Thursday’s big news was the retirement of goggled Chunichi Dragons right-hander Daisuke Yamai, who at 43 is Japan’s oldest active pitcher whose career was punctuated by three things, two Japan Series wins, including the leading role in the series’ only perfect game, and a regular-season no-hitter. But it was a career that got a boost from a game of rock, paper, scissors.
In Thursday’s games, the Orix Buffaloes completed a three-game sweep in Chiba to pull within a hair of the Pacific League-leading Marines, while in the Central League, the top three teams sank in place for the second straight day.
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Before we start with the PL games, I had to share some PL fielding highlights from Thursday, starting with a kind of center field-shortstop dueling banjos between Orix center fielder Shuhei Fukuda and Lotte shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Enjoy.
Eagles 8, Fighters 5
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Rakuten’s Hayato Yuge (1-0, 6.94) allowed a run over five innings, and Eigoro Mogi broke a 1-1 fourth-inning tie with a two-run homer off Chihiro Kaneko (0-4, 6.12). Takero Okajima chased Kaneko when he capped the five-run inning with a three-run two-out double. Hiroaki Shimauchi led off the Eagles’s fifth with his 19th home run to make it 7-1.
Buffaloes 4, Marines 3
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Orix completed a three-game sweep after Takahiro Okada took PL save leader Naoya Masuda deep with two on and two out for his 15th home run. That, and Yoshihisa Hirano’s 23rd save made a winner out of Daiki Tajima (7-8, 3.66), who allowed two runs in the eighth after Ryo Ota’s third homer tied it 1-1 off reliever Chihaya Sasaki.
Lotte’s Daiki Iwashita worked seven strong innings that went to nought after Masuda blew the save. Shuhei Fukuda led off with a single and with one out, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria made a tremendous catch to rob Steven Moya of a line single, but Kotaro Kobayashi’s flare fell in and Okada put Orix in front.
Lions 8, Hawks 7
At Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, there was another game and another decisive three-run ninth for the visitors as the Seibu Lions beat Yuito Mori (1-1). Yuito Mori led off the ninth with his 11th homer. A single, a sacrifice and two walks loaded the bases, Shuta Tonosaki tied it with a sac fly, and rookie Junichiro Kishi singled in the go-ahead run. Kaima Taira then recorded his 18th save.
Reed Garrett (2-3) earned the win after pitching a scoreless eighth.
Hawks starter Kazuki Sugiyama allowed three runs over 3-1/3 innings. Trailing 5-2 in the fifth, Yuki Yanagita doubled in one run and Alfredo Despaigne hit a three-run home run, his sixth, off Seibu starter Wataru Matsumoto. Despaigne singled in a run in the seventh and led off the ninth with a single, but that was the end of the Hawks’ offense.
BayStars 7, Swallows 6
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yakult’s relievers had trouble throwing strikes, costing them the lead on Keita Sano’s two-run seventh-inning single. Setup man Noboru Shimizu left the bases loaded in the eighth, but the game got away after closer Scott McGough allowed a leadoff single and a one-out walk. One out from ending the inning, Yakult manager Shingo Takatsu ordered his outfield in and it cost him the game.
As I wrote in “Shallow thoughts,” Japanese teams often bring their outfield in with an important potential run at second and two outs, and there is a clear cost, an increase in BABIP of about 5 percent. Takatsu loves to do this, but if your pitchers don’t have their “A” command, the ball gets into the outfield and routine outs often go for extra bases.
Toshiro Miyazaki lined to straight-away center, where it would normally have been caught but instead went for a two-run double. A routine fly to the warning track in right went for an RBI triple.
The Swallows bounced back on Osuna’s two-run homer off Yasuaki Yamasaki, but Kazuki Mishima got three straight outs to record his 22nd save.
Swallows starter Cy Sneed worked the zone and allowed two runs over six innings when rookie Shugo Maki hit a couple of hanging breaking balls for his 20th and 21st home runs. Jose Osuna tied it 1-1 with his 11th home run in the second off Ryosuke Miyaguni (1-1, 6.30), and Tetsuto Yamada’s 32nd home run made it 4-2 in the third inning.
The Swallows this season have been all about pounding the zone, getting ahead in counts, and not walking batters. On Wednesday, Yasuhiro Ogawa did that but didn’t have the stuff to quite make it work. Sneed made it work, but the relievers couldn’t.
The analysts all cited that as the reason for the loss and praised the Swallows fightback but everyone ignored the elephant in the room, describing the game-changing extra-base hits as poor execution by the pitchers and good swings by the batters.
Dragons 1, Giants 0
At Vantelin Dome Nagoya, Chunichi ace Yudai Ono (7-10, 2.82) allowed three hits and a walk while striking out eight over seven innings, and Kosuke Fukudome scored the winning run for the second straight day, with the first of three no-out fifth-inning singles off C.C. Mercedes (7-3, 3.59).
Katsuki Matayoshi and Raidel Martinez each struck out two in a 1-2-3 inning as Martinez earned his 20th save.
Carp 5, Tigers 4
At Koshien Stadium, Hiroshima’s Shogo Tamamura bounced back from a two-run first inning in which five batters reached base to allow three runs, two earned, over six innings. Seiya Suzuki’s second home run, a two-run shot in the fourth, his 32nd, put the Carp ahead until Tamamura surrendered Dan Onodera’s first career home run in the home half.
Hanshin’s Yuki Nishi, chastised by manager Akihiro Yano after his start last Friday, went on five-days rest and worked into the seventh inning. He left with two on with one out with the go-ahead run scoring after he left. Jefry Marte singled in the tying run off Makoto Kemna (2-1) in the home half, but Kaito Kozono’s fourth homer, off Suguru Iwazaki (2-4) in the eighth, put the Carp ahead for good.
The Tigers got the tying run on base against Daisuke Moriura in the eighth, and two on in in the ninth against rookie Ryoji Kuribayashi, who notched his 28th save.
Friday’s starting pitchers
Fighters vs Lions: Sapporo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Eagles vs Marines: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Buffaloes vs Hawks: Kyocera Dome (Osaka) 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Giants vs BayStars: Tokyo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Tigers vs Dragons: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Carp vs Swallows: Mazda Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 9/30/2021
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/10