Tag Archives: Hall of Fame

NPB 2020 9-19 members notes

Neftali Soto’s place

With his 100th career home run on Saturday in his 1,202nd at-bat in Japan, Neftali Soto became the 81st imported player to reach 100 home runs here.

The all-time leader is Tuffy Rhodes, with 464, while Soto’s manager with the DeNA BayStars, Alex Ramirez, hit 380 for second place on the list.

Of those 81, Soto is the 12th to win more than one home run title. Again, Rhodes leads that race as the only imported player with four, where he is the only Hall of Fame eligible player in Japanese pro baseball history to lead his league in home runs, who has not been voted into the Hall of Popularity — I mean the Hall of Fame.

Soto’s two titles puts him ahead of Alex Cabrera, LeRon Lee and Boomer Wells, each of whom hit 200-plus in Japan but only led their league one time.

Ten Hall of Fame eligible players have led their league exactly three times. Of those, five are in the Hall of Fame (Hideki Matsui, Fumio Fujimura, Hiromitsu Kadota, Tetsuharu Kawakami and Hiroshi Oshita), two are likely to get in (Masayuki Kakefu and Atsushi Nagaike). The other three are not. Those guys are Orestes Destrade, Ralph Bryant and Tyrone Woods.

Frequent fliers — top 10 imports in HR rate

NameAB per HRHRsLast year
Randy Bass10.932021988
Charlie Manuel11.251891981
Orestes Destrade11.351601995
Ralph Bryant11.512591995
Tony Solaita11.521551983
Neftali Soto*12.021002020
Roberto Petagine12.152332010
Tyrone Woods12.252402008
Wladimir Balentien*12.362972020
Alex Cabrera12.633572012
*– still active

Japan’s big attendance crash

From June 19 until July 9, no fans were allowed to attend games in Japanese pro ball to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. And while infections began jumping again about the time the start of the season was announced in May, no infections were reported at ballparks among fans.

It struck me today that this is the second time attendance at NPB took a huge hit.

Prior to the 2005 season, in perhaps the weirdest turn of events, the Yomiuri Giants led a kind of truth commission in which the teams agreed to begin announcing “realistic” attendance figures.

This baseball glasnost was caused not by a virus but by a sense that the fans were tired of the bullshit teams had been spouting the year before.

In addition to telling the fans and players to shut the “F” up and do what they are told in response to the owners’ decision to put the Pacific League’s Kintetsu Buffaloes out of business, the ball had become an issue.

It had been fairly obvious for nearly a decade that the dominant baseball manufacturer in NPB, Mizuno, had captured much of the market by selling teams hyper-lively balls. Nobody was talking about it, but the numbers were undeniable.

During the summer of 2004, the Chunichi Dragons, a team with virtually no power who play in central Japan’s version of the mammoth caves, decided that having a lively ball that allowed opponents to hit home runs there was counterproductive.

And then they broke the first rule of the juiced baseball code: Don’t talk about juiced baseballs. The Dragons held a press conference to announce that cheap home runs were a problem, and the teams, already dealing with the PR fallout from their hardball stance against the players that resulted in NPB’s only work stoppage, took another hit.

If that wasn’t enough, it was learned that a number of teams had — in their effort to lure marquee amateur pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba to their clubs — been handing him cash payments under a variety of guises.

This caused owners to step down in disgrace, including the most pernicious, backward-thinking and influential of them all, Yomiuri Shimbun president Tsuneo Watanabe, As an employee of the Yomiuri Shimbun at that time, I can confirm that the news was taken within the head office in the same manner the residents of Munchkin Land greeted the sudden demise of the wicked witch.

So in 2005, the Giants, who had announced every game at Tokyo Dome as a 55,000-capacity sellout, decided to act. It was as Donald Trump came out one day and didn’t exactly say he’s a liar and a scoundrel but did say that to avoid confusion he would no longer make shit up at press conferences.

The Giants’ official reasoning was this: “We’re not ALWAYS sold out, and because people think we are, they don’t try and buy tickets.” This, of course, ignored the fact that anyone watching on TV could see large blocks of empty seats at many games as the announcers touted “another sell-out crowd.”

And the media, who knew the old figures were lies from Day 1 now went on to report the new figures as if they hadn’t been lying to the public for years. We don’t have a Republican Party in Japan, but if we did, a lot of people in the media would feel right at home.

Anyway, here is how average attendances shifted in Japan from 2004 to 2005. There are only 10 teams listed since the Buffaloes went out of business and the Rakuten Eagles began operating.

TeamPark20042005change
SoftBankFukuoka D47,06431,344-15,720
YomiuriTokyo D55,00042,076-12,924
YokohamaYokohama22,12313,670-8,453
SeibuSeibu D24,40916,338-8,071
YakultJingu25,05018,327-6,723
HanshinKoshien51,32846,318-5,010
LotteChiba Marine24,09519,770-4,325
Nippon HamSapporo Dome24,32020,725-3,595
OrixKobe21,30020,976-324
HiroshimaHiroshima12,44414,423+979

Another argument for Rhodes

Rhodes won one MVP award, hit 464 home runs, drove in 1,269, scored 1,000, stole 87 bases. He led his league in home runs four times, in runs twice and in RBIs three times. He won seven Best Nine Awards but no Gold Gloves.

In a recent post, I used career value to compare Rhodes to other candidates and players. This time I’m going to look at career accomplishments, his honors, career totals and individual titles.

How do his accomplishments match up against the all-time greats?

Pretty well.

Rhodes is 13th in NPB career home runs. How many of the 20 players with 400-plus home runs are in the Hall of Fame?

One is active, one is not yet eligible, four (Rhodes, Hiroki Kokubo, Takeshi Yamasaki and Norihiro Nakamura) are currently on the players ballot, one (Koichi Tabuchi) is on the experts ballot. One (Kazuhiro Kiyohara) is not on the ballot because of his drug conviction, while Masahiro Doi somehow slipped through the cracks. The other 11 are all in.

Rhodes is 21st all-time in RBIs. How many of the 24 with 1,200-plus are in the Hall?

Thirteen are currently in the Hall, while four others have gotten past the players division without being elected — one of whom is now on the experts ballot. Two are not yet eligible, while five are currently on the players ballot: Rhodes, Nakamura, Kokubo, Yamasaki and Alex Ramirez.

Rhodes is 24th in runs scored. Of the 23 players with more runs, how many are in the Hall?

One, Michihiro Ogasawara, is not yet eligible, while three have been passed over. Rhodes and Takuro Ishii are on the players ballot, while Isao Shibata is on the experts ballot. Sixteen of the 24 are in.

Rhodes is a four-time home run champ. How many three-time winners are in?

Five of the 11 three-time champs are in, while two of the remaining six are on the experts ballot. Koji Yamamoto is the other four-time champ and he is in. Ever eligible player with five or more home run titles is in the Hall.

Nine players who have been eligible for Hall of Fame induction have led their league in RBIs exactly three times like Rhodes.

In addition to Rhodes, two are on the experts ballot, while one has been passed over. Five are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Tuffy was the Pacific League’s 2001 MVP. How many on the players division ballot had more?

Three. In addition to Rhodes, Kenji Jojima won one, and Alex Ramirez won two. The only former two-time MVP who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Yutaka Enatsu, who was busted for drugs. That’s a good sign for Ramirez as well as future candidates Yu Darvish, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Michihiro Ogasawara. One MVP award is just another accomplishment.

Rhodes won seven Best Nine Awards.

Six of the 13 seven-time winners are in the Hall. Two are on the experts ballot. Four have been passed over.

Rhodes led his league in an offensive category 18 times. How many of the 19 players who have led in 16 or more categories are in the Hall?

So far, 19 players have done this. Two, Nobuhiko Matsunaka (17) and Ichiro Suzuki (1.5 gazillion), are not yet eligible. Rhodes is the only player who has ever been eligible for the Hall of Fame who has yet to be elected.

Adjusting for career length

Because Rhodes played only 14 seasons, it might be worth some time comparing him to what each of Japan’s best players produced in the 14-season span in which he had the most plate appearances. Rhodes had 7,340 career plate appearances. The most of any player in any 14-year stretch was Tomoaki Kanemoto’s 8,470 so we’re talking about a reasonably level playing field.

After Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was elected to the Hall a year ago, the next two position players ranked in order of the percentage of ballots they were on, were shortstops Masahiro Kawai and Shinya Miyamoto. During their best 14 seasons, the pair’s combined win shares for those 28 seasons: 290.8. Rhodes’ total for his Japan career was 298.

Both Kawai and Miyamoto were good players, and Miyamoto was a good player for a long, long time. But anyone who thinks they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, while Tuffy Rhodes doesn’t, needs to account for his or her lack of judgement.

In that group, Rhodes ranks 18th in win shares, third in home runs with 406 behind Sadaharu Oh’s 653 and Katsuya Nomura’s 466, eighth in RBIs with 1,275, 10th in runs scored, ninth in walks.

Rhodes never won a Golden Glove, but he did play center field for most of his career in Japan and few of the players who rank ahead of him had a ton of defensive value with the exception of Nomura.

Hall of Fame time again for 2020

I don’t mean to be rude but it’s time for many of my fellow Hall of Fame voters to get their thumbs out of their butts and use their heads for a change.

A player needs to be named on 75 percent of the ballots, and voters this year are able to select up to seven players. Frankly speaking, anyone who doesn’t think Tuffy Rhodes is the best available player is a moron.

Here is a list of NPB’s 10 best players who are not in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame based on career win shares:

NameStatus2019 pctHigh PctCareer Win Shares
Ichiro SuzukiNot eligible581
Kazuo MatsuiNot eligible378
Kosuke FukudomeActive367
Kazuhiro KiyoharaNot on ballotNA22.6365
Masahiro DoiNot on ballot355
Shinnosuke AbeNot eligible349
Taira FujitaNot on ballot322
Tadahito IguchiNot eligible321
Takashi ToritaniActive 321
Michio AritoNot on ballot310

As I mentioned this time a year ago, Masahiro Doi slipped through the eligibility cracks because of his long coaching career and it remains uncertain if he will get another chance. Kazuhiro Kiyohara has not been included on the ballot since the vote for the 2016 class following his drug conviction, while Taira Fujita and Michio Arita were apparently passed over because of their poor relationships with the press during their stints as managers of the Hanshin Tigers and Lotte Orions, respectively.

Below are the top 10 players who are eligible to be inducted this year in the players division. Tuffy Rhodes not only had the best career of any foreign player in NPB history, but he also won an MVP award and became only the second batter to hit 55 home runs after Sadaharu Oh. Hiroki Kokubo comes close to him in career value because he played until he was old enough to manage Japan’s national team — the same goes for the next two guys on the list. In terms of peak value, the only player who can compare with Rhodes in terms of sustained high performance is catcher Kenji Jojima.

NameTimes on ballot2019 pctHigh pctCareer WS
Tuffy Rhodes6th29.639.6298
Hiroki Kokubo2nd32.132.1296
Norihiro Nakamura1st290
Takeshi Yamasaki2nd11.311.3287
Takuro Ishii3rd24.824.8281
Atsunori Inaba1st279
Kenji Jojima3rd15.115.1270
Tomonori Maeda2nd29.629.6243
Alex Ramirez2nd40.440.4230
Kenjiro Nomura7th37.239.6227

Here are the top five in last year’s balloting:

Name2019 PctCareer Ws
Kazuyoshi Tatsunami *77 .4302
Shingo Takatsu60.6113
Masahiro Kawai50.7137
Shinya Miyamoto41.2187
Alex Ramirez40.4230

The voters clearly got the best available player not yet in the Hall of Fame a year ago, but after that it was a mess. Takatsu, at least, at one point was Japan’s career saves leader. Ramirez won two MVP awards and was clearly the best of this bunch, but his career value last year was seventh among the available candidates, and five of those others finished behind him in the voting.

Here are the top 10 players who are eligible to be inducted this year in the experts division,. The Hall of Fame does not publish old records of voting, so these are based on the results I’ve received attending press conferences announcing the votes.

NameTimes on ballot2019 pctHigh pctCareer WS
Koichi TabuchiAt least 7th64.764.7301
Hideji KatoAt least 5th23.032.0290
Masayuki Kakefu2nd30.830.8286
Isao Shibata3rd26.326.3275
Atsushi NagaikeAt least 7th17.323.6240
Hiromu Matsuoka3rd7.513.1238
Mitsuhiro AdachiAt least 5th14.323.0221
Shigeru Takada1st177
Masayuki DobashiAt least 7th24.126.8171
Yoshinori Sato1st166

The top five in last year’s expert division vote were:

Name2019 pctCareer WSOther notes
Hiroshi Gondo *76.797Success as coach, manager
Koichi Tabuchi64.7301
Randy Bass63.21322 Triple Crowns, MVP
Masayuki Kakefu30.8286
Keiji Osawa30.1Success as manager

Rhodes is not an all-time, hands-down, no-question Hall of Famer. But the few players who had better careers than him who are not in the Hall of Fame, Kiyohara, Doi, Arito and Fujita, are bizarre exceptions. None of the players on the ballot have close to his credentials, and in this age of information, one would hope that would make a difference.

Of the 19 players who led their league in 10-plus offensive categories and won six or more Best Nine Awards are out of the Hall of Fame? Three. These are Rhodes, Masayuki Kakefu and Atsushi Nagaike. Kakefu had a longer career than Rhodes with less peak value but he was a quality player and deserves to make it through the expert’s division.

Marvin Miller’s legacy and Japan

Labor organizer Marvin Miller, who energized major league baseball players into seizing a huge amount of control over their labor from the owners, was voted into National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. According to his son Peter, it wasn’t something he aspired to or wished to acknowledge.

His election has sparked some thoughts about how Japan’s baseball labor situation differs from that in the majors and why the two games are so different. Typically, we talk about the differences in how the game is played, but labor relations, too, are somewhat different.

In MLB, Miller’s acumen and leadership skills galvanized the players into taking action that eventually revealed the owners’ flawed basis for dictatorial control over players’ rights. His actions brought arbitration and then free agency. Because these changes removed the ability of owners to pay pennies on the dollar for labor, baseball executives at the time predicted they usher in the destruction of Major League Baseball.

They meant that like destroying Major League Baseball was a bad thing. Of course, it didn’t. Instead of destroying baseball, it forced teams to revolutionize their business models in order to be able to afford to buy players on a more free market. That change revitalized the business of baseball.

Before Miller MLB was not plantation slavery but a form of wage slavery. Players were bound to serve their owners or find other employment that did not reward their most marketable skills. After Miller, the MLB labor market became a kind of indentured servitude, where players handed owners control over their work for a fixed period of time.

Whenever MLB wants to defend itself, it talks about the owners as caretakers of American tradition. Talk like that has zero connection with the truth when owners defend their heinous policies as “normal business practices.” In that sense, MLB is a caretaker of American tradition, the 19th-century kind, when business owners relied on detectives and police to help “settle” labor disputes, by busting heads and breaking bones.

Japan’s “model” society

The best thing about Japanese baseball is that while the game is influenced by developments in the majors, it is ordered by different beliefs about how and why it is played. Japanese teams and owners can be just as stupid or innovative or ignorant as their MLB counterparts, but their behavior is modified by Japan’s social norms.

Just as in MLB, Japan’s owners have long assumed they deserved the power to exercise total over the game and the players. Japan’s version has rarely been so harsh as the bitter anti-labor ownership in America. Not because baseball team owners in Japan are kinder, but because society expects them to occasionally demonstrate ritual acts of kindness.

A Japanese company will work its laborers to death but is expected to organize a free employees trip every year,

Thus while MLB teams routinely manipulate players’ service time to maximize control over prospects at the cost of wins in the short term, Most Japanese teams will listen to requests of players wishing to leave and go to the majors and many of those requests are granted — at great cost to the team giving up the player.

Japanese teams aren’t pro-labor and do in fact exploit their players, but they also observe social expectations about pay raises. Rookies who have outstanding seasons can earn salaries many times the minimum. Japan’s owners are under no real obligation to reward the players — other than the social one.

Any analogy of pre-arbitration MLB as slavery is clearly wrong — because players could opt-out at great personal cost and not be pursued as runaway athletes. But for the sake of comparison, let’s assume MLB was a form of slavery. If so, MLB was the slavery exposed by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where the mere existence of pernicious abuse was a threat to its apologists and proponents — who claimed human beings were better off in benevolent bondage.

If that light, the Japanese form of baseball labor relations has always been a little closer to apologists’ romanticized view of slavery. But simply being less onerous than MLB’s version doesn’t make it right.

According to Peter Miller, his father’s ultimate goal was freedom for the players to choose, something even the most benevolent of baseball autocracies cannot accept.

Filling up with the ‘Gasoline Tank’

Testuya Yoneda, one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s pitching marvels from back in the day, spoke in an interview with the Nikkan Sports. The 81-year-old, who won 350 games in a career mostly spent with the Pacific League’s Hankyu Braves — before they became a dynasty in the middle of the 1960s — is second on Japan’s all-time wins list.

His nickname during his playing days was the “Gasoline Tank,” which Yoneda said Hall of Famer Noboru Aota stuck him with because of how much the pitcher could drink.

The interview is HERE, but here are some snippet translations from this wonderful interview. But first an anecdote…

Oh those foreigners…

I hadn’t thought about Yoneda since Jeremy Powell was roasted in the Japanese media for ostensibly signing contracts with both the Orix Buffaloes and the SoftBank Hawks in 2008. The drift of much of the commentary at the time was that only a foreigner would be so underhanded as to do such a thing.

In fact, Powell had reached an initial agreement with Orix, which then wanted to modify it due to concerns over an MRI of his right arm. He refused to accept those changes and instead signed with SoftBank.

What people neglected to mention at that time was that prior to NPB’s draft, a lot of player signed contracts to play with more than one team, and Yoneda, a Hall of Famer, is the best example. He signed out of high school with the Hanshin Tigers and then had a change of heart and signed with the Braves.

Another famous double contract problem was that of Masanori Murakami, who was obliged to sign with the San Francisco Giants, and who was conned into signing with the Nankai Hawks, who refused to accept that they had forfeited their rights to the young lefty.

The point of those comments is that times change, conditions change, and what’s normal for one player may be alien to another 20 years later.

Back in the day…

The interview is a snapshot of “back in the day” reminiscence that one used to get an earful every October at the Sawamura Award announcements.

Here goes:

Q: Your numbers are just so far beyond those seen today…

Yoneda: “It’s sad. It’s bizarre for pros to think that if you throw too much you’ll get hurt. Everyone is protecting you. What I’d like to say is to try harder.”

Q: But it is said that if you pitch a lot, shoulder and elbow troubles will follow…

Yoneda: “It is true that the ball is heavy and if you keep throwing it will put you under a lot of stress. But the answer to that is to build bodies that can bear that stress. If we don’t create pitchers who are able to throw, then the current low level will persist.”

Q: You are dissatisfied?

Yoneda: “Just look it. Everyone stands up straight and basically only uses their upper body to throw.”

Q: Your numbers are just so far beyond those seen today…

Yoneda: “It’s sad. It’s bizarre for pros to think that if you throw too much you’ll get hurt. Everyone is protecting you. What I’d like to say is to try harder.”

Q: Are you opposed to those who say marathon bullpen sessions are unneccessary?

Yoneda: “If pitchers don’t throw, they’ll never master their control. A pitcher’s livelihood is being able to pitch low and also inside.”

Q: So pitchers shouldn’t pitch up in the zone?

Yoneda: “No that’s not the point. The balls pitchers today throw high in the zone are all mistakes. It’s no good doing that unless it is part of your plan.”

Q: So control is essential?

Yoneda: “If you throw 300 pitches in camp, you’ll be able to throw 150 in a game. In my day I threw between 2,500 and 3,000 pitches in camp.”

For the record

Just out of curiosity, I looked up Yoneda’s career pitching logs. He did in fact throw 150-pitch games, 22 to be exact, and another nine of 145-149 during his 22-year career.

As I’ve written before, it is extremely hard to compare pitchers then with those of more recent vintage, because the usage is different. Before the pitch count fever hit Japan about 15 years ago, 150-pitch starts were vastly more common than in Yoneda’s day.

Take Hideo Nomo, for example. Nomo pitched only five NPB seasons and threw 23 150-pitch games, and also had nine more of 145-149 pitches. And we know what happened to his arm after four years, he couldn’t play without pain.

Or take another recent Hall of Famer, Masaki Saito. Perhaps from Yoneda’s view, Saito’s 180 career wins with the best Central League team of his generation must have been disappointing. The big right-hander pitched 18 seasons, although injuries kept him from getting to 200 wins. He threw 21 150-pitch games in his career, and another five from 145-149.

NPB games, news of June 20, 2019

The Pacific League added another four wins to its interleague

Interleague

Giants 4, Buffaloes 2

At Tokyo Dome, Yoshihiro Maru proved to be the two-out kiss of death for the Orix Buffaloes on Thursday, belting a two-out, two-run, game-tying, opposite-field homer to tie it in the sixth inning, and a two-out, two-strike, two-run triple to break the tie in the bottom of the eighth.

Buffaloes shorstop Koji Oshiro opened the scoring with a two-out, two-run, fifth-inning triple off 25-year-old Giants right-hander Toshiki Sakurai, who had allowed just one run in winning his previous two starts.

Sakurai struck out 10 but lost the strike zone after getting ahead of light-hitting Shuhei Fukuda 0-2. After a seven-pitch walk, Oshiro made Sakurai pay for his lapse.

Orix right-hander Kohei “K” Suzuki (1-3) faced just one batter over the minimum through five innings, but surrendered a leadoff pinch-hit single to Yasuhiro Yamamoto, but couldn’t get out of trouble with two outs against Maru, whose 12th homer of the season landed just inside the left-field foul pole.

Suzuki retired the next six batters but walked Yoshiyuki Kamei and Hayato Sakamoto with two outs in the eighth and Maru put the Giants in front with a two-run triple.

Kota Nakagawa saved his ninth game despite allowing a pair of one-out singles.

Hawks 6, Swallows 5

At Jingu Stadium, Seiichi Uchikawa went 4-for-5 with two home runs, and Nobuhiro Matsuda singled in two runs as SoftBank overcame three home runs by Yakult.

Yakult twice came from behind on two-run homers. Trailing 1-0 in the second, 19-year-old rookie Munetaka Murakami hit his 19th homer of the season off lefty Kotaro Otake (4-2).

The Hawks scored twice off former teammate Hiroki Yamada, who gave up an Uchikawa solo homer in the first and a one-out Uchikawa single in the fifth before getting yanked. Right-handed reliever Yugo Umeno came in and threw gasoline on the flames, giving up hits to all four batters he faced.

Tetsuto Yamada, however, tied it in the bottom of the inning with his 17th homer only for Uchikawa to answer with a two-run shot in the top of the sixth.

Hawks rookie Hiroshi Kaino, who blew his first career save attempt on Tuesday in his role as stand in while the Hawks are without closers Dennis Sarfate and Yuito Mori, retired the Swallows in order in the ninth.

Young Sluggers

YearNameTeamAgePAHR
1986Kazuhiro KiyoharaSeibu Lions1847131
1987Kazuhiro KiyoharaSeibu Lions1953629
1953Yasumitsu ToyodaNishitetsu Lions1843927
2019Munetaka MurakamiYakult Swallows1928219
1954Yasumitsu ToyodaNishitetsu Lions1958318
2015Tomoya MoriSeibu Lions1953117
1985Takayuki MurakamiKintetsu Buffaloes1945316
1967Taira FujitaHanshin Tigers1956116
1955Kihachi EnomotoMainichi Orions1859216
1988Yukio TanakaNippon Ham Fighters1954316
Most home runs in a season prior to age-20 season

The most interesting thing about this table is their positions. Only three of the players here Munetaka Murakami, Kiyohara and Enomoto) showed their early power as first basemen. Mori was a DH, who has since become Seibu’s regular catcher. All the others were shortstops.

Toyoda and Enomoto are in the hall of fame. Kiyohara deserves to be in on the basis of his playing career and may still make it — he’s off the ballot since no one thinks he’d get enough votes after his drug conviction to survive a single ballot. Fujita’s hall of fame credentials are impeccable but he is one of two guys who are out because they had toxic relationships with the media. Kiyohara nearly falls into this category, and if he is never elected that will be the reason.

Fighters 8, BayStars 4

At Yokohama Stadium, Kenshi Sugiya broke a 4-4, seventh-inning tie with a pinch-hit home run off former teammate Edwin Escobar (2-2) as Nippon Ham beat DeNA.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo accounted for most of the BayStars’ offense with an RBI double in the first and a solo homer in the third, but the Fighters tied it in the sixth on a solo homer by Kotaro Kiyomiya.

Lions 2, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, former Athletics right-hander Zach Neal (2-1), activated for the first time since April 23 following poor results in his first four starts, allowed a run on four hits and a hit batsman over five innings to earn the win as Seibu beat Chunichi.

Hotaka Yamakawa broke the ice in the second inning against the oldest pitcher in NPB, 41-year-old Daisuke Yamai (2-3), with his 27th home run. PL batting leader Tomoya Mori followed with an infield single, was doubled to third by Takeya Nakamura and scored on a ground out.

Kyle Martin continued his strong June by striking out three over two scoreless innings, while Katsunori Hirai worked the eighth and Tatsyshi Masuda the ninth for his 12th save.

Eagles 3, Tigers 2

At Koshien Stadium, Osaka native Ryota Ishibashi (4-3) pitched at the iconic Kansai ballpark for the first time as a pro, allowing two runs over seven-plus innings and scoring the winning run against Hanshin.

Ishibashi left the mound with two on and no outs in the seventh but a pair of relievers shut the door. Koji Aoyama retired Tigers cleanup hitter Yusuke Oyama to end the inning with the bases loaded.

Closer Yuki Matsui recorded his 23rd save, ending it when he retired Jefry Marte swinging when he tried to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch with the tying runner on base.

Rakuten leadoff man Eigoro Mogi singled in each of his first four at-bats. He drove in two runs in the fifth to tie it 2-2, and singled with two outs in the seventh so Hiroaki Shimauchi could break the tie with an RBI single off Tigers starter Haruto Takahashi (1-2). The stocky Ishibashi chugged around the bases from second to just beat the tag and give himself the lead.

The Eagles wasted a scoring chance in the eighth with a base-running mix-up that turned a grounder with runners on second and third into an inning-ending double play.

Carp 7, Marines 6

At Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima catcher Tsubasa Aizawa homered, doubled and singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Carp to a walk-off win over Lotte, which fought back from a 6-0 sixth-inning deficit.

Geronimo Franzua (5-2) allowed an unearned run in the ninth on two hits and a walk to blow the save opportunity, but collected the win after the Carp ended a string of outstanding results by Brandon Mann (0-2) in the home half. The lefty walked the bases loaded with two outs, and Aizawa hit a first-pitch slider to win it.

The Carp sat regular shortstop Kosuke Tanaka and started highly touted rookie Kaito Kozono in his place. Kozono, who was selected as the first-round draft pick by four teams last autumn, singled in his first at-bat to open the home half of the first. He went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts.

Kozono was batting .189 in 185 at-bats in the Western League.

News

Eagles’ Norimoto hits 150 kph in 1st rehab game

Rakuten Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto threw over 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) per hour on consecutive pitches Thursday in his three-inning rehab stint in a minor league game at Rakuten Seimei Park in Sendai.

Norimoto, who had surgery to clean out his right elbow in March, struck out four over three innings against the Yomiuri Giants’ Eastern League farm club.

“That I was able to pitch properly is everything,” Norimoto said. “I was pumped up. I’m about 60 percent of what I’m capable of.”

The 28-year-old Norimoto, who set an NPB record by striking out 10-plus batters in eight consecutive starts in the first half of the 2017 season, is expected to remain with the Eagles’ EL farm club for a few more weeks before being activated around the time of the all-star break.