Tuesday in Japan began with some off-the-field news but ended with all the big bangs and extremes we deserved as well as all the racist-tinted hypocrisy the media could stir up.
The second retirement shoe dropped, when Yoshio Itoi revealed that he is not in fact superhuman, while Nippon Professional Baseball is open to the idea of allowing fans to chant, sing and cheer like the old days, although not exactly.
Munetaka Murakami contributed to an exodus of baseball’s leaving the field of play at Jingu Stadium, while another team was one-hit but scored the only run in their win. And if the battle for first place in the Central League is just warming up, the competition for the final playoff spot is boiling over.
In the Pacific League, the race for first continues to bubble as the Hawks and Lions go at it with Orix and Rakuten hot on their heels. Kotaro Kiyomiya, the BIG name in the same first round of the 2017 draft when Murakami was picked, also packed a punch, while Rakuten’s and Orix’s big boppers traded home runs.
And if that’s not enough, for the first time since Sept. 1, it’s Roki Eve in Japan, so let’s cross our fingers and hope we get some pitching presents or presence against the Fighters.
If any of you remember, the last time Sasaki pitched against Nippon Ham, Tsuyoshi Shinjo said, “Gee. I’d love to see him throw a no-hitter” after Sasaki pitched eight perfect innings against his team in April. Maybe he’ll get his wish.
Murakami didn’t tie no record
It’s hard to express the amount of moisture that needs to be mopped up across newsroom floors across Japan with Murakami’s two homers. Contrary to the headlines, Murakami didn’t tie any records, but Oh’s 55 home runs in 1964 for a team going nowhere close to the pennant, still have a hold on Japan’s imagination the way Babe Ruth’s 60 held sway in America, which is fitting. Ruth’s record lasted for 34 years, Roger Maris’ for 37, Oh’s lasted for 37 years before it was tied, but wasn’t surpassed for 49 years.
The irony of Oh’s record, of course, is that the reason people think more of that one than Balentien’s in Japan, at least for now, is that it is treated as the JAPANESE record, it’s a nationalistic racist kind of thing, in a country where Oh was not permitted to become a citizen as a child because his mother was Japanese, not his Chinese father.
And while Oh honors his father’s heritage, he is culturally Japanese through and through, but still experienced racism because he was not Japanese enough. Yet, as a Japanese baseball icon, that uncomfortable truth is brushed aside so that Oh can stand in as a symbol for the nation that tried to subjugate his father’s homeland, as a sign of domestic strength against those who are so visibly not Japanese.
Music the international language? Love? Forget about it. It’s hypocrisy.
Itoi to retire
Yoshio Itoi, who was acquired as a premium pre-draft signing by the Nippon Ham Fighters at the 2003 draft as a flame-throwing college pitcher, said Tuesday that this will be his last season. The 41-year-old became an outfielder when he was unable to throw strikes and who a decade ago was perhaps Japan’s best position player.
Although he may get a few more swings this season, Itoi’s played 1,726 games, scored 822 runs, hit 339 doubles, 171 home runs, drove in 765 runs, drew 795 walks with a career slash line of .296/.388/.446. He won five PL Best Nine Awards and seven Golden Gloves. Not bad for a washed-out pitcher.
—The reason for your decision?
Itoi: “I was getting this feeling that I was no longer superhuman, which is just my way of making a joke. I had been feeling that both my results and the feel of my at-bats were way off.”
—How do you feel now?
Itoi: “I’m spent. Yesterday, I cried too much, and didn’t get a wink of sleep.”
—What are you proudest of?
Itoi: “I’m proud of what I accomplished as an athlete, in the things I did after converting from a pitcher to a position player.”
—What image sticks with you?
Itoi: “I was so excited the first time I received a roar from the crowd at Koshien. It was unforgettable.”
—What pitcher did you get up the most to face?
Itoi: “It had to be Shohei Ohtani. His slider broke so much it looked like it started out as a pickoff throw to third.”
Raise a cheer, or not
Atsushi Ihara, NPB’s secretary general, said Tuesday that teams will be allowed to end their total ban on vocal cheering, but only in dedicated seating areas, where attendance will be limited to half capacity, in line with new government guidelines, but said he didn’t know if teams would actually go in that direction.
So far, owners have relaxed COVID measures in every area that doesn’t cost them income. They sell food and drink at the stadiums, and allow crowds to full capacity, but cheering, and media access to the players, which bring in no real revenue, have not budged since the 2020 season began three months late in June.
There may be teams that believe the visual image of fans cheering will increase attendance, but I’m guessing the teams who rent their stadiums and whose marginal profits from added attendance will be most likely to go that way. So if Nagoya Dome, Jingu Stadium, Sapporo Dome and Tokyo Dome all start getting noisy again, while we hear only whispers from the other eight ballparks, you’ll know why.
Now let’s get to the games:
Giants 9, Swallows 7: At Jingu Stadium, Kazumasa Okamoto hit two solo shots, his 26th and 27th, Adam Walker hit another, his 23rd, and Sho Nakata hit the game-breaker a three-run homer that was his 21st. Yasutaka Shiomi hit two solo shots, his 15the and 16th, while Murakami entered Japanese mythology by tying Oh’s career-best of 55 home runs with a solo homer off Tomoyuki Sugano (8-6).
Shiomi and Okamoto traded solo shots, but Okamoto’s second broke a 1-1 fourth-inning tie and Yomiuri never trailed again. Adam Walker then went deep off Masanori Ishikawa (5-4), allowing Sugano to absorb Murakami’s blast to right.
“It was an inside fastball that flattened out,” Sugano said. “I got beat going strength against strength, but I am satisfied with my effort.”
With Yomiuri leading 9-4 in the ninth, Murakami unloaded on rookie closer Taisei Ota with a blast to center, to open the drool and spittle floodgates.
BayStars 1, Dragons 0: At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi rookie Hiroto Takahashi (5-6) suffered the epitome of a tough loss, one hit, two walks, nine strikeouts and one run over seven innings. Three relievers retired the remaining six batters, and that was the ballgame.
Robert Gsellman (1-0), who signed with DeNA in July and entered the game having allowed four runs in his only inning of work, went seven, while allowing three singles, a walk and a hit batsman for his first Japan win. Hiromu Ise worked the eighth, and Yasuaki Yamasaki nailed down his 33rd save.
Carp 6, Tigers 3: At Koshien Stadium, reserve catcher Yoshitaka Isomura’s RBI double capped a two-run fourth as Hiroshima broke the ice against Koyo Aoyagi (12-4). Yusuke Oyama’s one-out RBI single chased Allen Kuri in the fifth, and Daisuke Moriura (3-5) pitched out of two-on one-out jam to earn the win with the help of Ryutaro Hatsuki, who capped a three-run sixth with a two-run double.
Closer Ryoji Kuribayashi was called on to get a five-out save with two on and one out in the eighth. He allowed a sac fly but pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 30th save.
Hawks 7, Lions 5: At Fukuoka Dome, five SoftBank pitchers combined on a five-hit shutout with former closer Yuito Mori (2-4) retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced over three innings of relief to earn the win.
Kona Takahashi (10-8) paid the price for two two-out walks in the fourth in the form of an Akira Nakamura RBI single. A fifth-inning leadoff walk came around to score when Ukyo Shuto’s one-out double made it 2-0 Hawks, who went to town against Seibu’s bullpen with seven runs after Takahashi finished six innings.
Eagles 3, Buffaloes 3, 12 innings: At Miyagi Stadium, Masataka Yoshida belted his 17th and 18th home runs and drove in three off Takahisa Hayakawa, and Daiki Tajima’s spell of mastery ended in the seventh, when Hideto Asamura followed back-to-back no-out singles with his 26th home run to tie it. Ryo Yoshida struck out the first two Eagles in the bottom of the 12th but an Asamura single and two walks loaded the bases before he retired pinch-hitter Ginji Akaminai to secure the tie that left Orix second, 1-1/2 games back of SoftBank, with Seibu a half-game further back in third and Rakuten fourth, a game back of the Lions.
Fighters 11, Marines 3: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Lotte took a 2-0 lead against Naoyuki Uwasawa (8-7) on Shogo Nakamura RBI singles in the first and second, but Kotaro Kiyomiya’s 14th homer, a two-run shot, capped a four-run fourth off Ayumu Ishikawa (7-7). Kiyomiya’s three-run homer capped a four-run fifth. Arismendy Alcántara completed the beatdown with a three-run ninth-inning homer, his 13th.
Wednesday’s starting pitchers
Marines vs Fighters: Chiba Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Hawks vs Lions: Fukuoka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Dragons vs BayStars: Nagoya Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Tigers vs Carp: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 9/13/2022
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 9/23