Last week, players began to be informed that they are on the way out with their teams, and this week as clubs began to be officially eliminated from pennant contention we begin to hear about the managers who are heading for the exit.
The managers’ exit
Over the weekend, word was going around that the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons would part ways with manager Tsuyoshi Yoda. On Tuesday, the name that popped up was Hideki Kuriyama of the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters, and on Wednesday it was Hatsuhiko Tsuji of the PL rival Seibu Lions.
The pennant race
Two days into the week’s games and the four-time defending Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks appear to be sucking wind. Currently fourth in the PL, they had a two-game series at home against the third-place Rakuten Eagles, but that did not go well.
Elsewhere, the return of Leonys Martin from a foot injury to the second-place Lotte Marines may have changed the dynamics of the pennant race, while the first-place Orix Buffaloes are doing what Japanese teams do, hanging injured star Masataka Yoshida’s jersey in the dugout as a kind of talisman.
On Thursday, the Marines get Roki Sasaki back, for his first start since he dueled Masahiro Tanaka in the middle of September, while the Buffaloes will play the Fighters, who are starting rookie Hiromi Ito.
In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants have the golden opportunity to make ground in the race with a three-game series against the first-place Yakult Swallows, but like the Hawks, that has not gone well, although ace Tomoyuki Sugano has been named to start Thursday’s finale against unheralded righty Juri Hara.
The Hanshin Tigers, who have been keeping pace with the Swallows, will play against the DeNA BayStars, who deactivated their biggest hitter, Tyler Austin on Wednesday.
It’s going to be fun.
Marines 4, Lions 2
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Leonys Martin continued to spark Lotte, while 24-year-old rookie right-hander Tokito Kawamura (4-0, 3.68) allowed two runs over six innings to win his fourth straight start.
Ogino’s ninth homer and Martin’s 26th made it 2-0 Marines against Keisuke Honda (0-3, 4.21) in the first. Shuta Tonosaki singled to lead off the Lions’ second and scored to halve the deficit. The Marines scored twice in the fifth on an Adeiny Hechavarria double, a fielder’s choice, an errant throw and two groundouts. Six-time PL home run champion Takeya Nakamura’s 15th homer made it 4-2 in the sixth.
Nakamura and Tonosaki singled to open the Lions’ ninth against closer Naoya Masuda, who turned it around with three straight outs for his 36th save.
Fighters 3, Buffaloes 2
At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Nippon Ham’s Naoyuki Uwasawa (11-6, 2.96) allowed three hits and a hit batsman over seven innings to snap the Orix Buffaloes’ unbeaten run at nine games.
“They’re a first-place team and playing with a lot of energy, and so I came in thinking I would have to really on top of my game to beat them,” Uwasawa said.
That energy was on display in the first from Orix center fielder Shuhei Fukuda, who retired the Fighters almost single-handedly and scored in the home half as the Buffaloes grabbed a 1-0 lead.
Fukuda snagged a ball in the gap to prevent a leadoff double on a fat pitch from Soichiro Yamazaki, whose miss to Haruki Nishikawa became a one-out double. Fukuda made an easy catch for the second out and gunned down Nishikawa at the plate on a Kensuke Kondo single off a straight fastball down the pipe.
Fukuda opened the Buffaloes’ first with a flair single and trotted home from second when rookie Kotaro Kurebayashi drove a mistake from Uwawasa off the wall in center. But Fukuda couldn’t do it all night, and Uwasawa reverted to form and retired 20 of the next 22 batters. Nippon Ham tied it in the third when Takuya Nakashima singled, advanced on a groundout and a fly, and scored on a Nishikawa single.
Yamazaki worked 3-2/3 innings, and the Fighters broke the deadlock against lefty Tomoyuki Kaida in the seventh. A one-out walk to the No. 9 hitter, a run-and-hit single and a Nishikawa sac fly broke the tie before singles by Yuki James Nomura and Kondo made it 3-0 and chased Kaida.
The Buffaloes got the leadoff man on in the ninth, but a strike-out caught-stealing double play ruined that with Takahiro Okada called out on a pitch that was likely out of the zone before Fighters closer Toshihiro Sugiura got an easy fly for the final out and his 25th save.
Eagles 5, Hawks 0
At Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, Rakuten made Nick Martinez (9-3, 1.79) look human scoring a run off him in the first and two more in the seventh after he’d passed 100 pitches. He gave up nine hits and a walk while striking out 11. Ryota Takinaka (9-4, 3.47) worked six innings to win his fourth straight decision and lower his ERA over his last five starts to 0.77.
Hideto Asamura doubled with two outs in the first and scored on a Hiroaki Shimauchi single. Martinez got two quick outs in the seventh and twice was one strike away from ending the inning. Instead, he threw bad pitches up in the zone to three straight hitters and Takero Okajima doubled in two.
It was that kind of day when even Livan Moinelo couldn’t stop the bleeding. He failed to retire any of the four batters he faced in the Eagles’ two-run eighth.
Swallows 3, Giants 0
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yakult’s Cy Sneed (5-2, 3.53) pitched tough with runners on through the first three innings as he scattered five singles and two walks while striking out seven to earn the win as the Swallows rattled off their fifth straight win.
Yomiuri lefty C.C. Mercedes (7-4, 3.58) did not allow a hit until Munetaka Murakami singled to open the fifth when Hayato Sakamoto made a tough stop but bounced his in-time throw to first. Jose Osuna forced him at second and ran for all he was worth to score from first on a double by Yuhei Nakamura, who took third on the throw. Naomichi Nishiura’s sac fly made it 2-0.
Although Sneed didn’t allow a run, the Giants ratcheted up his pitch count, forcing him out after the fifth inning. His catcher Nakamura said after the game, “his pitches weren’t all that good,” but when Sneed really needed a good fastball, he made people miss his four-seamer. Former closer Taichi Ishiyama, who has been getting more and more use of late, worked a 1-2-3 sixth against the middle of the Giants’ order. Ryuta Konno did the same in the eighth and setup man and league holds leader Noboru Shimizu repeated the feat in the eighth.
Yakult made it 3-0 in the eighth on two-out singles by Norichika Aoki and Tetsuto Yamada and a Murakami RBI double, and Scott McGough wiped out the heart of Yomiuri’s order in the ninth for his 26th save.
Tigers 2, BayStars 0
At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin’s Mel Rojas Jr. cracked open the scoreboard with a two-run fourth-inning home run, his seventh, off Shinichi Onuki (6-6, 4.33), and Yuki Nishi (6-9, 3.68) allowed seven hits but no walks over six innings, while three relievers each faced the minimum to close it out with Robert Suarez getting his 38th save.
Rojas also doubled and walked.
Carp 7, Dragons 3
At Vantelin Dome Nagoya, Hiroshima’s Allen Kuri (11-7, 4.22) allowed three runs over six innings, while Kaito Kozono and Shogo Sakakura each scored twice and Ryosuke Kikuchi drove in three. The bullpen got six straight outs before the Dragons put two on in the ninth, allowing rookie Ryoji Kuribayashi to enter and get his 29th save.
Takahiro Matsuba (6-4, 3.07) allowed three runs on five first-inning hits with a Shota Dobayashi double that plated Kozono, and two-out singles from Sakakura and Kikuchi, but then retired 12 of the next 13 batters.
Dayan Viciedo singled and scored in the Dragons’ four-hit second, and three straight two-out singles made it a 3-2 game in the fourth. A Kikuchi sixth-inning triple drove in Kozono and Sakakura, while the Dragons once more chipped away in the bottom of the inning on Viciedo’s 17th homer. Sakakura doubled to open the ninth and scored in the two-run inning.
Thursday’s starting pitchers
Marines vs Eagles: Zozo Marine Stadium 5:45 pm, 4:45 am EDT
Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 5:45 pm, 4:45 am EDT
Buffaloes vs Fighters: Kyocera Dome (Osaka) 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Swallows vs Giants: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
BayStars vs Tigers: Yokohama Stadium 5:45 pm, 4:45 am EDT
Dragons vs Carp: Vantelin Dome (Nagoya) 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 10/6/2021
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/16