I didn’t do my weekly subscriber’s newsletter tonight, so today’s post is more like the usual newsletter than just the day’s wrap. If you like it, then maybe you should sign up for the newsletter or better yet, (shameless plug) become a paid subscriber.
It’s still August and I’m wondering if I’m running out of superlatives for Munetaka Murakami, after he spent the weekend polishing his MVP credentials at the expense of the DeNA BayStars.
Japan’s media has already mentioned he’s on track to set the “Japanese home run record” which isn’t a thing, but if it were, wouldn’t be the one they’re talking about.
And because the baseball media revolves around squeezing “Giants” into a headline to increase clicks, stories are now circulating about how the 22-year-old is on the verge of tying Hideki Matsui’s career high of 50 home runs from 30 years ago.
Sunday wasn’t all about Murakami, though.
Kodai Senga, who entered the season as one of the most talked about players in Japan due to his upcoming international free agency, returned from a bout with COVID and was really good, while Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara, questioned the manhood of his players, making one wonder how long it will be before he leaks to the press, again, that he is keen to serve out the rest of his three-year contract so they won’t fire his ass.
The Swallows’ slugger’s new nickname is a play on the first character of his name “Mura” and “kamisama” God.
Murakami is now on pace to tie Wladimir Balentien’s 60-homer Japan single season record, although odds are strong that he won’t. I remember Balentien being on a pace to hit 64 at one point.
But in 35 years of carefully following Japanese baseball, I only remember two players who were spoken about the way broadcast crews are now talking about Murakami: Alex Cabrera in 2001 and Balentien in 2013.
Thursday was “Mountain Day” in Japan, and a national holiday, so there were three indoor day game. And even as Munetaka Murakami scaled another mountain, the Yakult Swallows must be feeling that a mountain has fallen on them.
The Swallows are now seven games ahead of the BayStars against whom they open a three-game series on Friday. If the tailspin continues, the BayStars could enter next week four games out of first place.
With that in mind, I thought it might be instructive to run a pennant race projection for each league, so let’s get started!
Fighters 3, Lions 2, 10 innings: At Sapporo Dome, Yushi Shimizu prevented two straight 2-2 ties, the Fighters backup catcher who has spent most of the season on the farm bounced a 1-1 pitch from Lions starter Wataru Matsumoto (5-4) into left to win it.
Yuma Imagawa, who made the final out the night before, said he didn’t get to sleep ahead of the 2 pm start until it was nearly 4 am, but hit a two-run fifth-inning homer to give the Fighters a 2-1 lead. Yuki James Nomura tripled ahead of him and scored, and then doubled in the 10th to set up the winning run, after Imagawa was intentionally walked ahead of Shimizu with two outs.
The Lions took the lead on a first-inning on doubles by Sosuke Genda and Tomoya Mori, who said in the flash quote provided by the team, “It’s good we scored.”
Seibu tied it on Shuta Tonosaki’s RBI single set up by Brian O’Grady’s second double of the game, with one out in the seventh. Tonosaki said, “I went to bat thinking but nothing but getting the runner home.”
These are about par for the course for mid-game quotes released by the team, where the person who drives in a run is quotes as saying all sorts of silly things.
Kazutomo Iguchi (1-0) struck out two in a 1-2-3 10th to earn the win and may have employed some sort of Jedi mind control before going into his delivery.
Buffaloes 6, Eagles 1: At Osaka Dome, Hiroya Miyagi (7-6) allowed a run over eight innings, but Yuma Tongu hit a two-run third-inning homer, his fourth, and Yutaro Sugimoto hit a solo homer, his 15th in a two-run fourth as Orix ran over Rakuten.
Hideto Asamura hit his 19th homer in the eighth to account for the Eagles’ run as Orix moved into third place, 2-1/2 games back of the Lions.
Hawks 4, Marines 3: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Kenta Imamiya broke a 3-3 ninth-inning tie by hitting his second homer of the year, off Lotte closer Naoya Masuda (0-2) and Ukyo Shuto made a huge catch in center field for the first out of the ninth inning as Koya Fuji recorded his second save.
Shuto singled and Taisei Makihara doubled in the opening run in the first off Atsuki Taneichi, who gave up two more runs in his three-innings. Akira Nakamura homered in the second and drew the fourth walk issued by Taneichi in the third.
Giants 6, Dragons 1: At Nagoya Dome, rookie Iori Yamasaki (4-3) delivered his second straight quality start, allowing a run over six innings, while going 2-for-3 with an RBI double in Yomiuri’s three-run sixth.
Sho Nakata, whose ninth-inning homer beat Chunichi Saturday, singled in a run in the first off Takahiro Matsuba (4-4). Takumi Oshiro’s RBI single made it 2-0 in the fourth, and Yamasaki’s double plated Adam Walker with the first run in the sixth. Naoki Yoshikawa, who singled and scored in the first, doubled in two more to put this one ice.
BayStars 4, Tigers 1: At Yokohama Stadium, Kenta Ishida (4-2) allowed a first-inning run on a single, a hit batsman and a wild pitch but gave up little else over seven innings. Keita Sano tied it with his 14th home run, in the fourth off Hiroto Saiki (2-1), and Hiroki Minei tattooed a two-run homer, his fifth, in the seventh. A single, a Tyler Austin double and some poor ball handling capped the three-run rally. Edwin Escobar worked the ninth to record his second save.
Carp 6, Swallows 3: At Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, Cy Sneed (6-4) retired the first nine batters before a Takayoshi Noma leadoff double in the fourth, a one-out walk and Ryoma Nishikawa’s seventh homer. The Carp sparkplug early in the season, Nishikawa was sidelined from June 3 as a victim of Japan’s “insufficient conditioning” epidemic and only returned to duty last week, since which he is 8-for-20 with two homers, and six RBIs.
Carp starter Yusuke Nomura (2-1) allowed an unearned run over five innings. Domingo Santana’s sixth-inning homer, his 12th, made it a one-run game before Nishikawa sparked a three-run inning with a one-out sixth-inning single. Sneed struck out Takashi Uemoto with two on, but Kaito Kozono singled in one run and Tsubasa Aizawa chased him with a two-run double.
In the eighth inning, the 22-year-old Murakami became the youngest player in Japanese pro baseball to hit 40 home runs in a season, surpassing Hall of Famers Sadaharu Oh and Koji Akiyama, who achieved the feat at the age of 23.