Rookie Kyota Fujiwara’s three-run home run brought the Lotte Marines from a run down in a 4-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes that put them in pole position to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday.
Kota Futaki (9-3) allowed a run in the first on a Steven Moya RBI single but held the Buffaloes off the board after that at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Trailing 1-0 in the fourth Fujiwara lined a pitch into the right-field stands with two on to make it 3-1. Frank Herrmann allowed one run in relief and Naoya Masuda another in the ninth. The closer had to sit through a short rain delay with two outs and the tying run on second but came back to earn his 31st save.
The win moves Lotte a half-game ahead of the Seibu Lions before the two teams square off in Chiba on Sunday. A Lotte loss or tie will keep the PL’s postseason picture in the dark until the teams finish their schedule on Monday. A Marines win will send them into the postseason for the first time since 2016.
Nakamura scores hat-trick in Lions comeback
Takeya Nakamura scored three runs as the Seibu Lions overcame a five-run first-inning deficit to earn a 6-6 10-inning tie against the Rakuten Eagles at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi on Saturday afternoon.
Seibu starting pitcher Tatsuya Imai surrendered six runs in jus two-thirds of an inning, but seven Seibu relievers combined to work 9-1/3 scoreless innings. Reed Garrett, fireballing rookie Kaima Taira and closer Tatsushi Masuda notched nine of the Lions’ 10 strikeouts in a combined 4-2/3 innings of work.
Shuta Tonosaki singled in a run for the Lions in the first and brought them to within a run when he led off the seventh by homering off D.J. Johnson. Nakamura doubled with one out and scored on Cory Spangenberg’s single to tie it.
Alan Busenitz worked a scoreless eighth for the Eagles, while Yuki Matsui struck out three over two scoreless innings to ensure Rakuten’s final game of the season did not end in defeat.
Akiyama wins it for Tigers
Takumi Akiyama (11-3) worked seven-plus innings, backed by an RBI double from Seiya Kinami and Yusuke Oyama’s 28th home run in the Hanshin Tigers’ 2-0 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Akiyama left after surrendering his third hit of the game to open the eighth. Forty-one-year-old lefty Atsushi Nomi, who is leaving the Tigers after the season for an uncertain future, “retired” 41-year-old catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara, who is leaving the game at season’s end.
With the day’s sentimental journeys attended to, Jon Edwards entered an induced an inning-ending double play.
Robert Suarez earned his 25th save for the Tigers.
Sakamoto moves within 1 hit of 2,000
Two of the Central League’s biggest sluggers each went deep twice but they were overshadowed by the buzz surrounding Hayato Sakamoto’s pursuit of 2,000 hits in the Yomiuri Giants’ 6-2 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Sakamoto, who turns 32 in December, recorded his 1,999th career hit in the third inning before Kazuma Okamoto extended his lead in the CL home run race with his 30th. Sakamoto is 53rd on Nippon Professional Baseball’s all-time hit list, and his 2,000th will tie him with former Lotte Marine Kazuya Fukuura.
The 24-year-old Okamoto has now hit 30 home runs in three straight seasons. Both Swallows runs came on 20-year-old Munetaka Murakami’s 27th and 28th home runs.
Iwakuma goes out a Giant
Are you kidding me? Hisashi Iwakuma, who ended his pro career in a Yomiuri Giants uniform after throwing two innings in the Eastern League for them in 2019, was given a hero’s sendoff at Tokyo Dome, with his teammates all wearing “Thanks Iwakuma” T-shirts.
Active roster moves 11/6/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/16
Chunichi Dragons lefty Yudai Ono (10-5) went the distance for the 10th time on Thursday to win a 1-0 nail-biting Central League win over the DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome.
Ono allowed six hits but no walks while striking out six. He also started two double plays, made a slick behind-the-back catch for the second out of the ninth inning and notched a big strikeout to end the eighth inning after the BayStars put two runners in scoring position.
After winning a tough battle to strike out pinch-hitter Taishi Kusumoto with his 111th pitch, the extraordinarily cool Ono slapped his glove and pumped his fist as he returned to the dugout.
The Dragons loaded the bases with no outs in the first against BayStars starter Kentaro Taira (3-5) but only managed to score on a Dayan Viciedo sacrifice fly.
Taira allowed four hits and a walk while striking out six over seven innings. Edwin Escobar worked a scoreless ninth for the BayStars.
Okamoto powers Giants past Swallows
Yomiuri Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto homered and drove in three runs while Angel Sanchez (8-3) and three relievers combined on a four-hit 6-0 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Swallows rookie Daiki Yoshida (2-7) took the loss, allowing four runs in two-plus innings. He walked in the game’s first run with a bases-loaded walk to Zelous Wheeler.
Carp’s Yabuta ends victory drought
Kazuki Yabuta (1-2) allowed two runs over six innings to earn his first win in two seasons, and Jose Pirela put the game on ice with his 11th home run, a three-run shot in the ninth as the Hiroshima Carp beat the Hanshin Tigers 9-5 at Koshien Stadium.
Pirela was walked intentionally in the Carp’s two-run first and also doubled and singled. Fumiya Haraguchi hit a three-run pinch-hit homer for the Tigers to make it a 6-5 game in the sixth.
Moore pitches Hawks to 11th straight win
Matt Moore (6-3) struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings to outpitch 19-year-old rookie Kosei Yoshida (0-1) in a 4-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome.
The win was the Hawks’ 11th straight as the three-time defending Japan Series champs drive toward their first Pacific League pennant in three years. The win, and the Marines’ loss, dropped SoftBank’s magic number to clinch to six.
Yoshida, the standout pitching star of the 2018 national high school championships at Koshien, was the Fighters’ second pick that year. He went 1-3 in four starts last season. On Thursday, he allowed four runs, two earned, in six innings.
Hawks closer Yuito Mori, pitching for the first time in nine days—when the Hawks last had a save opportunity to give him—allowed Sho Nakata’s 30th home run with one out before earning his 28th save with the potential tying runs on base.
Neal, Spangenberg, Tonosaki hold off Marines
Zach Neal (5-7) allowed a run in five innings, and was backed by a two-run Corey Spangenberg home run and a three-run Shuta Tonosaki blast in the Seibu Lions’ 7-4 win over the Lotte Marines at MetLife Dome.
Marines lefty Kazuya Ojima (7-8) allowed six runs over five innings. The Marines came back in a three-run sixth against Reed Garrett, but Tetsu Miyagawa, Ryosuke Moriwaki and Kaima Taira finished up with one scoreless inning apiece. After a couple of shaky outings, regular closer Tatsushi Masuda was given a breather as the rookie Taira earned his first save of the season and the second of his career.
Ernesto Mejia doubled to lead off the eighth to set up a Lions insurance run. In addition to his home run, Sotozaki singled, doubled, was hit by a pitch and contributed to the Marines’ tying the game 1-1 with an error in the outfield.
Romero blasts Buffaloes
Stefen Romero homered twice walked and drove in four runs as the veteran right-hander Takayuki Kishi (5-0) overcame a three-run Adam Jones home run in the Rakuten Eagles’ 6-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Romero’s 22nd home run, a three-run shot off lefty Daiki Tajima (4-6) made it 5-0 in the fifth innings. Adam Jones went deep off Kishi with his 12th homer in the top of the sixth. Romero hit his 23rd in the eighth off Yu Suzuki to complete the scoring.
Nomi joins Fukudome inTigers checkout line
Hanshin Tigers lefty Atsushi Nomi, who was for many years the ace of the iconic Central League club, revealed Thursday that the Tigers do not expect to keep him for next season, Sponichi Annex reported.
The 41-year-old, who in 2004 selected the Tigers when he turned pro the following year out of corporate league club Osaka Gas, has a career record of 103-94. Since 2018, he has been working out of the Tigers bullpen.
In a comment released by the club, Nomi said, “It is true I’ve spoken with the team about the future, but I won’t be the one to repeat the content of that discussion.”
“The one thing I want to say to all the fans is that this year will be last to play before everyone wearing a Tigers uniform.”
The news came a day after sources revealed that Japan’s oldest player, 43-year-old outfielder Kosuke Fukudome was told this week that he is surplus to the team’s needs next year.
Bour, Martin deactivated
Hanshin Tigers first baseman Justin Bour was deactivated on Thursday, as was outfielder Leonys Martin of the Pacific League’s Lotte Marines.
Martin sprained his left ankle running to first base in Wednesday’s game against the Seibu Lions and was unable to leave the field without assistance. The right fielder, who joined the club in the summer of 2019, has 25 home runs this season.
Bour’s deactivation is his first since he joined the Tigers over the winter. He took part in Thursday’s pregame practice as usual.
Matt Murton knows a few things about role reversal, having
gone from phenom to role player for the Chicago Cubs and from record-setting
hero to villain in his six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central
‘Win or lose, they find a way to put me on the front page,’
he quipped in his final season here.
Murton debuted with Hanshin in 2010 and proved a quick study
in the ways of Japan’s game. His precise and rigorous pregame practice blew
away manager Akinobu Mayumi. And when he began challenging to break Ichiro
Suzuki’s 16-year-old single-season hit record, he seemed a worthy heir. When he
did set a new record, Murton did it in a season that was 14 games longer, but
Suzuki said that didn’t make it less of an accomplishment.
“You have an organization that has a lot of input from a lot of people who are not baseball people. And then you have the media. It creates an environment in which everyone has to be very cognizant of their back.”
Matt Murton to Kyodo News in 2015
But what should have been the happiest of times turned into
a depressing slog, a stellar season overshadowed by hyper expectations. When Murton
finally got hit No. 211, the weight of the world came off his shoulders. At the
end, a season begun as a way to learn lessons needed to restart his major
league career instead created an unbreakable molecular bond between player and country.
Yet, within two years, when Murton and the rest of the
Kansai region’s most popular club failed to meet expectations, everything around
him had changed. In 2013, when a reporter insinuated he hadn’t been trying hard
in the outfield, Murton sarcastically said he didn’t like pitcher Atsushi Nomi
— who was on the mound when Murton failed to throw out a runner at the plate.
Not only did the regional sports media, who report every
scrap of Tigers news, turn on him, but his words were splashed across the front
page of every sports daily in Japan.
“You can’t go back and you can’t change it,” Murton, now an
assistant in baseball operations for the Cubs, said this spring in Mesa,
“I think for me specifically, it became kind of polarizing. We are playing for a team that was very visible. Given what I was able to accomplish as an individual in unison with our team in our first year, it puts you in a place of being very visible as a foreign player, and any misstep or anything that happened along the way was magnified. I feel that some of it wasn’t as big a deal as they made it out to be, some of it could have been handled differently. It was probably a combination of all of the above.”
Breaking Ichiro’s hit record
In retrospect, 2010 can be seen as a lesson about one aspect
of the dynamic between Japanese groups and their individual members. Because
Japan emphasizes group success and failure, it can be a surprise that
league-leading achievements and individual awards take on so much importance.
One trick is to look at those things as credits to the group
ledger, because they raise the profile of the group as a whole. This may help
explain why teams sometimes do whatever they can to boost individuals
accomplishments even to the detriment of team wins. It used to be common to intentionally
walking opposing hitters – regardless of the game situation – if it assists a
teammate’s effort to win an individual title, provided the team had nothing to
The introduction of playoffs in the Pacific League in 2004
and the Central League in 2007 has reduced the number of meaningless games, so
there are fewer chances to witness those farces. But having a sense that
individual accomplishments are to teams is important in getting a feel for the
pressure Murton felt as he approached Suzuki’s record.
“I felt that if I didn’t get it, I would be a failure, that
I would be letting my team down,” Murton told The Daily Yomiuri that October as
the Tigers prepared to begin the playoffs.
Ironically, he said, the solution came when looking at the problem in a different light.
“What’s so funny about that is I go back to that individual moment
in 2010, when I had a chance at Jingu (Stadium) to get a base hit on a changeup
up the middle and set the single-season hit record,” he said. “I remember the
feelings I had coming into the game. There was an expectation, whether it was
the media or people talking about it, whatever it was, to accomplish something
as an individual. So I felt that there were these external pressures that I had
to carry with me.”
“I’ll never forget that moment because on that day, it was bases loaded, and all of a sudden it came over me, ‘This isn’t about me getting a hit. It’s about knocking my teammates in.’ My thinking transferred from individual result to team success. When I was able to transfer my thinking to more of a group mentality, and living in the moment and competing as a team, the individual success came.”
“If we make it all about self, we oftentimes can find ourselves living at the address of thinking about factors we don’t need to be thinking about. When we keep it simple about the competition in the moment and how to help our team, the individual numbers take care of themselves.”
That was 2010, the last year of loosely regulated baseballs
in Japan. That year, offensive numbers did more than take care of themselves. They
took care of fellow Tiger Craig Brazell. The Tigers first baseman hit 47 homers
that season, despite playing at Koshien Stadium, where the vast power alleys
make it one of Japan’s toughest home run parks.
That power output secured Brazell a hefty three-year extension good times seemed just around the corner for Hanshin.
“I don’t like Nomi”
Like nearly every hitter in Japan, 2011 was a letdown for
Murton. After more than a decade of barely regulated balls, Nippon Professional
Baseball for the first time introduced a uniform baseball. The new ball was
intended to as dead as possible, and it was.
In addition to the deader ball, that season saw umpires from
Japan’s two top-flight circuits, the Central and Pacific leagues merged for the
first time. Games in Eastern Japan were also played with reduced lighting for
much of the season after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami resulted in
nuclear meltdowns and created a power shortage.
Across NPB, batting averages dropped by 8 percent and there
were 41 percent fewer homers. Murton’s offense took a hit, but he still went on
to win his second straight Central League Best Nine Award in the outfield. That
earned him a contract extension, but after finishing in fourth place, the
Tigers replaced manager Mayumi with Yutaka Wada.
Under Wada, the club did not flounder, but try as they
might, the Tigers couldn’t climb above .500. It didn’t help that older Tigers
players were not batting as well as expected and Brazell’s power evaporated after
2010. Nor did it help that Murton was guilty of a couple of careless plays in
Suddenly, the news among the sports papers feeding the
Tigers’ massive fan base began find fault with the team’s foreign players. Part
of Hanshin’s dynamic is the extreme degree the club worries about its press
“You have an organization that has a lot of input from a lot
of people who are not baseball people,” Murton told Kyodo News in 2015. “And
then you have the media. It creates an environment in which everyone has to be
very cognizant of their back. In my experience, they (the team) allow that to
infiltrate the organization.”
One of the Hanshin beat writers in 2012 has suggested that Wada and his coaches had caved in to media pressure for a scapegoat and the Tigers threw the foreign players to the wolves.
Murton found himself running a daily gauntlet of
insinuations masquerading as post-game questions. And on June 9, after the
Tigers lost their interleague game against the PL’s Orix Buffaloes 6-1, he’d
Murton went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts, dropping his batting
average to .231 for the season, but the question was about his defense. With
the Tigers losing 1-0 in the fourth, Murton’s throw home on a two-out single to
right was unable to nail the runner at the plate or prevent the batter from
advancing to second.
Asked if he had tried to throw the runner out at the plate,
Murton, who had spent much of his professional career trying to reign in his
temper, didn’t get overtly angry, but that hardly mattered.
His “I don’t like Nomi,” offered as a joke, transformed the
Tigers irritating media into a personal pestilence.
The sports dailies called for Murton’s head, and parent
company stockholders called for Murton’s dismissal. The fans who went to the
ballpark, those who actually witnessed his attitude and effort, stuck with him,
but the media had a circus to report on and wasn’t going to give it up easily.
“It was frustration, and the question that was asked and I didn’t understand,” Murton said. “I think the question was questioning integrity or how hard you were trying to do or whatever, so it was tough. But that probably wasn’t the right way to respond. But it was certainly in jest, a joke. Therein lies a cultural lesson that our jokes don’t always translate.”
Cultural collisions at home and abroad
Having learned sarcasm doesn’t travel, Murton crossed
another cultural divide in 2013, when he twice slammed into Yakult Swallows
catchers. Japanese catchers had been trained to block the plate without the
ball, and then duck and cover in case runners tried to bowl them over. Umpires
did not require tags on such plays, demanding catchers only hold on to the ball.
Most, but not all, collisions on Japanese base paths have
involved foreign base runners, who had been taught since childhood that
separating catchers from the ball was the base runner’s duty to his team.
On the same day Yakult Swallows catcher Masahiko Tanaka
returned to duty months after an earlier collision with Murton, the Tigers
outfielder slammed into Swallows veteran Ryoji Aikawa at Jingu. Aikawa himself had
been sidelined early in the season in a collision with a different runner, and
was not in a forgiving mood. Shoving and F-bombs ensued at home plate, Murton
was ejected, and his transformation from famous to infamous was complete.
The following spring, instead of pulling out the “This is
how baseball is played” excuse, Murton said he would be fine with rules that
prohibited catchers without the ball from blocking the plate and prevented
runners from trying to dislodge the ball rather than reach home.
“If that’s the rule, then the catcher doesn’t get hurt and I
as the runner don’t get hurt,” he said.
“I’m very passionate and driven. We can sit here and make excuses all day long, but excuses are a hindrance to growth. In order for us to grow, we’ve got to be raw. We’ve got to be vulnerable and realize we do have some shortcomings and that there are plenty of ways to learn from previous experiences.”
Needless to say, Japan provided Murton with lots of grist
for that mill. And though he first came here to acquire skills with which he
could relaunch his major league career, he got more than he bargained for.
“At the end of the day it’s the respect you gain by playing
there, the level of the competition you see on a day-in, day-out basis, coupled
with the enthusiasm and the support of the people. This is very unique. Chicago,
I think (is one of) a few markets that present similar type feeling from a
player’s perspective. But on a whole, it’s the love of the game, and the
opportunity to compete in front of people who care.”
“Culturally, you get a chance to engage something that is
very unique and a lot can be learned and it’s a place that as an American or a
foreigner, there’s so many things that Japan offers, it’s a really cool
experience. You love that experience, the time you spend there and you never
want to shut the door on that.”
Murton said that was true even when things went awry in ways
he couldn’t fathom at the time. Three-plus years later, having finally retired and
moved on to a team-building career, Murton has gained more perspective.
“It’s always easier once you are removed from an environment
to be able to look at it more objectively. The same is true in regards to
competition. What competition does in terms in the sense of the heightened
sense of our emotions and our responses, those are all a factor,” he said.
“Culturally, you would feel things or sense things that
really weren’t there. I look back on things and say, ‘I wish I wouldn’t have
been so taken back by whatever it was, A, B, C or D.’ I think there were times
when the feelings were warranted and made sense, but the responses you always
wish were different.”
While there’s no going back to the way things were, Murton
said his family thinks of Japan a lot. He lives in the Nashville area and is
involved with the Japanese community there, and his wife longs for the
simplicity of life on Kobe’s Rokko Island, where everything they needed was no
more than a short walk away.
“I came back this past September and I was only there for
four days,” Murton said. “My two older ones asked on that trip if they could
go, and they’ve more recently verbalized that they want to go back. It’s
something that will happen, when we make sense of when that time is right for
the younger kids and for us as a family.”
“You walk away from experiences and you want to do it in a
way that you’re wanting more,” he said. “It’s a part of you. It’s a season in
your life. It’s a chapter. It doesn’t change your identity or future, but that
will always be a part of you and that will never change, so there’s gratitude
for the experience and the relationships.”
“At the end of the day it’s the respect you gain by playing
there (in Japan), the level of the competition you see on a day-in, day-out
basis, coupled with the enthusiasm and the support of the people.”
While Japanese baseball is not major league baseball, it
represents some things that are hard to find in the majors, and he wasn’t
talking about 3-1 sliders, 2-0 curveballs or 100-pitch bullpens but engagement.
“I think there are a few (major league) markets that present similar type feeling from a player’s perspective,” Murton said, noting that playing in Chicago has a similar vibe. “On a whole, it’s the love of the game, and the opportunity to compete in front of people who care.”
“Culturally, you get a chance to engage something that is very unique and a lot can be learned. And it’s a place that as an American or a foreigner, there’s so many things that Japan offers, it’s a really cool experience. You love that experience, the time you spend there and you never want to shut the door on that.”
Words for the wise
For those wishing to share that, and who are lucky enough to
be in the right place at the right time when a Japanese club has its eyes on then,
Murton has some advice.
“The first thing would be to be prepared for a challenge
physically. If you’ve never experienced it, you don’t quite understand the
level of competition,” he said. “No. 1 is you have to prepare your body and
your mind. Never forget who you are, but take that America mindset or whatever
it is from whatever country you are from and check it at the door.”
“Kind of embrace the culture on the field and off the field. Right off the bat, there are going to be things done differently that maybe doesn’t make sense to you. That’s OK, because the feelings that you have are probably not any different from other guys that have played before you. Be aware that some of those situations are going to create feelings that are going to make it hard for you to understand.”
“But just live at the address of showing up every day,
caring for people and love the game. If you can do those things, embrace the
culture and the unique opportunity you have. You’re one of a very select few,
so just try and make the most of that.”
But that is the hindsight of six seasons of seeing foreign
players come and go. One early surprise in 2010 was seeing coaches’ brows
furrow when he’d spend an entire batting practice working on fundamentals.
Murton wasn’t yet used to Japanese baseball’s love of material results, where a
fluke single on a bad swing can be declared a good sign, while good swings and
hard-hit outs can be a cause for concern.
“Normally, I come to camp thinking, ‘I’m going to work the
backside of the field, and I’m going to get my swings in,’ because that was the
mentality you had coming from America,” Murton said. “If you’re a hitter (in
Japan), the first day go ahead and try to hit some home runs, try to let them
know you can do it. Then everyone will relax and you can go back to doing what
you’ve got to do. So yes, that is the one other piece of advice I’d probably
That and perhaps, save the sarcasm for home.
“I had a chance to see him (Nomi) for dinner this past
September, and I gave him a nice hug,” Murton said.
“That was always going to be a thing,” Murton said. “I still
can’t believe to this day that it took on this life of its own. And part of
that is my own fault.”