Tag Archives: Climax Series

Box score line drives

Does anyone remember what radio announcers in my day used to say about fluke hits — before video of every pitch was available at one’s fingertips and before statcast? “It will look like a line drive in the box score.”

In Japan, at least, they often look like line drives in the text wrap-ups as well. Take Saturday’s practice game between the Yakult Swallows and Rakuten Eagles, when 21-year-old slugger Munekata Murakami drove in the game’s first run off Tanaka, a pitcher he’d grown up watching on TV.

The Nikkan Sports reported the at-bat as follows:

There were runners on first and second with one out.

“Perhaps I should say he looked imposing–as I could see him up close ,” Murakami said to put into ordinary words the intimidation involved in facing a pitcher with 177 wins between NPB and the majors.

Murakami stood stock still taking the first pitch, a breaking ball low and inside that missed, but the tension ratcheted upward. With a 3-1 hitter’s count, Murakami finally offered at Tanaka’s fifth pitch, a 148-kph (92 mph) fastball that he shot into shallow right field to open the scoring.

Of course, the video makes the details look silly, although to be honest, I loved the stories about the two facing each other for the first time. But a few feet either way left or right and that sharp ground ball is an out, but that would have rendered most of the writers’ anticipated storylines inert.

The real story of the game was that except for some fumbling in the first inning, Tanaka was razor sharp.

Heroes are made not born

Murakami’s headline hit brought to mind, what was for me, Japan’s most memorable flare single, the pinch-hit that made Yoshihito Ishii the MVP of the 2012 Central League Climax Series.

This was a great, great series. The Dragons used three starting pitchers the Giants had barely seen all year to move within one win of an upset sweep at Tokyo Dome. By then, however, Chunichi skipper Morimichi Takagi had run out of starting-pitching surprises and turned the series over to his bullpen.

The Giants won Game 4 behind six scoreless innings from second-year righty Hirokazu Sawamura, who faced off against Chunichi’s former ace, and by then former Atlanta Brave, Kenshin Kawakami, who did a workman-like job, allowing two runs over four innings in the 3-1 loss.

The Dragons’ bullpen and a two-run Tony Blanco homer off Giants ace Tetsuya Utsumi left the game tied 2-2 going into the ninth. Scott Mathieson pitched a scoreless ninth for Yomiuri, but the Giants rallied against Japan’s career saves leader, Hitoki Iwase, to avoid elimination.

The Giants loaded the bases with one out, and after a right-handed pinch-hitter was announced, Takagi pulled the lefty Iwase in favor of Chunichi’s two-time Japan Series hero, right-hander Daisuke Imai.

Imai pretty much overpowered Ishii, and jammed him with a 1-2 fastball that landed in shallow left for the game winner.

After the series, whoever decides the awards named not Sawamura, who allowed a run over seven innings, and not Mathieson, who allowed one hit and one walk over four scoreless innings, but the guy who went 1-for-3 with a bloop RBI single as a pinch-hitter.

Japan and America are different

One may ask why this video didn’t get posted with yesterday’s story The answer is, again, because home teams own all the broadcast rights and sell them to whom they will, what one sees on the net depends on who the home team is. Pacific League video, which is jointly marketed and sold, goes up within 30 minutes or so.

The Central League’s Giants, Tigers, and BayStars make theirs available, but the Carp and Dragons don’t–due I’m told to the nature of existing contracts with their local broadcasters.

The Swallows fall in between. Their home game highlight videos are occasionally available on the net, through the TV Tokyo network. This clip was posted at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

In addition to “It will look like a line drive in the box score” another phrase I’m not certain people use anymore is “Japan and America are different.” Thirty years ago, used to be the pat answer to every “Why” uttered to a Japanese by a person who might potentially be an American.

It also used to be common for packs of school children to ambush foreign-looking individuals on the street, so that one of them could shout, “This is a pen! My name is Shogo Kitamura! How do you do!” to howls of laughter from their friends. But like that fad, perhaps Japan has outgrown the need to remind people living here that they were, in fact, no longer in their home country.

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NPB 2020 Nov. 14

Saturday’s games

PL Climax Series Game 1

Other news

Hawks outhit but not outplayed in Game 1 win

With one big exception, another unbelievably home run from the amazing Yuki Yanagita, the Lotte Marines swung the bat better in their 3-3 loss in Saturday’s first game of the Pacific League Climax Series to the SoftBank Hawks.

Hawks ace Kodai Senga gave up three runs, the first two on decent second-inning pitches that resulted in a single and a Hisanori Yasuda home run. He gave up another in the third when he paid for mistakes to Tatsuhiro Tamura and Takashi Ogino. The Marines have done well all year to adjust to the Hawks and prepare for them, and this one looked it was going to be another one of those days.

Mima, too, made mistakes, probably more than Senga, but got away with them in the first inning, but not in the sixth, when the Hawks tied it on an error.

The Hawks should have scored a run in the first, but Ogino robbed them of a leadoff single before they loaded the bases with one out and ended it on a double play. Yanagita cut the lead in the fourth to 2-1 with a home run over the wall in center off an improbably low pitch.

Mima then got out of a jam in the fifth. Shortstop Yudai Fujioka tried to barehand a chopper and whiffed. The ball rolled toward left, and Taisei Makihara reached on a leadoff infield double. A walk on a dubious 3-2 pitch put two on, but Takuya Kai struck out foul bunting pitches out of the zone. With two out and two in scoring position, Akira Nakamura appeared to be the victim of makeup calls from the ump. He took a dubious 3-1 strike and another on 3-2 to end it.

The end for Mima came in the sixth. Yanagita and Yurisbel Gracial singled off mistakes and a sacrifice put the tying run in scoring position. Alfredo Despaigne singled off Taiki Tojo, and Makihara chopped one to second with Gracial at third. Second baseman Shogo Nakamura looked the lead runner back, tagged Despaigne for the second out, and threw to first, where Seiya Inoue dropped the ball.

Gracial, broke for home as Nakamura threw, and Inoue’s drop allowed him to score the tying run as he slid in head-first.

Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 eighth and got the win in relief after Hirokazu Sawamura surrendered the lead in the home half on two walks and two infield singles. Takuya Kai hit another chopper to Fujikoka, who fielded it but couldn’t nail the runner at first.

“Hey. A hit is a hit,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said.

Yuito Mori then did the honors in the ninth with another 1-2-3 inning.

The Climax Series gives the league champs a one-win advantage in the final stage, while the home team wins all tie (games are tied after 12 innings), and all games are played at the higher-seeded team’s park. This year’s PL series was cut from two stages to one, with the final stage reduced from six games to four. The Hawks’ one-win advantage means they have a 2-0 lead and should the game be tied after the top of the 12th inning on Sunday, the series will be over.

There’s a lot to be said for foreplay

The series, as I’ve written before is closer to foreplay than climax, since it follows the pennant race, and only serves to pick a league’s team to the the Japan Series, where Nippon Professional Baseball’s championship is decided.

The Central League which looks on fun and a good time as some kind of threat to the purity of the game, used the pandemic as an excuse to get rid of its foreplay series, I mean CS, in a kind of return to the 2004-2006 seasons when the PL teams were playing meaningful postseason games and the CL champs were playing with themselves in intrasquad games.

Ramirez goes out with win against Giants

Alex Ramirez, who won both of his CL MVP awards with the Yomiuri Giants, finished his managing term with the DeNA BayStars with a 5-4 come-from-behind win at Yokohama Stadium against his former team.

Ramirez received flowers and hugs from his former Giants skipper, Tatsunori Hara, who urged him to make a comeback, “I told him to get back in the game.”

Active roster moves 11/14/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/24

Central League

Activated

GiantsP12Rubby De La Rosa
GiantsP18Tomoyuki Sugano
GiantsP30Yohei Kagiya
BayStarsIF44Keita Sano

Dectivated

None

Pacific League

Activated

HawksOF51Seiji Uebayashi
MarinesIF23Ryo Miki

Dectivated

MarinesIF67Kenta Chatani

Starting pitchers for Nov. 15, 2020

Pacific League Climax Series

Hawks vs Marines: PayPay Dome 1 pm, 11 pm EDT

Nao Higashihama (9-2, 2.34) vs Wei-Yin Chen (0-3, 2.42)

Postseason split

The Central League is expected to cancel its Climax Series postseason playoffs in order to focus to allow for as many regular-season games, Sankei Sports reported on Saturday. The Pacific League is expected to stick with some kind of playoffs to choose its Japan Series competitor.

While virtually everything is new about the 2020 season because of the coronavirus, for stretches of their history the CL and PL have split on their approach to postseason baseball.

The PL, which has traditionally trailed the CL in attendance, has repeatedly tried playoff systems, a single-season trial in 1952, a 10-year stretch from 1973 to 1982 when the first-half and second-half champions played off, and most recently from 2004 to 2006.

The 1952 model consisted of all seven PL teams playing a 108-game season, and the four best clubs playing 12 more. The 1973-1982 format was filled with problems, primarily one of rainouts. Japan has not managed rainouts well, and first-half games rained out and made out at the end of the season, counted toward the first-half championship, not the second.

Teams that won the first half could go into the Japan Series uncontested by winning the second, but often they just fell flat in the second half.

I wasn’t around for those first two tries, but when the PL tried again in 2004, it was accompanied by a chorus of laughter from the old guard and the CL, ridiculing it for watering down the value of the regular season.

The new CL format would allow the third-place team to reach the Japan Series, prompting one of Japan’s biggest windbags, then Yomiuri Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe to spout some of the nonsense he was famous for.

“If the Giants win the CL and the PL champion doesn’t have a winning record, we’ll boycott,” he famously said.

Of course, the reason those playoffs only lasted three years was because the CL owners got jealous of the big crowds that second-division PL teams drew in the waning weeks of the season and wanted in. The PL playoffs were replaced by the Climax Series, which was modified so as not to offend CL sensibilities.

So if things go as the Sankei Sports reported, it will be a nice taste of nostalgia, with the CL owners getting once more to spout off about old-school family values or whatever, and very possibly at the end of the season wishing they had kept their damned mouths shut.

Time for the CL rerun season

The Central League may not be the strongest of Nippon Professional Baseball’s two top leagues, but it is the most dependable. Take any Pacific League innovation, and the CL will criticize it as a slap in the face of Japanese baseball tradition. Yet at some point, the CL will want to co-opt it.

This happened when the PL adopted Mizuno’s rabbit balls in 1978 and eventually four of the six CL clubs opted for it. It happened when the PL pushed to send pros to the 2000 Olympics and Yomiuri eventually took that push over and became an Olympic sponsor. It happened in 2004 with the PL’s expanded postseason, which the CL took over and called the Climax Series from 2007, and now it is beginning to happen with the designated hitter.

The DH advantage

After the Yomiuri Giants, who were easily the class of the CL this season, were swept in the Japan Series, manager Tatsunori Hara said the DH gives PL teams an advantage and said it’s time for the CL to break with tradition and adopt the designated hitter rule.

As these things do, it’s taken a while for CL teams to realize that while they may still draw more fans to their larger ballparks, they are now, if not a second-class league, weaker than the league they historically have loved to belittle.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, my co-host John E. Gibson argued that the Giants were hindered in the series by having to put their best pinch-hitter, Shinnosuke Abe, in the lineup as a DH, rather than keep him on the bench for use in an emergency. I found this a weak argument since players produce better results when not pinch-hitting.

The irony is that the big-budget Giants are one of those CL teams that have long stockpiled older sluggers acquired as free agents who were ideal DH’s.

In Abe’s case, using him as a DH instead of having him at first and regular first baseman Kazuma Okamoto at third, allowed the Giants to shore up their defense. The flip side of the coin was that in order to keep their DH in the lineup at Tokyo Dome in the Giants’ home games, the SoftBank Hawks had to use Alfredo Despaigne in left field.

Despaigne contributed on offense and did hurt the Hawks’ defense but with Tokyo Dome having no power allies to speak of, he is more suited to playing there than say Koshien or Nagoya Dome.

Does the DH really help the PL?

Central League teams have been able to use designated hitters in the Japan Series since 1985 and in interleague play, which kicked off in 2005. The following tables show how each league’s DHs have performed against each other in those games through 2019, and they present a stereotypical picture of one league relying on slow sluggers who draw walks, and the other on more rounded players with less pop in the DH slot.

DH batting results 1985-2013

LeaguePARHRRBIBBOPS
CL4,954458124496419.639
PL5,238603192638561.676
LeaguePA2B3BSBCSGDP
CL4,954224133719108
PL5,23820383124123

Below are the basic results of non-designated hitters in all games played between the two leagues since the 1985 Japan Series. The gap between DH production and other hitters is not nearly as striking. Without the DH, PL teams are much faster, hit for more power and draw more walks. The PL non-DH hitters homer about 3 percent more often than CL hitters, while their doubles increase by 5 percent and triples by 26 percent.

Non-DH batting in all games

LeaguePARuns2B 3B HRBBOPS
CL82,2858,2163,1502971,7446,033.642
PL83,1798,9423,3583781,8116,238.664

Perhaps someone pointed this out to Hara, but the PL’s success at in DH games, all at home except for the 2014 regular season stunt, when the DH was only used in CL parks in interleague, has been resounding.

Games results with the DH

LeagueWinsLossesRSRA
CL44663039134597
PL63044645973913

Games results without the DH

LeagueWinsLossesRSRA
CL56751143554457
PL51156744574355

The CL appears to have a normal home advantage without the DH, but is lost when they go on the road and have to use the designated hitter.

Another part of the issue has been that the PL’s larger parks — combined with their ability to have big hitters as designated hitters, has encouraged the use of faster more athletic outfielders. But with the the fences having been pulled in in Sendai, Fukuoka and Chiba, it will be less advantageous to trade power for outfield speed than in the past.

NPB games, news of Oct. 9, 2019

The final stage of Japan’s two misnamed Climax Series opened for business on Wednesday at the league champions home parks. The unorthodox format for the Japan Series tournament’s quarterfinals and semifinals is a best-of-seven

Central League champion Yomiuri Giants and the Pacific League champion Seibu Lions entered the six-game series with a one-win advantage.

Hawks 8, Lions 4

At MetLife Dome, the Hawks caught most of the breaks and now are three wins shy of knocking off Seibu in the final stage for the second-straight year.

Lions starter Zach Neal fell victim in the first inning to a lucky roll, when a little chopper stayed fair for a one-out infield single. That was followed by two very good swings from Yuki Yanagita and Nobuhiro Matsuda that produced two runs off low changeups.

Neal, who hadn’t walked a batter since Aug. 27, saw that streak end in the sixth, when he put Alfredo Desapaigne on after facing 125 consecutive batters without issuing a walk. With two outs and the bases loaded, Neal kept the ball down to Seiichi Uchikawa, and the two-time batting champ rolled over a two-strike sinking fastball for an easy groundout as Neal left the field roaring and pounding his glove.

After the Lions scored four runs behind him, the right-hander surrendered a solo homer to Yurisbel Gracial to open the seventh and promptly left the game.

The Hawks turned the game on its head in the eighth, when Katsunori Hirai, pitching in his 82nd game of the year, allowed a pair of one-out singles. Kaima Taira took over, struck out Matsuda but lost pinch-hitter Yuya Hasegawa on a good high fastball that he flared into left for an RBI single, tying it 4-4. Taira’s worst pitch, perhaps, came next and cost Seibu the lead. Catcher Tomoya Mori tried to catch a low slider about to bounce, but it hit off his glove, allowing pinch-hitter Ukyo Shuto to score the go-ahead run on a harshly ruled passed ball.

Hawks lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who has not been anything like the master craftsman he was in June, had little control or command and gave up a steady stream of fairly hard-hit balls.

But while the Lions’ pen opened the door a crack and surrendered three insurance runs in the ninth, the Hawks relievers allowed one run over five innings.

The game highlights are HERE.

Giants 5, Tigers 2

At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri snapped Hanshin’s final-stage win streak at four, taking an early lead behind 15-game winner Shun Yamaguchi and holding on to take Game 1 and earning a 2-0 series lead.

The Tigers last reached the final stage in 2014, when they swept all four-games played to advance to the Japan Series and a five-game defeat at the hands of the Hawks.

Yoshihiro Maru and Kazuma Okamoto homered for the Giants in the first inning. Hayato Sakamoto made up for grounding into a first-inning double play ahead of Maru with a two-run second-inning single.

Game highlights are HERE.

NPB games, news of Oct. 7, 2019

And it’s on to the final stages in each league as the PL’s third-place club, the Rakuten Eagles, and the CL’s second-place DeNA BayStars seeing their seasons end.

Each league’s Climax Series final stage starts on Wednesday in the Kanto area at the home of the league champs, the CL’s Yomiuri Giants and the PL’s Seibu Lions, who enter the ostensibly best-of-seven, six-game series with a one-win advantage. For the second-straight day, both playoff games finished with the same score.

Tigers 2, BayStars 1

At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin advanced to the final stage for the first time since 2014, when their 39-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa recorded a two-out save in a steady rain to end the season for manager Alex Ramirez’s DeNA BayStars.

For the second time in the series, the Tigers scored the winning run off lefty reliever Edwin Escobar again, although it was a tougher slog then in Game 1, when Escobar said, “that wasn’t me on the mound.”

—Here’s my chat with Escobar prior to Game 3.

With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, a hit batsman, a stolen base by pinch-runner Kai Ueda, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly put Hanshin in front after former closer Rafael Dolis pitched out of a one-out, bases-loaded pickle in the seventh.

“I’d decided I was going to take off on the first pitch,” Ueda said. “I was out yesterday (trying to steal), but you want to get them back after they get you.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, who in the second half has been reprising his role as Hanshin closer he held down pre-Tommy John and MLB from 2007 to 2012, retired the BayStars in order in the eighth. Pitching more than an inning for the second time this season, Fujikawa struck out captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, walked cleanup hitter and former Mariner Jose Lopez, before getting an infield fly.

After asking the ground crew to repair the mound due to the rain, Fujikawa faced Sunday’s sayonara hero, Tomo Otosaka, who was unable to replicate his two-run pinch-hit homer that won Game 2, tapping back to the mound.

Here’s my recent interview with Fujikawa for Kyodo News.

The two-inning save was the seventh of Fujikawa’s career and his first since Sept. 7, 2010.

“It was a very good game, all the way to the end We tried our best all the way with our best guys out there. Nothing to be ashamed of,” manager Ramirez said.

“We like to thank the fans for all their support. It couldn’t have been better. We did our best and they did their best. It was like a family. From now it’s only going to get better.”

The Tigers now head to Tokyo Dome, where they swept the league champion Giants in the 2014 final stage to advance to the Japan Series.

The game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 2, Eagles 1

At Yafuoku Dome, Seiichi Uchikawa drove in both runs for SoftBank in its first-stage-clinching victory over Rakuten, whose run came on Hideto Asamura’s fourth home run of the three-game series.

Uchikawa, one of only two players to lead both of Japan’s leagues in batting average and the first player in his prime to move from the Central League to the Pacific, further cemented his legacy as the key player in the Hawks’ second dynasty in Fukuoka.

The 37-year-old tied it 1-1 when he followed two-out singles from Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial with one of his own. He led off the seventh with a homer off Sung Chia-hao.

Side-armer Rei Takahashi got the win after allowing a run on four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman through 5-1/3 innings. With one out and two on in the sixth, reliever Jumpei Takahashi got Jabari Blash to ground into a double play to keep the game tied.

The next stop for the Hawks will be MetLIfe Dome. The Hawks are aiming to win three-straight Japan Series for the first time in franchise history. The Hawks won back-to-back series in 2014 and 2015 in addition to their past two years.

The game highlights are HERE.

Ramirez to stay, Tsutsugo ‘tsu go’

The last two years, there have been reports about the future of manager Alex Ramirez’s tenure as skipper of the Central League’s DeNA BayStars, but according to various reports, the team has decided to extend the former big leaguer’s stay in Yokohama after the franchise’s second-place finish. The club hadn’t finished that high since its 1998 CL and Japan Series championship.

Next season will be Ramirez’s fifth with the club, although a Japanese citizen, he is

The team’s chief executive also said that left fielder and team captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will be allowed to move to a major league club via the posting system.

There’s a brief look at Tsutsugo on my “Guess who’s coming to dinner” page.

“We’ve spoken at length about it (after the end of the regular season), and I’d like to let him realize the dream he’s held since he was little,” said Kazuaki Mihara, the club’s official representative to NPB.

Fighters skipper Kuriyama agrees to 1-year extension

Hideki Kuriyama, who reportedly told the Nippon Ham Fighters he’d like to step down after finishing below .500 for the second time in three years and watching his club collapse after pulling within a half-game of the Pacific League lead, has agreed to a one-year extension through next season.

The 58-year former outfielder, TV analyst and university lecturer, won the PL pennant in 2012, his rookie managing year, and captured the league and Japan Series championships in 2016 — when Shohei Ohtani was named the PL’s MVP, Best Pitcher, and Best Designated Hitter. Kuriyama has said it was his idea to offer Ohtani a chance to both hit and pitch as a pro.

This season, he adopted the use of a “short starter” a pitcher who would go through the opposing lineup either once or twice, and also experimented with various shifts, most noticeably against Orix Buffaloes left-handed slugger Masataka Yoshida. In the second half, he further experimented with an opener, using reliever Mizuki Hori successfully in that role.

When a team source revealed Kuriyama had informed the team he wished to step down, the same source said the team did not consider the team’s poor results a reflection of his managing effort.

The Fighters went into the season with most of their foreign-player capital invested in pitchers, but the quartet of Nick Martinez, Bryan Rodriguez, Johnny Barbato, and Justin Hancock pitched a total of 130-1/3 innings.

Giants meet with high school star Sasaki

Officials of the Yomiuri Giants spent 30 minutes on Monday meeting with hard-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki, laying out their development plans as they try to encourage the youngster to sign away the next nine-plus years of his baseball life to a club that will not allow him to move to the major leagues.