The Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks wrapped up the 2020 Japan Series with a 4-1 win over the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants on Wednesday at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome on the back of two-run home runs by Yuki Yanagita and Takuya Kai.
The Hawks’ fourth-straight title makes them only the second club after the Giants to post a winning streak that long. The Giants won nine straight between 1965 and 1973. The Hawks have now won a record 12 straight series games and 16 straight series games at homes — their last loss in Fukuoka coming in Game 5 in 2011, when Wednesday’s starter Tsuyoshi Wada took the loss.
The Giants, whose choice of starting pitchers has sparked questions, sent unheralded right-hander Seishu Hatake. The 25-year-old showed SOME tremendous movement on his pitches but also hung a few up in the zone, and the Hawks crushed them.
For the first time in the series, the Giants scored first on back-to-back no-out doubles by Akihiro Wakabayashi and Hayato Sakamoto. Wada bore down, working around a two-out walk by striking out Hiroyuki Nakajima on 14 pitches.
The Hawks needed just two pitches to take the lead in the home half. Hatake hung two splitters to Akira Nakamura and Yuki Yanagita. The first went for a one-out double, the second for a two-run homer.
Wada, who didn’t have his trademark command, gutted it through the second inning after surrendering a leadoff single, but two more mistakes from Hatake and merciless execution from the Hawks made it 4-1 in the bottom of the second. Taisei Makihara swatted a high slider for a single and with two outs Takuya Kai hammered a high straight fastball for his second homer of the series.
Giants right-hander Shosei Togo, who was mysteriously left out of the Giants’ starting pitching plans, came in as the visitors’ third pitcher with two on and two outs in the third. After issuing a walk, he retired the next seven batters. Brazilian flame thrower Thyago Vieira touched 101.9 mph in his 1-2/3 innings.
With the Giants trailing by three in the seventh, ace Tomoyuki Sugano began warming up in the bullpen, making some wonder that the Giants might bring him out for a farewell mound appearance, but he never did more than warm up and lefty Kota Nakagawa mopped up in the eighth.
With a three-run lead, Wada left after two, and hard-throwing 24-year-old Yuki Matsumoto allowed singles over 2-2/3 scoreless innings. Lefty Shinya Kayama retired Yoshihiro Maru to end the fifth. Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi started a parade of three straight 1-2-3 innings from the bullpen with Sho Iwasaki pitching the seventh and Livan Moinelo electrifying the eighth.
The SoftBank Hawks took a 14-game home winning streak in Japan Series games into Tuesday’s Game 3 against the Yomiuri Giants and extended it 15 with a 4-0 combined one-hit victory.
The Hawks have now won 11 straight series games after starting the 2018 series against the Hiroshima Carp 0-1-1. The Giants have lost eight straight, one shy of the series record nine straight they lost from 1958 to 1961,
Akira Nakamura, whose eight career Climax Series home runs tie him with a bunch of real home run hitters, hit Angel Sanchez’s worst pitch of the game through three innings, opening the scoring with a two-run, two-out, third-inning home run.
Nakamura, made it 3-0 in the seventh with an RBI single off reliever Yuhei Takahashi, who hit the first batter he faced and was charged with a run when Kan Otake surrendered an RBI single to Yurisbel Gracial.
That was enough for Matt Moore who pitched well and somehow managed to not surrender a hit through seven scoreless innings in which two runners walked and two reached on errors.
For the first time in the series, a Giants starting pitcher came out very sharp. Sanchez hit his spots, expanded the zone away to right handers with his cutter and threw some superb splitters and for the most part kept the Hawks from barreling up his mistakes. He survived a hard-hit first-inning single from Yuki Yanagita but an infield single and a hanging splitter to Nakamura gave away the lead.
Moore was not quite as crisp and seemed to have some trouble getting low strikes called, but he was helped out by some good fielding from his teammates — despite an ugly attempted rundown in the first inning. A big play at third base by Nobuhiro Matsuda turned a hard-hit ball into a force at second after Moore walked the leadoff man in the fifth.
Moore looked vulnerable in the sixth, after his own error allowed the leadoff runner to reach. He fell behind and two fastballs down the middle were hit to center field. Hayato Sakamoto, who’d barely failed to get all of a fat fastball in the fourth came to the plate.
After a meeting on the mound to make sure everyone was on the same page, the lefty unleashed his best fastballs of the game to start off Sakamoto before striking him out with offspeed pitches.
The Hawks held Sanchez’s feet to the fire sixth, when Nakamura, back in his groove after an uncharacteristically undisciplined first at-bat, drew a leadoff walk. Giants manager Tatsunori Hara issued an intentional walk to set up a double play against the hardest team to double up in Japanese baseball history, but got out of it when second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa speared a grounder headed for right and one or more runs.
The Hawks knocked Sanchez out in the seventh. With a single and a sacrifice and three lefties coming to the plate, the Giants went to lefty Yuhei Takanashi and things went downhill. Takanashi hit a batter, gave up Nakamura’s single. With one out, Kan Otake faced Yurisbel Gracial and gave up a single before the Giants finally got out of the inning.
Livan Moinelo opened with a strikeout and then worked around a one-out walk and a hit batsman by striking out two more. Yuito Mori allowed Yoshihiro Maru’s two-out single up the middle to keep the Giants from joining the 2007 Nippon Ham Fighters as the only Japan Series no-hit victims.
Wednesday’s Game 4 will put Tsuyoshi Wada in position to win his second straight Series clinching game. Wada, however, is the last Hawks pitcher to lose at home in the series, having dropped Game 6 in 2011 before he went to the majors and went through Tommy John surgery.
The Giants, who for some reason put their second best starter this season, Shosei Togo, in the bullpen, will start right-hander Seishu Hatake on Wednesday.
Game 3 starting pitcher profiles:
A pair of 30-something first-year imports get the starting assignments. The Hawks go with lefty Matt Moore, who suffered a hamstring injury early in the season that limited him to 78 innings.
Threw his fastball 61.3 percent of the time, the second highest figure for any pitcher with 70-plus innings behind the Hanshin Tigers’ Shintaro Fujinami. Moore also throws his changeup and–like every Hawks pitcher–a curve of some sort. Moore’s curve averaged 127.7 kph this year according to Delta Graphs, that’s third fastest this season behind Sanchez (129.8) and Nippon Ham’s Nick Martinez (131.3).
Among pitchers who threw their change at least 10 percent of the time, Delta Graphs valued Moore’s as being the second most effective behind far-and-away 2020 leader Yuki Nishi. Moore was in fairly elite company this year with his swing and miss rate of 11.6 percent.
Sanchez is only in his first year in Japan, but had good success with the SK Wyverns in KBO the past two seasons. Sanchez’s big pitch is his splitter, which he threw 21.8 percent of the time. He threw his cutter and curve a little less often.
Sanchez is good at getting guys to chase, which as I must have mentioned somewhere, seems to be the Giants’ team philosophy, but is not overly good at missing bats, which can be problematic against a hard-hitting team that makes good adjustments.
Setting the record straight
On Sunday, Nippon Professional Baseball announced that Yurisbel Gracial had tied a Japan Series record by scoring in nine consecutive games. On Monday, the body issued a correction, noting that the record is 12 games, set by former Hankyu Braves middle infielder Toshizo Sakamoto from 1968 Game 3 to 1971 Game 2.
Ryoya Kurihara introduced himself in a big way to the Japan Series on Saturday with a homer, two doubles, and four RBIs in Game 1. And that was just his first three at-bats. Kurihara’s offensive explosion carried SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga to a 5-1 win.
The 24-year-old SoftBank Hawks outfielder, who entered the season with 57 plate appearances, became a regular slammed a two-run homer off Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano in the second, doubled and was thrown out at the plate in the fourth, and belted a two-run double in the sixth.
Senga delivered a prototypical outing. His fastball hummed and often jumped, while his split and slider were unpredictable. The Giants hitters did a good job of fouling off the fastball and laying off his secondary pitches.
Hiroyuki Nakajima and Naoki Nishikawa both hammered splitters that failed to tumble and drove them to the wall in the fifth inning but both balls were caught.
Sugano was also pretty close to his season norms as he tried to stay just out of the strike zone and get people to chase, and did get some weak swings on the corners but also fell behind hitters, and gave up his share of hard-hit balls.
The Giants went to rookie Shosei Togo in the seventh, while Senga stayed in to work the home half as his pitch count crossed the 100-mark.
Hawks leadoff man Ukyo Shuto made it 5-0 in the eighth, by drawing a walk off lefty Yuki Takahashi, stealing second and scoring on an Akira Nakamura single.
The Hawks entered the series with the longest postseason winning streak in NPB history, 12 games dating back to Game 2 of the 2019 PL Climax Series first stage. They also set an NPB record by winning their ninth straight series game, dating back to Game 3 of the 2018 series.
The Giants entered having lost five straight series games, their last win coming against Masahiro Tanaka in Game 6 of the 2013 series, his final start in Japan, although he came in to save Game 7.
Livan Moinelo dazzled the Giants with his fastball and curve, striking out three in the eighth before closer Yuito Mori did his usual thing, loading the bases and allowing a run before closing it out.
The game’s attendance of 16,489 — restricted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic — was the series first under 20,000 since Game 8 of the 1986 affair, when 16,828 attended a Monday afternoon game when the teams finished the first seven games tied 3-3-1.
In the kind of snit Yomiuri is famous for, its TV network cut away the game’s only live broadcast for commercials instead of airing Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo’s postgame interview. This is reminiscent of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s coverage of Game 6 of the 1996 series.
That year, every newspaper in Japan had a front page photo of Ichiro Suzuki and the Orix BlueWave celebrating their Japan Series championship, except Japan’s top financial paper, the Nikkei Shimbun and the Yomiuri, whose team lost.
For the second straight day, the Lotte Marines took the lead at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome and couldn’t hold it as Akira Nakamura homered twice in a 6-4 win to clinch the Pacific League forplay series in two games.
It was a little out of character for the Hawks’ veteran, who never chases and instead waits for fat pitches in the zone to drive for base hits. He appeared to be waiting for something low from Chen in both the second and fourth innings after Alfredo Despaigne singled.
Nakamura’s second homer made it 4-3 but Chen then threw a high straight fastball to Nobuhiro Matsuda who put on his Cookie Monster costume and ate all of it.
Marines rookie Hisanori Yasuda had another super day. After homering in Game 1, he put a beautiful swing on a good pitch in the first inning to double in two runs. He also made a couple of solid plays at third, and doubled and scored in the seventh.
Livan Moinelo pitched the Hawks out of trouble in the seventh and retired the Marines in the eighth and was awarded with the win, while Yuito Mori loaded the bases in the ninth before nailing down his second save.
The Hawks extended their record postseason win streak to 12 games, starting after they lost Game 1 of the 2019 Climax Series first stage.
Time for a rematch
The Japan Series, starting on Saturday at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome will be the 13th between the Hawks and Giants, the most between any two teams, and their second in two seasons.
The Giants have currently tied the franchise’s worst streak of not winning a Japan Series for seven consecutive seasons, set between 1974 and 1980.
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
Fumihito Haraguchi delivered off the bench for the fourth straight game, his two-out seventh-inning pinch-hit single breaking a 1-1 tie in the Hanshin Tigers’ 2-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome on Saturday.
The Giants started the day with a magic number of five to clinch their second straight Central League championship.
Jerry Sands scored the go-ahead run after reaching on a leadoff single to decide a pitchers’ duel between Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano (13-2) and tough Tigers lefty Haruto Takahashi (5-4).
Takahashi allowed a run on four hits and two walks while striking out three over six innings. Jon Edwards, Suguru Iwazaki and Robert Suarez kept the Giants from scoring over the remaining three innings with Suarez getting his CL-leading 23rd save.
Koji Chikamoto became the Tiger’s first base runner by smacking a hanging breaking pitch and beating out a one-out infield single in the fourth despite a good play from Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.
Chikamoto, the CL stolen base leader, took second on a wild pitch even though catcher Takumi Oshiro was able to keep the ball in front of him, and then scored easily when Kento Itohara’s little fly to shallow right fell in for a single.
Sugano tied it in the sixth by scoring on a sac fly after reaching on a leadoff double. With the Tigers outfield playing him shallow, he flied over Chikamoto’s head for his third double of the season. Naoki Yoshikawa fell behind trying to sacrifice him, before grounding a mistake from Takahashi just past Jefry Marte at first for a single. Takahashi missed down the pipe to Seiya Matsubara, whose liner to right was caught, but allowed Sugano to score.
Sands was tossed in the eighth complaining about a couple of calls by home plate umpire Tetsuya Shimada. Sands took 1-0 pitch away and below the knees for a strike, and was called out on a pitch that the overhead camera showed was well beyond the outside corner. That drew some f-bombs and the ejection.
Morishita goes the distance
Right-hander Masato Morishita (9-3) allowed four hits over the distance and drove in the eventual winning run for the Hiroshima Carp in their 2-1 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium.
Morishita struck out five in his 135-pitch outing, and went 2-for- at the plate. Ryosuke Kikuchi singled with two outs in the eighth, stole second and scored on the pitcher’s single to break a 1-1- tie. BayStars right-hander Shoichi Ino allowed a run over six innings but left with nothing to show for it.
The loss dropped the fourth-place BayStars three games below .500 although they have outscored opponents 461-422.
Ogawa denies Dragons
Yasuhiro Ogawa (10-6) allowed two runs over six innings as the Yakult Swallows battered Takahiro Matsuba (3-7) and overcame a big night from Nobumasa Fukuda to beat the Chunichi Dragons 9-5 at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Fukuda, who returned to duty on Friday after missing 1-1/2 months, took Ogawa deep in the fourth and doubled in two runs in the Dragons’ three-run seventh.
The highlight of the game, however, belonged to Dragons rookie Kaname Takino, who got perhaps the ultimate celebration of his first pro hit. As the ball was being returned from left field, fireworks erupted beyond the ballpark’s third-base stands and continued for about a minute due to an event going on at Tokyo’s National Stadium down the street that was built as the centerpiece of the 2020 Olympics to be held next year.
Later in the game, play was disrupted following a balloon release from the stadium.
Grand slam king Nakamura halts Hawks
Takeya Nakamura extended his record for career grand slams with his 21st, bringing the Seibu Lions from a run down in the eighth inning in a 4-1 win at Fukuoka’s PayPay dome that snapped the SoftBank Hawks’ 12-game winning streak.
Livan Moinelo (2-3) issued three walks for the first time since he came to Japan in 2017 and got his only out on a sacrifice before turning the ball over to right-hander Sho Iwasaki with the right-handed-hitting Nakamura coming up.
The six-time PL home run champ then launched a high straight 2-1 fastball out to center, spoiling a strong game from Hawks right-hander Nao Higashihama, who threw seven scoreless innings for his second consecutive start.
In the postgame hero interview, Nakamura was asked if the home run was a good present for Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji’s 62nd birthday.
“I wasn’t thinking about that when I batted, but I’m glad it worked out that way,” Nakamura said.
I love Nakamura’s straight-forward answers to some of those questions. Once, when asked what the mood on the bench was when he went to the plate, he answered, “I don’t know. I wasn’t on the bench. I was going to the plate.”
Albers deals Marines their 6th straight loss
Andrew Albers (4-7) allowed two singles and two walks over 6-2/3 innings, three relievers carried it the rest of the way and Takahiro Okada homered for the second straight game as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Lotte Marines 3-0 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome. Brandon Dickson worked around a two-out single to record his 16th save.
Fighters pen out-scrapes Eagles’
The Nippon Ham Fighters’ bullpen outlasted the Rakuten Eagles’ in a 5-4 win at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, when Sho Nakata homered to tie the game in the eighth inning and hit a two-out fly ball that wasn’t caught and brought home the go-ahead run in the ninth.
Nakata moved into a tie for the Japan home run lead with the Eagles’ Hideto Asamura when he drove a hanging 1-0 breaking ball well back into the stands in left field. Fighters took the lead in the ninth against closer Alan Busenitz (1-3), who allowed a two-out Kensuke Kondo single.
Busenitz missed up high with a 1-2 breaking ball that Nakata got underneath and skied down the left-field line. A pair of rookies converged on it, and shortstop Hiroto Kobukata backed off to let left fielder Yuya Ogo get it. But Ogo took his time, had to sprint to get to the ball and overran it. The ball landed fair, and Kondo beat the throw home. Ogo was harshly charged with the error and Busenitz ended up taking the loss.
Both Kobukata and Ogo singled in the bottom of the ninth before veteran lefty Naoki Miyanishi escaped a two-out bases loaded jam when Steven Romero lined out to short. Kobukata, who appears to be running away with the PL’s rookie of the year award, went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer.