Tag Archives: Shingo Takatsu

NPB 2020 SEPT. 10

Enter the Sands man

Jerry Sands’ 17th home run of the season overturned a one-run seventh-inning deficit and Robert Suarez recorded a four-out save as the Hanshin Tigers beat the DeNA BayStars 8-7 at Yokohama Stadium on Thursday.

Sands, who lead South Korea’s KBO in RBIs last season, had three for the game, with one out and a man on in the seventh, he drove the first pitch he saw from big right-hander Yuki Kuniyoshi (3-3) for his third home run in six games.

The Tigers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third against Michael Peoples, who surrendered a leadoff single to Tigers starting pitcher Yukiya Saito. Tigers captain Kento Itohara’s infield single brought one run in, and Sands’ sac fly made it 2-0.

The BayStars tied it in the home half when they loaded the bases with no outs following a leadoff single by the No. 9 hitter, catcher Yasutaka Tobashira. Saito struck out Neftali Soto, the two-time defending Central League home run king, with no outs and the bags juiced, but a flare single and a sac fly tied it.

Saito was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the third, and Naomasa Yokawa delivered a three-run homer, only for the hosts to get two back on solo homers in the home half. Tobashira, who homered in the fourth, singled with a man on in the sixth to set the table for a three-run outburst against Joe Gunkel (1-2).

Soto’s two-run single put the BayStars up for the first time, but Gunkel earned the win after Sands turned things around in the seventh.

With one on and two out in the eighth, Suarez was called in to face Soto, and retired all four batters he faced to earn his 14th save.

Morishita earns 6th win

Rookie right-hander Masato Morishita (6-2) allowed a run over seven innings and Ryosuke Kikuchi broke up a tie game with an RBI double in the Hiroshima Carp’s 2-1 win over the Yakult Swallows at Mazda Stadium.

Morishita allowed five hits and a walk while walking one and striking out seven. The Swallows’ run came on Tomotaka Sakaguchi’s game-tying leadoff homer in the sixth.

“He has a good variety of pitchers, allowing him to navigate through the opposing batting order,” Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu said. “It’s great for a first-year pitcher to see so many batters, because I got the sense he was reading swings as he pitched.”

Seiya Suzuki doubled and scored on a Hisayoshi Chono single against Swallows lefty Keiji Takahashi in the fourth. Kikuchi broke the tie against Scott McGough (3-1) after Minoru Omori opened the inning with a leadoff pinch-hit double.

Geronimo Franzua worked the ninth to record his eighth save.

Dragons tie Giants, put Hara on hold

Naoki Yoshikawa tripled in two runs to eighth-inning runs for the Yomiuri Giants, and reliever Kota Nakagawa surrendered just one run after the Chunichi Dragons loaded the bases with one out in the eighth in their 2-2 10-inning tie at Nagoya Dome.

The tie prevented Giants manager Tatsunori Hara from earning his 1,067th career win that would move him out of a tie for the most in franchise history with Tetsuharu Kawakami, who managed the Giants to nine-straight Japan Series titles from 1965 to 1973.

Hara had praise for the left-hander who issued two one-out walks to load the bases, but allowed only one run to score on a ground out.

“It was amazing he kept them from doing more, considering he walked two and must have been questioning his command. Holding them to one run was really something,” Hara said.

First-year Giants import Angel Sanchez allowed a run over seven innings. Rubby De La Rosa worked the ninth, while Yuhei Takanashi shut the Dragons down in the 10th, when the game was called a tie.

NOTE: The story originally said Hara was second in managing wins with the Giants. Former Giants manager Shigeru Mizuhara had nearly 500 more wins in his career, but only 881 of those came with the Giants.

Yanagita pours it on Eagles

Yuki Yanagita brought the SoftBank Hawks from behind with a three-run third-inning home run, and added another for good measure in a 4-2 win over the Rakuten Eagles that was twice delayed by rain at Sendai’s Raktuen Seimei Park Miyagi.

Trailing 2-0 to lefty Yuki Matsui in the third inning, a walk by Keizo Kawashima and an Akira Nakamura single brought Yanagita to the plate with one out and runners on the corners. Matsui missed in the heart of the zone with a decent 1-0 fastball and Yangita drove it out to left for an opposite field home run, his 21st of the season.

The game, which started 37 minutes late, was suspended again for 55 minutes with one out and two on in the bottom of the seventh.

Rookie Masami Iwami, who had opened the scoring with his first career home run faced lefty Livan Moinelo and grounded into a double play. The 26-year-old Iwami, the Eagles’ second pick in the 2017 draft, took SoftBank starter Nao Higashihama deep to lead off the second.

With two outs in the inning, rookie shortstop Hiroto Kobukata doubled and scored on a Daichi Suzuki single. Higashihama, who allowed four runners to reach in the first but no runs, left after five, having allowed six hits and four walks.

Former San Diego Padres right-hander Kazuhisa Makita took the mound for the Eagles in the eighth, and with two outs, surrendered Yanagita’s second home run.

Jones hits’ Japan’s magic milestone

Although he’s only played a few months here, the Orix Buffaloes happily celebrated Adam Jones’ reaching Japan’s iconic 2,000-hit milestone in their 12-4 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.

Jones entered the game with 1,939 career major league hits and 59 in the Pacific League for the Buffaloes. His second hit of the game, an RBI double was his 2,000th, which is in Japan — with it’s shorter seasons — what 3,000 is in the majors.

Only one imported player has ever had 2,000 hits in Japan, DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez. Second on that list is Tuffy Rhodes with 1,792.

Two nights after they were one-hit, the Buffaloes cranked out 16 hits in the one-sided win. Corey Spangenberg hit his 10th home run for the Lions. The first-year import also hit his Japan-best 21st double. Spangenberg also leads both leagues with six triples.

Nakata hits 250th HR in Fighters’ win

Sho Nakata became the 64th player to reach 250 home runs in Japan when he capped a three-run first inning with his 24th of the season in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ 5-3 win over the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.

Marines right-hander Daiki Iwashita (4-5) allowed four runs over six innings to take the loss. He gave up five hits and a walk while striking out eight.

Former Cleveland Indians farmhand Toru Murata (1-1) struck out two over two perfect innings of relief to earn his first win in two years. Nick Martinez struck out three and walked two in a scoreless ninth to earn his first save in Japan. His only other save came with the Single-A Hickory Crawdads in 2012.

Active roster moves 9/10/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 9/20

Central League

Activated

TigersP48Yukiya Saito
CarpOF37Takayoshi Noma
SwallowsC32Naoki Matsumoto

Dectivated

TigersIF00Hiroki Uemoto
CarpIF45Tatsuki Kuwahara
SwallowsP68Hirofumi Yamanaka
SwallowsC52Yuhei Nakamura

Pacific League

Activated

HawksP16Nao Higashihama
HawksP49Yuto Furuya
MarinesC53Naoya Emura
BuffaloesP21Daichi Takeyasu

Dectivated

HawksP21Tsuyoshi Wada
HawksP48Yuta Watanabe
MarinesC22Tatsuhiro Tamura

Starting pitchers for Sept. 11, 2020

Pacific League

Eagles vs Fighters: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Ryota Ishibashi (1-3, 7.71) vs Kosei Yoshida (-)

Marines vs Buffaloes: Zozo Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Toshiya Nakamura (1-2, 4.50) vs Taisuke Yamaoka (0-2, 4.15)

Hawks vs Lions: PayPay Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Matt Moore (1-1, 2.61) vs Zach Neal (3-4, 4.76)

Central League

Giants vs Swallows: Tokyo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Shosei Togo (7-3, 2.50) vs Albert Suarez (2-0, 0.53)

BayStars vs Dragons: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Shoichi Ino (5-3, 3.08) vs Yuya Yanagi (2-4, 3.30)

Tigers vs Carp: Koshien Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Yuki Nishi (5-3, 2.57) vs Hiroki Tokoda (1-4, 6.04)

NPB 2020 7-28 GAMES AND NEWS

Bour, Sands slam Swallows in Tigers’ rout

Justin Bour and Jerry Sands each hit a grand slam for the Hanshin Tigers in a 20-5 blood-letting against the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.

With the Swallows trailing 3-0 in the second, Gabriel Ynoa (0-2) fell behind Bour 3-0. The left-handed hitter socked Ynoa’s 3-1 pitch so hard Yakult left fielder Norichika Aoki was shown staring across the field at the foul pole, perhaps looking for signs of jet exhaust lingering in the rainy Tokyo evening.

With Yakult star Tetsuto Yamada sidelined, ostensibly due to upper body fitness issues, 25-year-old Takeshi Miyamoto did a good impression of his slugging teammate. Miyamoto filled in at second and cracked his first career home run, a three-run shot in the second.

Sands singled in a run in the Tigers’ two-run third, before cranking his sixth home run of the season to the opposite field in right. Bour got his fifth RBI in a sixth-inning single, and Tigers shortstop Seiya Kinami capped a six-run rally with a three-run home run.

Kinami, who went 4-for-4 with two walks, doubled to lead off the ninth, when he scored his third run.

Tigers right-hander Takumi Akiyama (3-1) earned the complete-game victory.

Sugano stops BayStars, earns 5th win

Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano (5-0) allowed two runs, one earned, over seven innings while striking out seven in a 4-2 win over the DeNA BayStars at Tokyo Dome.

The Giants defense helped Sugano give away a run in the first at Tokyo Dome. Takayuki Kajitani reached on an Infield single, went to third on a two-base throwing error on second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa and scored on Neftali Soto’s sacrifice fly.

Hayato Sakamoto tied it with solo home run in the home half, and the Giants took their first lead off right-hander Shoichi Ino (2-2) in the fourth, when with one out and none on, Kazuma Okamoto hit his 12th home run. Takumi Oshiro walked and scored after a Zelous Wheeler double and a groundout.

BayStars cleanup hitter Keita Sano, the club’s unheralded 25-year-old captain, homered to open the sixth. Jose Lopez followed with a hard-hit single, but Sugano worked around that and a two-out Tatsuhiro Shibata double to preserve the lead.

Giants lefty Kota Nakagawa entered with one out and a man on in the ninth, and worked around a Kajitani infield single to record his third save.

Viciedo to rescue as Dragons top Carp

Dayan Viciedo doubled in the tying run in the top of the eighth inning, and bailed the Chunichi Dragons out in the bottom of the inning with his glove as the Chunichi Dragons edged the Hiroshima Carp 3-2 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Moments after the Carp upended the Dragons 1-0 lead, Yohei Oshima singled with one out against lefty Atsuya Horie (1-1), who surrendered Viciedo’s game-tying two-out double. A walk and a wild pitch put runners on the corners. Right-hander Yasunori Kikuchi came on, and Ariel Martinez, the Dragons Cuban catching phenom, singled in the go-ahead run.

Carp starter Allen Kuri pitched his way out of trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, only for the game’s first run to come with no one on from Toshiki Abe’s second home run of the year.

The Dragons went with right-hander Koji Fukutani. After 218 games in relief, Chunichi’s top draft pick in 2012 was making his season debut and his second career start. The 29-year-old allowed four singles and no walks while striking out 10. Last year, he appeared in one game, also a start, and allowed one run over six innings.

Fukutani was pulled for a pinch-hitter with one out and two on in the seventh, and lead runner Yota Kyoda was tagged off third following a force at second to complete a double play.

The base-running goof proved costly in the bottom of the inning after the Carp tied it on a walk and two no-out singles against reliever Yu Sato. With that, Fukutani finished the day with a 0.75 ERA as a starter and no decisions.

Tsubasa Aizawa, who hit two late home runs in Sunday’s epic comeback win in Yokohama, singled in the go-ahead run. Lefty Toshiya Okada (1-2), who saved 13 games last season, however, put out the fire, and the Dragons regained the lead against in the eighth against Hiroshima’s patchwork quilt of a bullpen.

Trailing again, Hiroshima’s Seiya Suzuki singled and took second on a wild pitch that barely got away from Martinez. Viciedo then made a sliding catch on a ball down the line from pinch-hitter Shogo Sakakura and threw to first for the final out.

Dragons right-hander worked around a two-out double to record his fourth save.

Inoue, Nakamura decide see-saw game

Seiya Inoue belted three home runs, and Shogo Nakamura hit one and then was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the ninth as the Lotte Marines walked-off 13-12 winners over the Rakuten Eagles at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.

The hosts built a 6-1 lead centered around Inoue’s two-run second-inning home run and his third-inning solo shot off Ryota Ishibashi. But the Eagles came back in the fourth.

With one out and the bases loaded against Lotte starter and former Eagle Manabu Mima, first-year skipper Hajime Miki pulled his catcher for a pinch-hitter, and Stefen Romero made it a one-run game with his eighth home run.

The Marines counterattacked in the home half, with Yasuda capping a three-run inning with a two-run homer.

Mima allowed six runs over 4-1/3 innings, but the Marines’ third pitcher, Tsuyoshi Ishizaki retired only one of the six batters he faced in Rakuten’s five-run sixth.

Trailing 12-9 in the eighth, Nakamura homered with one out, and Inoue’s two-run shot tied it. J.T. Chargois (0-2) retired the final Marines hitter in the eighth, but surrendered a leadoff single to Brandon Laird in the ninth.

After a hit batsman and a sacrifice, Miki ordered the bases loaded, and Chargoi hit Nakamura with his third pitch to end it.

Hawks’ Nakamura batters Lions

Akira Nakamura had four hits and five RBIs, allowing the SoftBank Hawks to crush the Seibu Lions 9-4 at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome despite Kodai Senga (3-1) surrendering four runs over six innings.

The Hawks’ ace established his fastball in classic fashion in the first, striking out the first two batters, the first on three fastballs, but surrendered the game’s first runs in the second inning.

Senga, whose ability to locate is typically his main concern, issued a leadoff walk to Shuta Tonosaki that sparked Seibu’s two-run second. A Takumi Kuriyama single and a rocket-powered Corey Spangenberg double brought in one run, and Kuriyama scored on a groundout.

The Hawks got a runin the second against Tatsuya Imai on a Nakamura leadoff single, a two-out walk and Nobuhiro Matsuda’s flare single.

A one-out Tomoya Mori walk and Hotaka Yamakawa’s 11th home run made it 4-1 Lions in the third, but the Hawks wasted no time keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Four-straight one-out singles by Kenta Imamiya, Yuki Yanagita, Nakamura and Ryoya Kurihara made it a one-run game. With the tying run on third, Imai struck out Wladimir Balentien on five pitches away to assist in his getaway.

The Hawks tied it in the fifth on a Yanagita double and a Nakamura single and beat up on Lions relief workhorse, right-hander Katsunori Hirai (3-2), to take the lead in the sixth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Nakamura cleared the bags with a double.

Balentien and Imamiya each hit a late solo homer to complete the rout for the Hawks.

Nakata blasts off as Uwasawa earns 1st win

Denied a three-run home run when a runner was picked off base ahead of his third-inning homer, Sho Nakata blasted a three-run shot in the seventh as the Nippon Ham Fighters left an 5-1 mark on the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.

Buffaloes lefty Andrew Albers walked the first two batters he faced in the third. Albers picked off Kenshi Sugiya, but Sho Nakata’s 11th home run, and his second in three games, made it a 2-0 game.

The Buffaloes got a run back in the fourth on three no-out singles off Naoyuki Uwasawa (1-1) by Yuma Mune, Masataka Yoshida and Andrew Jones.

The visitors had a chance to tie it in the sixth, but Fighters right fielder Taishi Ota threw a strike to the plate to cut down Mune trying to score from second on a Takahiro Okada single. With two on and two outs in the top of the seventh, Ota made a good catch on Mune near the right field corner that could have spelled trouble.

Uwasawa’s win was his first since his left knee cap was broken in June 2019 by a drive off the bat of DeNA BayStars slugger Neftali Soto.

Albers left with two out and two on the seventh, and right-hander Ryo Yoshida served up Nakata’s second home run.

Takatsu explains Yamada deactivation

Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu filled in some background information on second baseman Tetsuto Yamada’s deactivation on Tuesday according to Sports Nippon Annex.

Takatsu said Yamada’s upper body was not sufficiently fit, and that Yamada himself was going to keep playing if left to his own devices.

“He said, ‘I can keep going as I am’, but I don’t want him playing if he’s not fit,” Takatsu said. “He’ll never say, ‘I’ll take a break for myself.’ But what I really want is to see Tetsuto Yamada really swinging. It was a difficult decision.”

Yamada apparently said he’d be back in 10 days–the minimum time needed for reactivation–but Takatsu said there was no need for him to rush.

Active roster moves 7/28/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 8/7

Central League

Activated

BayStarsP15Shoichi Ino
DragonsP24Koji Fukutani
SwallowsP26Koshiro Sakamoto
SwallowsIF66Taisei Yoshida
SwallowsOF9Yasutaka Shiomi

Dectivated

DragonsP54Kento Fujishima

Pacific League

Activated

LionsP34Yasuo Sano
LionsC78Masato Saito
EaglesP12Hiroki Kondo
FightersP15Naoyuki Uwasawa
BuffaloesP26Daiki Tomei
BuffaloesIF67Keita Nakagawa

Dectivated

BuffaloesIF2Hiroyuki Shirasaki

NPB 2020 7-7 GAMES AND NEWS

baseball and robots

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Senga opens with a win

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.

In his place, the Fighters have played rookie Yuki James Nomura.

Marines wear down Lions

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.

For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.

Live blog: Hawks vs Eagles

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.

Top 1st

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.

Bottom 1st

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.

Top 2nd

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.

Bottom 2nd

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.

Top 3rd

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.

Bottom 3rd

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.

Top 4th

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.

Bottom 4th

Yuge needs 11 pitches, six of them on Kai, to get a 1-2-3 inning.

Top 5th

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.

Bottom 5th

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.

Top 6th

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.

Bottom 6th

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.

Top 7th

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.

Bottom 7th

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.

Top 8th

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.

Bottom 8th

Sakai on for his second inning of work and he keeps it close, retiring Balentien, Kawashima and Matsuda.

Top 9th

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.

Final score: Hawks 4, Eagles 3

Japanese Baseball Hall of Popularity: 2020 version

The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday announced the winners of its annual ballots, and the hall’s reputation as a popularity contest was confirmed for another year.

For the first time since it was created in 2008, the player’s division voters failed to elect anyone as last year’s runner-up, Shingo Takatsu, fell seven votes short of selection. Popular DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, the only imported player with 2,000 hits shot up the leaderboard to finish second in the ballot with 233 of the 266 votes needed for selection.

Tuffy Rhodes, easily the best player on the player’s division ballot, took a slight step backward. A year ago, he was named on 29.6 percent of the ballots, this year on 28.8 percent.

Ramirez is a deserving candidate and this is not a slur on his reputation, but as a player, he didn’t have as big an impact as Rhodes. Ramirez was a popular player with the Giants, while Rhodes’ time with the Giants was curtailed by injury and marred by an argument with a coach.

HOF Players Division results 2020

NameVotes2020 Pct2019 pctCareer Win Shares
Shingo Takatsu25973.360.6120
Alex Ramirez23365.840.4248
Masahiro Kawai21861.650.7148
Shinya Miyamoto20658.241.2201
Kenjiro Nomura12735.937.2244
Masumi Kuwata12134.231.5191
Hiroki Kokubo10429.432.1311
Tuffy Rhodes10228.829.6320
Tomonori Maeda10228.829.6262
Takuro Ishii8724.624.8299
Atsunori Inaba7220.3NA302
Kenji Jojima6117.215.1294
Takeshi Yamasaki4111.611.3241
Shinji Sasaoka3911.010.5172
So Taguchi349.610.2170
Norihiro Akahoshi329.08.9146
Norihiro Nakamura287.9NA305
Shinjiro Hiyama164.53.2138
Kazuhisa Ishii144.07.5166
Akinori Iwamura41.1NA222
Makoto Kaneko30.8NA180

Two longtime inoffensive shortstops Masahiro Kawai and Shinya Miyamoto continued to build support, being named on 61.6 percent of the ballots and 58.2, respectively.

At the other end, Akinori Iwamura and Makoto Kaneko both dropped off the ballot on their first try, having failed to be named on 2 percent of the ballots.

HOF Experts Division Results 2020

NameVotes2020 Pct2019 pctCareer Win Shares
Koichi Tabuchi10980.764.7292
Randy Bass8965.963.2133
Masayuki Kakefu6245.930.8303
Keishi Osawa4936.330.1
Isao Shibata4029.626.3261
Tokuji Nagaike3727.417.3216
Hideji Kato2820.719.5286
Masayuki Dobashi2720.024.1155
Mitsuhiro Adachi2115.614.3204
Shigeru Takada1712.6NA167
Masataka Nashida1712.619.5103
Akinobu Okada1611.910.5208
Kiyoshi Nakahata1511.110.5148
Yoshinori Sato1410.4NA175
Hiromu Matsuoka128.97.5233
Mitsuo Tatsukawa118.1NA110

In the expert’s division, slugging catcher Koichi Tabuchi got his overdue reward, while another popular former Hanshin Tiger, two-time triple crown winner Randy Bass, moved to the top of the division’s pecking order with 65.9 percent of the vote.

The good news from Japan’s equivalent of the veteran’s committee was that Masayuki Kakefu moved up from an embarrassing 30.8 percent of the vote last year to 45.9 percent and will be poised to go in after Bass is elected a year from now.

Hall of Fame time 2020

By this time tomorrow we’ll know whether or not a large majority of voters for Japan’s Hall of Fame have stepped up to the plate and done their job or are still in need of a spine transplant.

I’ve written at length about the players division and Tuffy Rhodes, who I rank as the 31st best player ever to lace up his spikes in NPB. Rhodes was left off over 60 percent of last year’s ballots to finish ninth behind eight guys who are in most ways less qualified then him.

Former White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu, who was runner-up in last year’s players division ballot, and has an argument for selection in that he was for a time NPB’s career saves leader. He and Hall of Famer Kazuhiro Sasaki were really the first two Japanese closers who were effective year after year at a relatively high level. They were both eventually surpassed by Hitoke Iwase, but their achievements still deserve some recognition.

The experts division, however, is more interesting. Last year’s runner-up with 64.7 percent of the 75 percent needed for induction was slugging Hanshin Tigers catcher Koichi Tabuchi. Right behind him, however, was Tigers first baseman and two-time triple crown winner Randy Bass.

I’ve written about Bass a bit. His career profile would have been better had he played in Japan longer, but he had to return to America when his child needed cancer treatment and that was that.

In my book, Venezuelan first basemen Roberto Petagine and Alex Cabrera had better careers in Japan than Bass, but neither were particularly well-liked by the media, almost a prerequisite for selection by baseball writers. Tom O’Malley, too, probably had a better career here, but the likable Bass’ claim to fame as the MVP on a historic franchise’s first Japan Series championship team — and two triple crowns — carries more cache.

By my count, Tabuchi is the third greatest catcher to ever play in Japan, behind Hall of Famer Katsuya Nomura and the recently retired Shinnosuke Abe. I also think Tabuchi is the second-best candidate on the expert’s division ballot. The best, and I have him as the second greatest third baseman of all time, is yet another Tiger, Masayuki Kakefu.

Kakefu was a distant third in last year’s ballot. Behind Tabuchi’s 64.7 percent and Bass’ 63.2 percent, Kakefu mustered only 30.8. But if Bass and Tabuchi go in this year, Kakefu is sure to shoot up in the voting.

My ballot for 2020

My ballot, in the order I believe they deserve to go in is:

  1. Tuffy Rhodes
  2. Hiroki Kokubo
  3. Norihiro Nakamura
  4. Takuro Ishii
  5. Kenji Jojima
  6. Alex Ramirez
  7. Shingo Takatsu

Mind you, Tuffy was fond of saying about long home runs, “If they go in (the seats) that’s all that matters.”

Former all-star Saito back in the game

Saito Arizona
Takashi Saito in Peoria, Arizona, in March.

Takashi Saito, who finished his pro career in 2015 with his hometown team, Sendai’s Rakuten Eagles, will be back in Japanese baseball next season after spending the past three seasons working with the San Diego Padres.

The 39-year-old will serve as pitching coach for the Yakult Swallows, who will be managed by another former big league reliever, Shingo Takatsu. Until that news surfaced last month, it seemed Saito was on track for something bigger, a top job in a front office either here or in the majors because he thinks big.

In March, I spoke with Saito at the Padres’ spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona, where he talked about growing up in baseball and his ideas to grow the game.

“I do want to return. I want to be an agent for positive change in as many areas as I can, making use of the things I’ve learned in America,” Saito said. “It wouldn’t have to be in pro baseball. If they let me be commissioner, I’d do it. Whatever I am qualified for.”

“I started playing ball when I was seven, in the second grade of elementary school, but I grew up in a home surrounded by baseball. My father coached youth ball, and both of my older brothers played.”

“My home was really close to the ballpark. Sendai was Lotte’s second home along with Kawasaki. I was a member of their children’s fan club, ‘The Bubble Boys.’ I could ride my bicycle to the stadium. When the games ended we could go on the field. It was so much fun.”

Although he made his mark in baseball on the mound, Saito didn’t become a pitcher until his second year at Sendai’s Tohoku Fukushi University. He spent 14 years in NPB with Yokohama until the team discarded the injured right-hander. In 2006, he went to spring camp with the Los Angeles Dodgers and wound up as their closer and a National League all-star after an injury to his predecessor, Eric Gagne.

He returned to Japan with the Eagles in 2013 and was the winning pitcher in relief in Game 7 of the 2013 Japan Series.

On setting standards to protect youth players’ health

With various youth bodies in Japan either setting limits on pitchers or considering them in order to protect young shoulders and elbows, Saito said a fight is inevitable between reformers and the old guard but that it is a necessary battle.

“Nobody wants a battle, but it is something we can’t walk away from,” he said. “Ideally, we should protect the health of kids so that they can aspire to play at a higher level.”

“To go back to the issue of pitch counts, there is a huge difference between guys like me, with little pitching experience through high school, and those boys who pitch from junior high aiming to play (in the national high school championship finals) at Koshien Stadium. Because everyone is different, one set of rules is not practical for everyone.”

“Instead, I’d like to see a medical solution. Have every prefecture or city set standards, have doctors orthopedic surgeons examine the boys and set limits. So boys will have sets of restrictions placed upon them based on how physically developed they are. The focus needs to be on health. After that, the competition will take care of itself.”

Saito said that while the national high school federation has opposed pitch limits, it takes no responsibility for players’ health.

“If players get hurt, get hit by a ball, the federation should help with those costs, but they don’t. If players get hurt in their competition, they turn their backs. This is also wrong. If the federation is opposed to pitching limits, say 100 pitches, then it should be held accountable. The federation insists on its rights but doesn’t accept responsibility.”

“These authorizing bodies and that includes schools and the education establishment, insist on their right to enforce even the most trivial rules, but if there is a problem, then they tell you, ‘You’re on your own. The law is on our side.’ It is so Japanese. It’s like they are feudal fiefdoms.”

Leveling the playing field, literally

On the subject of what Japanese baseball and American baseball can learn from each other, Saito said the question is complicated by hardware infrastructure differences.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say I watch major league games every day. Their fields are different in size (from Japanese) the mounds are different. That’s the hardware,” he said. “If we standardize the mounds, the balls, the hardware, then we can talk about adapting or modifying things.”

Unfortunately, he said, Japan has serious issues with the concept of standardization.

“If you look at this problem from a Japanese perspective, you realize how hard it becomes. In Japan, amateur baseball lumps the corporate leagues in with elementary school, junior high school and high school leagues, but they are really professionals.”

“Although pro ballplayers’ salaries are paid by teams that are really just subsidiaries of their parent companies. So while there is a large difference in their salaries, there is really no difference between pro and corporate league ballplayers. They are all professionals. Yet, the rules that apply to corporate leaguers are the same as those applied to little kids.”

On the meaning of Koshien

Saito is one of the few people in Japanese baseball to question the relevance of the national high school tournament.

“The teams that go to Koshien get no financial reward in return,” he said. “You’d like them to get something, even if it was just the money needed to buy one new ball. Corporate leaguers are the same. They can play in a big tournament, but there’s no prize money.”

“Without that, one has to wonder what is the purpose of such tournaments. What is the purpose of school baseball clubs? Who are they really for? The kids who make it to Koshien realize their dreams. Everyone else’s dreams are crushed.”

On the manners of Japanese baseball culture

“There are differences in culture, and in education, that produce those kinds of players, with extremely good manners (in Japan),” he said. “Companies say they want former players because of their manners. That says something about Japan. At first, whether one can do a job or not is less important than your ability to greet someone, say the president, formally. That carries a lot of weight.”

On an Asian winter meetings

“These are absolutely necessary. I want baseball people in Asia to look at the winter meetings in America. I want them to realize the potential of what they themselves can contribute (through building baseball) in Asia.

“Asian winter meetings could have a huge economic benefit for Asia, if you imagine all the (baseball-related) products made in Asia on display. Let’s say you have a rundown ballpark in Toyama Prefecture. And you need a new backstop net, and someone quotes you a price of 100 million yen, well you know that (with a better marketplace) someone could do the same thing much more cheaply, say for a fifth of that.”

“That’s a big part of what the winter meetings are, a place to build a marketplace, not just a market for trading players, but a place for people to learn about goods and services. And if people are trying to work in Japanese baseball, they could find job openings there. This is absolutely necessary, but also something Japanese teams are never going to get behind.”