good, while Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, questioned the manhood of his players, making one wonder how long it will be before he leaks to the press, again, that he is keen to serve out the rest of his three-year contract so they won’t fire his ass.
The Swallows’ slugger’s new nickname is a play on the first character of his name “Mura” and “kamisama” God.
Murakami is now on pace to tie Wladimir Balentien’s 60-homer Japan single season record, although odds are strong that he won’t. I remember Balentien being on a pace to hit 64 at one point.
But in 35 years of carefully following Japanese baseball, I only remember two players who were spoken about the way broadcast crews are now talking about Murakami: Alex Cabrera in 2001 and Balentien in 2013.
Cabrera tied Sadaharu Oh’s record of 55, and so did Tuffy Rhodes, but before he broke his arm in 2004, nobody destroyed baseballs like Cabrera did until Balentien came along.
Murakami’s not blasting them out of parks or bouncing them off dome ceilings the way Cabrera did when juiced Mizuno balls were in fashion, but he was so locked in this weekend that a walk seemed like the “Free Parking” space on a Monopoly board filled with other player’s hotels.
You can feel the tension in the announcer’s voice as the top three hitters in the Swallows lineup bat ahead of him.
As for the records, Murakami is one away from tying Jun Hirose’s 2013 mark with the Hiroshima Carp for reaching base in 15 consecutive plate appearances, and two hits from R.J. Reynolds’ 1991 record with the Taiyo Whales for hitting safely in nine straight at-bats.
When he gets close to 55, the talk will be of Murakami approaching the record by a “Japanese player” which is actually the record for a domestically registered player, Taiwan’s Oh.
So, the “Japanese” record of 52, set by Katsuya Nomura in 1963 with the Nankai Hawks, will likely go unreported, while a big stink will be made of Murakami hitting 50 and tying Matsui, because he played for the Giants.
Murakami’s already the youngest to hit 40 in a Japanese season, so every homer from here on will also be a “youngest” record.
Swallows 5, BayStars 4: At Yokohama Stadium, Murakami started the three-game CL showdown series between first-place Yakult and second-place DeNA by making outs in his first two plate appearances Friday. Since then, he’s walked five time, singled five times, homered four times. He had the game-winning RBI in two of those games.
On Sunday, he broke a 4-4 deadlock in the seventh inning with his 49th home run off hard-throwing lefty Edwin Escobar (4-1) on a 3-2 pitch after falling behind 0-2.
Dragons 4, Tigers 1: At Nagoya Dome, Hanshin’s top draft selection from last autumn, Daichi Moriki (0-1) made his major league debut, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk over six innings after shutting down Chunichi for five. The one walk was intentional and scored on Toshiki Abe’s two-out two-run double to complete the sixth-inning rally.
Yuya Yanagi (8-9) was just as good but didn’t allow any runs in his six innings for Chunichi.
Carp 6, Giants 4: At Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, Shota Dobayashi tied it with a two-run first-inning single for the Carp. After two-run homers by the Giants’ Gregory Polanco and Hiroshima’s Shogo Sakakura, Dobayashi doubled in the tie-breaking run in the fifth as the Carp took two out of three from Yomiuri with Ryoji Kurihara getting his 26th save.
The Giants have now hit a Japan-worst 59 batters, issued a CL-worst 358 walks, and are tied for the CL in errors committed with 58, and a Japan-worst 60 unearned runs, causing manager Hara to have a cow, again.
Walk like a man talk like an entitled manager
“Our mental state now makes me want to go back to Feb. 1 (the first day of Japan’s spring training). It’s like nobody here wants to act like a man,” he said.
As readers may remember, the Giants looked like they had seen enough of Hara in 2021 after the Giants’ early season lead blew up and they struggled into the playoffs, with former star catcher Shinnosuke Abe brought up from the farm to serve as “tactical coach” and looking for all intents and purposes like the guy who would take over when Hara’s contract expired last November.
In September, reports were leaked to the media that the Hall of Fame skipper would not be adverse to getting a new contract, and before you could say “Bingo” the Giants front office decided that since Hara wasn’t going to step down, they gave him a three-year extension.
We can now begin counting the days until the media reports, “a source with knowledge of the matter said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara intends to keep managing through 2024.”
Hawks 6, Fighters 0: At Sapporo Dome, Kodai Senga (9-4) pitched for the first time in a month, and ham-nandled the Fighters, striking out nine without issuing a walk while allowing four hits.
“Senga-kun was as advertised, and he wasn’t going to give us anything easy to hit,” Fighters manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo said.
Outfielder Tomoya Masaki, the Hawks’ second pick in last autumn’s draft, is now 6-for-8 with two homers and a double in his two starts, while Kenta Imamiya and rookie Isami Nomura each had a two-run seventh-inning double as the Hawks knocked out tough lefty Takayuki Kato (5-6) after 6-1/3 innings.
Marines 9, Eagles 2: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Lotte lefty Kazuya Ojima (3-9), who made a bunch of impressive starts last season, had one of those on Sunday against Rakuten, striking out seven, walking one and allowing a run on six hits over seven innings, while the Marines went deep four times and bombed lefty Takahisa Hayakawa (5-7) for eight runs over five innings.
Lions 10, Buffaloes 4: At Osaka Dome, Orix turned to a bullpen game after rookie Ren Mukunoki sprained his right ankle, got an electric three innings from Soichiro Yamazaki only for lefty Sachiya Yamazaki (4-7) to allow five runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Dietrich Enns (9-6) was sharp through five, allowing only an unearned run in the first when right fielder Aito Takeda failed to collect a single with a runner on, who scored. Seibu batted around in the fourth, and Keit Nakagawa chased Enns in the sixth with two-out three-run homer.
Takeda atoned for his defensive lapse by going 3-for-5 with two doubles a run and two RBIs, while Hotaka Yamakawa was 4-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs and his PL-beat 37th home run.
Monday’s starting pitchers
Hawks vs Marines: Osaka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 8/28/2022
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 9/7