Chunichi Dragons lefty Yudai Ono was named the winner of the 2020 Eiji Sawamura Award on Monday in Tokyo. As predicted, the 32-year-old made the five old pitchers’ hearts on the selection committee flutter with his 10 complete games and six shutouts, despite a pedestrian win-loss record of 11-6.
The award goes to the most impressive starting pitcher from Japan’s two leagues, thus it is similar to but not quite analogous to MLB’s Cy Young Award.
““Getting an award like this is something that seemed beyond my grasp both as an amateur and even after I turned pro. It feels like it can’t be happening.“
–Chunichi Dragons pitcher Yudai Ono on winning the Sawamura Award.
Ono led the Central League in strikeouts with 148, one shy of tying for the Japan lead with SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga and Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ono led both leagues in innings pitched, ERA, complete games and shutouts.
There was a lot of sentiment for Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano because of the committee’s parallel obsession with win totals as the right-hander went 14-2 and set this year’s stupidest Japan record — the most consecutive decisions won from the start of the season by an Opening Day starter.
Several voters were willing to name both Ono and Sugano, but the sentiment toward picking “the best one” prevailed. Other pitchers were considered, but they lacked the sexy win total of Sugano and complete game total of Ono.
The other pitchers named were Hiroshima Carp rookie Masato Morishita and three 11-game winners from the Pacific League, Senga, his Hawks teamamte Shuta Ishikawa, and Rakuten Eagles veteran Hideaki Wakui.
This year’s Sawamura Award selection committee members were: Tsuneo Horiuchi, Manabu Kitabeppu, Choji Murata, Hisashi Yamada and Masaji HIramatsu.
The award has been open to players from both leagues since 1990, when Hideo Nomo became the first PL pitcher to win. Sugano won in 2017 and 2018, but no winner was named in 2019 for the first time since 2000.
Although the PL has dominated competition between the two leagues over the previous 16 years, no PL pitcher has won since 2014. From 2005 to 2014 however, nine of the 10 winners were PL pitchers.
Newcomers Tyler Austin of the DeNA BayStars and Masato Morishita of the Hiroshima Carp were honored on Wednesday when Nippon Professional Baseball announced its final monthly honors list.
The Pacific League’s honorees went to a pair of 30-somethings, center fielder Yuki Yanagita of the SoftBank Hawks and right-hander Takayuki Kishi of the Rakuten Eagles.
Austin led the Central League with 11 home runs and a .346 batting average in October. The NPB website lauds him for fighting hard to keep the BayStars in the “A-class” (top-three) teams, although the team finished fourth.
His selection marked the third straight monthly award to a BayStars hitter after Keita Sano‘s August award and Takayuki Kajitani‘s in September. The last team to win three straight was the 2015 CL champion Yakult Swallows.
Morishita, the Carp’s top pick in last autumn’s draft, went 4-0 with a 0.24 ERA over 37 innings. He became the first Carp rookie to win 10 games since current ace Daichi Osera in 2014. He’s the first rookie to win a CL monthly pitching honor since Hayato Takagi, then of the Yomiuri Giants won for March and April in 2015.
The 35-year-old Kishi, who won for the fourth time, made six starts, winning five, to tie for the league lead. He struck out 50 batters in a superb finish to a season slowed, like several of Kishi’s have been, by injury. The right-hander went at least six innings in each of his September and October starts.
It’s Kishi’sfirst award since May 2018.
The 32-year-old Yanagita, played in all 32 of his team’s games over the final two months, when the Hawks broke with recent form by not taking it easy after clinching. Instead, Yanagita led the team as they celebrated their first PL title in three years by throwing opponents into a wood chipper.
Yanagita led in batting average (.360) on-base percentage (.459) and tied for the PL lead with 22 RBIs as the Hawks set an NPB record for wins in a month with 22. It was his second monthly award of the year, having won the award for June and July.
Fighters to cut Villanueva
Christian Villanueva, who got a second chance in Japan this season with the Nippon Ham Fighters only to suffer through a series of small injuries and play just 54 games, will not be retained, the Pacific League club said Wednesday.
The 29-year-old Villanueva came to Japan last year with the Yomiuri Giants, but was a disappointment, hitting eight home runs in 73 games with a .325 OBP and a .386 slugging average. This year, his home run production dropped and he posted just a .351 slugging average.
Wataru Matsumoto (6-6) and four relievers held the SoftBank Hawks to a run on hour hits and no walks in the Seibu Lions’ 3-1 Pacific League win at MetLife Dome on Sunday to move to within 1-1/2 games of the second-place Lotte Marines, who came from behind to tie the Eagles 3-3.
Shunsuke Kasaya (4-4) walked four and hit one, and three of those five free passes scored as the Hawks saw their six-game win streak end. The Hawks jumped out to 1-0 lead after Taisei Makihara’s leadoff double.
Takumi Kurihara singled in the tying run in the first for the Lions and contributed to Seibu’s third-inning go-ahead run with his second single. Takeya Nakamura drove in Seibu’s final runs, with a hard-hit ball the Hawks did well to get an out on and a double.
Marines come back to tie Eagles
The Lotte Marines’ Ikuhiro Kiyota hit a two-run first-inning home run and singled in the seventh to set up the tying run and complete the scoring in a 3-3 10-inning tie against the fourth-place Rakuten Eagles at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Kazuhisa Makita took over for the Eagles in the seventh with one out and two on. He walked Seiya Inoue to load the bases and surrendered Hisanori Yasuda’s game-tying single before pitching out of trouble.
Yuki Matsui took the mound in the ninth for the Eagles and prevented a loss by throwing two scoreless innings.
Nomura, Arihihara beat Buffaloes
Kohei Arihara (8-9) allowed a run in five innings and Yuki James Nomura drove in four runs with a single and a triple to pace the Nippon Ham Fighters to a 7-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.
Twenty-one-year-old Orix starter Hitomi Honda (0-1) gave up seven runs, three earned, in four innings in his pro debut.
BayStars win 2nd virus test
For the second straight day, the DeNA BayStars threw open the doors to Yokohama Stadium as 24,537 on Friday and 27,850 on Saturday became the first normal-sized crowds to watch a sporting event in Japan since February. Although asked to refrain from cheering and chanting, the home fans got to witness their team come from behind in a 6-5 walk-off win over the Hanshin Tigers.
The stadium is scheduled to be the main venue for softball and baseball when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics start in July 2021.
Just think. The rest of the world can put 2020 behind them when January arrives, but Tokyo will still be advertising “Tokyo 2020” on banners all over the metropolis through much of 2021 to remind of this shit storm of a year—at least until the whole thing is canceled and those banners go the way of the money wasted to secure this fiasco in the first place.
In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, in which people were crammed together to test the effectiveness of removing social distance, the Tigers showed that they could load the bases and not pose a threat to the BayStars, juicing the bags in the fifth, eighth and ninth without a run to show for it.
Otherwise, Neftali Soto, who likely won’t win a third straight CL home run title, hit his 23rd and 24th, closer Kazuki Mishima (2-1) earned the win for the hosts and Takayuki Kajitani singled in the game-winner off Jon Edwards (0-1).
Jerry Sands doubled twice and drove in a run for the Tigers, and Jefry Marte singled in a run in the Tigers’ four-run seventh.
Giants scrape past Swallows
Seishu Hatake (4-4) threw a three-hitter for his first career shutout and Albert Suarez (4-4) allowed an unearned run in five innings to take the loss in the Yomiuri Giants’ 2-1 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Rookie right-hander Masato Morishita (10-3) pitched out of a couple of tight spots to go eight innings in the Hiroshima Carp’s 3-0 win at Nagoya Dome over the Chunichi Dragons. Geronimo Franzua finished up for his 18th save.
Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi (5-7) allowed three runs, two earned, while striking out 11 over 6-2/3 innings to take the loss.
Active roster moves 11/1/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/11
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.
Nao Higashihama struggled with his location but got enough on his pitches to keep the Rakuten Eagles from squaring him up over seven innings in the SoftBank Hawks’ 5-0 win at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Higashihama (8-1) started on Opening Day for the Hawks, but was up and down over the first two months. He allowed four hits, walked two and hit while striking out seven en route to winning his sixth straight start.
Yuki Yanagita took Ryota Ishibashi (1-5) deep in the first inning for his 27th home run, and the game was still 1-0 when Higashihama’s lack of command allowed the Eagles to juice the bags with one out on two walks and a Stefen Romero single. But even though he missed up in the heart of the zone, Higashihama got two easy outs to end it.
Yurisbel Gracial homered in the home half and Ryoya Kurhihara doubled with the bases loaded in the fifth to complete the scoreline.
We’re only here for the beer
Postgame hero interviews run the gamut from completely inane to hilarious, and somedays it seems like the purpose of the exercise for SoftBank Hawks players is to be as campy as possible.
With Asahi brewers the sponsors for Saturday’s hero interview, Yuki Yanagita, Ryoya Kurihara and winning pitcher Nao Higashihama all spoke about their motivation for the day being to earn a one-year’s supply of Asahi beer.
Chang delivers on Lions’ Taiwan Day
Chang Yi (2-2) struck out eight over six scoreless innings, and the Orix Buffaloes got home runs from rookie Seiichiro Oshita and Steven Moya to beat the Seibu Lions 4-1.
The Lions were having one of their regular Taiwan Day promotions at their MetLIfe Dome ballpark across the border from Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture. Chang, a cousin of Yang Dai-kang and Yang Yao-hsun, who attended high school and university in Japan, ended up celebrating the day at his hosts’ expense.
Tyler Higgins worked a 1-2-3 eighth to preserve a two-run lead and Brandon Dickson recorded his 14th save in the ninth for the last-place Buffaloes.
Oblgatory lip service
Rookie Seiichiro Oshita broke up a scoreless game on Saturday when he led off the Orix Buffaloes’ fifth inning with his second career home run and then, as Ray Liotta’s character said in “Goodfellas,” he did the right thing, by denying he wanted to hit a home run.
The Nikkan Sports published a story based on the flash quotes distributed during the game by the team from every player who drives in a run.
“My plan going up to the plate first and foremost was to get on base,” Oshita said through the team. “The contact felt really good, so I thought it was gone the instant I hit it.”
“I so wanted to get in that first run, so I’m glad I could do that with a home run.”
Had he reversed that, and started talking about the home run, and then added the afterthought that his first thought was getting on base, Oshita would have been guilty of violating Japanese baseball norms, by suggesting he was trying to hit a home run.
Carp bullpen blows up again
For the second straight day the Hiroshima Carp bullpen surrendered four late runs, this time allowing the Chunichi Dragons to turn a one-run deficit into a 5-2 win at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Rookie of the year candidate Masato Morishita was rock solid through seven, allowing a run on five hits and no walks while striking out eight. But setup man Atsuya Horie (3-4) left with two on and one out in the eighth.
Geronimo Franzua, who has often been called on to get four outs, came in to get five. He got ahead of Yohei Oshima 1-2 but couldn’t get a called strike and walked him to load the bases.
With two outs, Franzua made a decent first pitch to Toshiki Abe, but the Dragons second baseman got the end of the bat on it and bounced it through the infield for a two-run single. Dayan Viciedo then iced the game with another two-run single.
Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi (4-6) scattered eight hits and two walks over seven innings to earn the win. The damage would have been worse but Moises Sierra made a couple of tricky catches in left when he appeared to struggle with the sun.
Raidel Martinez struck out the side in the ninth to earn his 21st save.
Hanshin forms women’s club
The Hanshin Tigers announced Saturday it was forming a women’s hardball club that will begin play next year, according to the Nikkan Sports.
The club will be the second operated by a Nippon Professional Baseball team following the announcement in April that the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions had established a club.
The Tigers’ club is an offshoot of the organization’s outreach programs to make the game more accessible to women. The Tigers said its purpose was three-fold:
To cultivate the desire among women to play baseball
To create an environment where it is easier for women to start in baseball.
To increase the number of women players, women fans and Tigers fans.
The Tigers will begin accepting applications this month, with practices to be held once a week in the area around the club’s home base in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. Some practices may take place at the Tigers’ home park, historic Koshien Stadium, or its minor league facility in Naruohama.
Active roster moves 10/17/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/27
SoftBank Hawks Opening Day starter Nao Higashihama (7-1) allowed a run over eight innings in a 5-1 win over the Lotte Marines on Saturday at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome that kept his team atop the Pacific League standings.
The win was SoftBank’s fifth in16 tries this season against their nemeses, who pulled into a virtual tie with a 3-1 win on Friday.
Higashihama gave up three hits and three walks while striking out eight. Rookie Kazuki Sugiyama pitched around a pair of one-out singles in the ninth to close it out.
Keizo Kawashima opened SoftBank’s account in the second with a one-out single off rookie lefty Toshiya Nakamura (2-5). He scored on a Nobuhiro Matsuda double, and Ryoya Kurihara capped the inning with his 14th home run.
The Marines changed pitchers in the third, with rookie Takuro Furuya making his first-team debut. The right-hander issued a one-out walk to Akira Nakamura. A wild pitch and a Yuki Yanagita single made it 4-0.
A base-running out by Matsuda allowed Furuya to work around a single and three straight walks in the fourth. The Marines got their lone run in the sixth on a Kenji Nishimaki double and a Kyota Fujiwara single. Both were called up Tuesday, when the Marines switched out 11 players following a series of coronavirus infections.
Yurisbel Gracial completed the scoring in the seventh with his ninth home run.
Arihara throws 1st shutout
Nippon Ham Fighters ace Kohei Arihara (6-8) did everything right in his six-hitter except get Pacific League batting leader Masataka Yoshida out in a 4-0 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.
Yoshida went 3-for-4 with a double to raise his average to .354, but his teammates couldn’t solve the right-handed Arihara.
“Their hitters came in ready to swing at the first pitch and I used that to my advantage,” said Arihara, who walked two and struck out six.
Buffaloes right-hander Taisuke Yamaoka (2-4) allowed three runs over six innings on six hits, a walk and a hit batsman but got zero run support for the second straight outing. He gave up a one-out solo homer to Ryo Watanabe in the second and two more runs in the sixth before making his exit.
“I was the one who allowed the first run. And that was the ballgame,” said Yamaoka.
Hatake silences Dragons
Yomiuri Giants right-hander Seishu Hatake extended a pre-game moment of silence at Nagoya Dome, muting the Chunichi Dragons’ offense for seven innings in a 7-1 win.
With the home team wearing the No. 88 of late Dragons manager and Hall of Fame second baseman Morimichi Takagi, who passed away in January, a moment of silence was observed in his memory.
Hatake (3-3) overcame an awkward start as he worked seven scoreless innings after allowing five this and three walks. Dragons starter Yariel Rodriguez (2-4) kept the Giants in check until the wheels fell off in a four-run fifth.
Rodriguez, who had impressed in his first two outings this season against the Giants, allowed a second-inning run on a Yoshihiro Maru single and a Zelous Wheeler double.
The right-hander struck out the side in the third and fourth before Wheeler singled to open the fifth. Wheeler was caught stealing for the second out on a busted run-and-hit, but Gerardo Parra followed with the first of five straight hits.
Wheeler homered in the sixth, while Zoilo Almonte cashed in the Dragons’ only run with an eighth-inning RBI single.
Austin, Soto overpower Tigers
Tyler Austin hit his 16th home run and Neftali Soto continued to climb back into the home race with his 20th and 21st homers as the DeNA BayStars overcame an early two-run deficit to beat the Hanshin Tigers 5-3 at Koshien Stadium.
Tigers starter Joe Gunkel (1-4) allowed four runs, three earned, on nine hits over six innings. He struck out four without a walk.
Austin homered in the third and Soto went deep in the fourth to make it a 2-2 game. Hanshin’s Yusuke Oyama singled in his second run of the game in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead for the Tigers. Austin re-tied it in the fifth with an RBI single, Soto homered in the sixth and Austin singled in another run in the seventh.
Rookie Hiromu Ise (1-0), the BayStars’ third pick last autumn, struck out two in two perfect innings to earn his first career win. Spencer Patton and Edwin Escobar followed with one scoreless inning apiece before Kazuki Mishima earned his 13th save.
Jon Edwards allowed one run in an inning of relief for the Tigers.
Rookie Morishita dodges bullets for 8th win
The Hiroshima Carp’s top pick in last year’s draft, Masato Morishita extricated from a pair of bases-loaded predicaments to go six innings in a 3-0 victory over the Yakult Swallows at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Morishita (8-3) allowed four hits, issued three walks and hit a batter while striking out eight. Koki Ugusa, the Carp’s second pick last autumn, had two hits, driving in two in the fifth with a high chopper over the head of the shortstop.
“It’s not like we didn’t have an approach planned for him (Morishita),” Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu said. “We just didn’t do a very good job of executing it.”
Tsuji slams decision to start in rain
Seibu Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji was not in a forgiving mood on Saturday when Daiki Enokida, called up to bolster his depleted starting rotation, needed to throw 75 pitches against the Rakuten Eagles in a game that began in the rain Sendai and was called after three innings.
The game is to be replayed on Tuesday, putting Tsuji in a bind.
“This is a problem, because we simply don’t have the pitchers,” Tsuji said.
The game started in a steady rain, with water standing in pools.
“Common sense would tell you we couldn’t play baseball in that,” Tsuji said.
Active roster moves 10/10/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/20