As promised, here are the videos of last week’s live zoom chat featuring author Robert Whiting and former Japanese pro baseball star Leon Lee.
Bob was gracious enough to share more than an hour of his time, so I’ll add that you can now pre-order his memoir “Tokyo Junkie.” I haven’t read it but I’m sure it will be a page turner. Bob is a master story teller who saw all of Tokyo from its seedy early 60s glory to its slicker, more polished facade of today.
Bob’s 1st game
So where did the Robert Whiting phenomenon as a baseball icon begin? I’ve pegged that date down to July 17, 1962, when Oh and Nagashima each homered in both games of a doubleheader at Tokyo’s Korakuen Stadium, with a crowd
Leon Lee on the WBC
On Ichiro Suzuki
More about Ichiro as a class act
Sibling rival Lees
Leon was asked about playing as a teammate with his older brother Leron during their time with the Lotte Orions, and we learn about their one fight.
The “gaijin strike zone”
You’ve all head about it, but Leon said a veteran Central League umpire, the late Kiyoshi Hirako, explained the strike zone to him. I mention Hirako, who retired in 1992. Because he’s famous for misjudging a ball off the center-field wall at Koshien Stadium as a game-tying home run on Sept. 11 of that year, that resulted in a 6-hour, 26-minute, 15-inning game between the Swallows and Tigers.
How Ichiro got into the WBC
OK, so this is my story, but we were on the topic of Sadaharu Oh, Ichiro and the WBC, my apologies to those who’ve heard it before.
I wrote a while back about how Japan’s quality-control-is-in-our-blood nonsense that was pedaled around the world in the 1980s to explain Japan’s economic “miracle” seemed to infect baseball, and so I asked Bob if he knew more about it. The article was really about why pitchers batting eighth, once a fairly common practice in Japan was eradicated in the 1970s.
Kodai Senga threw hard at the start, hitting 161 kph against his first batter but was missing all over, especially with his splitter, but it was good enough for a winning debut as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-3 in the Pacific League on Tuesday.
Senga had been out with a calf injury compounded by arm issues, and only went five innings. Yuki Yanagita tied it with a two-run first-inning homer at PayPay Dome off Hayato Yuge (2-1). Ryoya Kurihara homered in the second to make it 3-2 only for Hideto Asamura to hit his ninth home run and tie it in the third. Yanagita broke the tie in the fifth with a hard-hit RBI single.
Albers corners Fighters in Buffaloes’ win
Andrew Albers (1-1) allowed two hits but no walks over seven innings while striking out eight for the Orix Buffaloes in their 7-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Aderlin Rodriguez opened the scoring against right-hander Toshihiro Sugiura (1-1) in the second with his second homer in three games, and Adam Jones’ two-run double made it 3-0 through three. Masataka Yoshida went 4-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs.
Former San Diego Padre Christian Villanueva went 1-for-3 in his Fighters debut.
Fighters activate Villanueva
The Nippon Ham Fighters activated third baseman Christian Villanueva on Tuesday. The infielder, who did not re-sign with the Yomiuri Giants over the winter following his first season in Japan, had an appendectomy in May.
Seibu’s Kona Takahashi struck out nine batters but ran into a buzz saw in the fifth and sixth inning in the Lions’ 8-6 loss to the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s wind-swept Zozo Marine Stadium.
Leonys Martin’s two-out, two-run fifth-inning double broke a 1-1 tie, and rookie Hisanori Yasuda’s two-run homer capped a three-run sixth for the Marines.
Marines right-hander Yuki Ariyoshi (1-0) allowed two runs over six innings, but the bullpen coughed up four runs to make it close.
Dragons lose in 10th with no hitters left
The Chunichi Dragons loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th inning but lost 2-1 to the Yakult Swallows. Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda burned through his nine reserve position players and sent reliever Takuya Mitsuma up to pinch-hit with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th.
Mitsuma fouled off one two-strike pitch before swinging and missing to end the game.
Norichika Aoki led off the Swallows’ 10th with a walk. With one out and first base open, Yoda ordered an intentional walk of red-hot Naomichi Nishiura. But Taishi Hirooka walked with two outs, and 36-year-old career minor leaguer Suguru Ino walked on six pitches to force in the run.
With two outs and runners on the corners in the bottom of the 10th, Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu ordered the bases loaded to bring the Dragons pitcher’s spot up with no position players left on the bench.
“It was 100 percent my mistake,” Yoda said according to Sports Nippon. “I mean one has to have at least one position player on the bench. I was conflicted about that last change and it came back to bite me.”
There are days when robots might be preferable.
And then there was Takatsu’s turn…
Takatsu himself had one of Japan’s most famous relief pitcher pinch-hitting appearances. In 1995, Central League manager Katsuya Nomura ordered Takatsu to pinch-hit for Hideki Matsui after Pacific League skipper Akira Ogi called Ichiro Suzuki in from right field to face the future major leaguer. Suzuki pitched to future big leaguer, just not the one people wanted to see.
The Rakuten Eagles made it look easy last week taking five of six against the Lotte Marines in Sendai — when the Marines entered on the back of an eight-game win streak. The Hawks went 3-2 with a tie at Sapporo Dome against the Fighters.
Tonight will be the 2020 season debut of Hawks ace Kodai Senga. He injured his right calf on the first day of spring training, and hurt his right forearm when he was on the verge of returning to fitness.
Senga starts out Eigoro Mogi with hard stuff, hitting 161 kph on his 4th pitch and gets him looking at a 159 kph inside fastball. If he can keep this location up when he starts with his secondary stuff it could be a long night for the Eagles but a fast game.
Daichi Suzuki hits the first pitch that isn’t a four-seam fastball, a 1-2 cutter away down the line in left for a single. Blash is rung up checking his swing on a low 3-2 slider. That’s about the closest call I’ve seen on a checked swing strike this year. The umps have been pretty forgiving unless a guy has gone well around.
Senga and Kai try to get Hideto Asamura to chase on 3-2 but he’s not biting. It’s two on with two outs for Hiroaki Shimauchi, who survives a close call on a low 1-2 fastball to stay alive. Shimauchi fouls off a cutter inside. Senga misses straight and down the pipe and Shimiuchi drills it over Yuki Yanagita’s head in center for a two-run double. Eagles 2, Hawks 0.
Stefen Romero pops up a first-pitch fastball, and the Eagles are done in the first at the Casa de Pepe.
Ryoya Kurihara, who is in left today, to lead off for the Hawks against the 1.93-meter lefty Hayato Yuge. The lefty clips him on the arm and the leadoff man is on. Mr. “300 sacrifice-bunts” Kenta Imamiya is up, and the announcers, of course, have to mention that, although no show of displeasure that he’s not squaring around.
Imamiya misses a fastball and rolls to short, not hard enough for a GDP. Yuki Yanagita takes a big swing on a first-pitch cutter that floats up in the zone and he miss-hits it just a little but still propels it into the home run terrace in left. We’re tied. Hawks 2, Eagles 2.
Yuge tried so hard to stay away from Yanagita, and he had no business swinging at that pitch, but what are you going to do. He strikes out Coco Balentien on a bouncer that gets away from catcher Hikaru Ota for “furinige” as Balentien reaches on an uncaught swinging third strike.
Keizo Kawashima, the right-handed-slap-hitting utility infielder is batting behind Coco and playing first. It’s like manager Kimiyasu Kudo lost a bet with someone. Kawashima reaches on an infield single, and Nobuhiro Matsuda smashes a bouncer into left and the bags are juiced.
Yuge appears to have regained his composure and strikes out the lefty-swinging Seiji Uebayashi, and the pops up Takuya Kai on the first pitch and the Hawks leave them loaded.
Ginji Akaminai leads off with a four-pitch walk, and now with the speed and the hit-and-miss location, it feels like Kodai Senga is REALLY back. Senga hangs a splitter up in the zone, but Eagles catcher Hikaru Ota looks at it for Strike 3.
Mogi grounds to first and Kawashima — can’t get used to him wearing No. 99 — gets the force at second for the second out. Daichi Suzuki up with runners on the corners but quickly down 0-2 and looks at a strike on the outside corner — that Senga was trying to go inside with.
With one out, Ryoya Kurihara barrels up a straight 1-0 fastball in the heart of the zone and pulls it into the permanents seats in right. Hawks 3, Eagles 2.
Yuge’s location is also kind of here and gone. He loses Imamiya on a 3-2 pitch, to put a man on for Yanagita. Yuge misses in the zone with his first pitch, but Yanagita misses, too, and fouls it off. Two hard ones inside and Yanagita grounds out to first.
Balentien, who pretty much never saw anything over the plate in Sapporo, gets a fastball in the zone and one inside for 1-1. Yuget gets him on a changeup low in the zone that Balentien lines softly to short.
Blash opens the third with a smash to short that nearly knocks Kenta Imamiya off his feet for the first out. But just like that, Hideto Asamura hits his eighth home run and we’re tied. That’s a decent curve from Senga, but Asamura is all over it and drives it 12 rows back in the permanent seats. Hawks 3, Eagles 3.
Very rare for the announcing crew to comment on the umpiring, but they do when Romero takes an 0-2 pitch down the middle and umpire Kunio Kiuchi dutifully gives the batter the benefit of the doubt. Romero hammers the next pitch through the box for a single, that Senga does well to duck. But Senga recovers by getting Akaminai on a pair of curves, that he apparently calls sliders.
Kawashima grounds out to open the Hawks’ third and the Hawks go down in order.
Fun fact:On Jan. 1, 2008, Kawashima was traded by the Nippon Ham Fighters with pitcher Yoshitaka Hashimoto and Takehiko Oshimoto to the Yakut Swallows for lefty Shugo Fuji, right-hander Yataro Sakamoto and current Rakuten manager Hajime Miki. On July 20, 2014, the Swallows sent him and lefty Ryo Hidaka to the Hawks for Nagisa Arakaki and submarine right-hander Hirofumi Yamanaka — who has the distinction of being the only player to still be active after a trade involving Kawashima.
I was thinking about that last week, when Kawashima was starting against the Fighters, playing for a team that had won five of the last six Japan Series after being a middling piece in a trade over 12 years earlier.
With one out, Ryosuke Tatsumi walks for the second time but is cut down on a throw from Kai that reminded us what he was like back in 2018 as the Japan Series MVP basically for his ability to gun down runners.
Yuge needs 11 pitches, six of them on Kai, to get a 1-2-3 inning.
Senga gets Suzuki to fly out on an 0-1 fastball but runs the count full to Blash, who entered the game third in the league in strikeouts and second in walks. But Blash actually swings and misses this time for the second out.
Senga’s location is getting incrementally better as the game goes along. Asamura is up and he fouls a 1-1 fastball in the zone, and a high slider, too. Asamura nearly gets hit with a splitter that gets away and it’s 2-2. The inning ends with a strike zone as Senga hangs a splitter up high and Asamura misses it.
A throwing error by shortstop Eigoro Mogi allows Kenta Imamiya to start the inning at second, and Yuki Yanagita drives a fastball over the inside half of the plate toward the gap in right-center. What a beautiful swing, balanced, compact. Oh if it weren’t for service time manipulation. Hawks 4, Eagles 3.
Yuge gets Balentien to hit into a double play and survives a two-out Kawashima single. Yuge is up to 75 pitches.
Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the PL’s 2019 rookie of the year, is on in relief for Senga, who allowed three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out six.
The first two Hawks go down on three pitches, and they have to rush Takahashi out of the clubhouse to start throwing on the sideline. Taisei Makihara goes up there and apparently has been ordered to take some time up there. He fouls off three, two-strike pitches before grounding out on Yuge’s eighth delivery.
The Eagles bat for catcher Hikaru Ota, and Yuya Ogo flies out on the first pitch. Umpire Kiuchi has not been a big fan of pitches at the bottom of the zone, and lets Tatsumi draw his third walk on a low 3-2 pitch.
Mogi flies out on the first pitch, but Suzuki smashes a hanging 0-1 breaking ball down the pipe and pulls it into right for a single, bringing Blash to the plate with Asamura on deck. Blash reaches when Kawashima can’t hang on to a low throw from Imamiya.
The bases are loaded for Asamura. He misses an 0-1 pitch in the heart of the zone, and Takahashi gets a perfect strike on the outside edge for 1-2. A fastball inside misses, 2-2. The right-hander misses up in the zone, and Asamura fouls out to Kawashima.
Right-hander Tomohito Sakai on for the Eagles. Yuge allows four runs, three earned, over six innings. He gave up six hits and a walk and hit a batter while striking out three.
Sakai jams Kurihara, and Imamiya chases a low 2-2 pitch and flies out. Yanagita swings at a first-pitch strike and flies out to center.
Cuban lefty Livan Moinelo on for SoftBank to take on the Eagles’ fifth, sixth and seventh spots. He strikes out two in a 1-2-3 inning.
Sakai on for his second inning of work and he keeps it close, retiring Balentien, Kawashima and Matsuda.
Yuito Mori is on to close out the one-run game against the bottom of the Eagles’ order. Kazuya Fujita offers at a first-pitch breaking ball up and grounds to short. Tatsumi grounds a 1-1 fastball to second, and Mogi flies out to short to end it.