Tag Archives: Shogo Akiyama

NPB games, news of Aug. 20, 2019

This is the start of Japanese baseball’s ugly “magic season.” It almost started after the all-star break, but the Yomiuri Giants prevented that by losing a bunch of games.

Tonight’s story from the Lions-Fighters game at MetLife Dome wasn’t about Shogo Akiyama but rather that the Lions’ win prevented the SoftBank Hawks’ magic number “lamp from being lit.”

Bad magic

The magic number in NPB is defined, not as the number of games one needs to clinch the pennant. It is that, of course, but that would be too simple for a nation where baseball is not really baseball unless it’s really, really anal retentive.

A Japanese magic number is much more. It is the number of games you have to win (or your nearest rival has to lose) for you to clinch the pennant, provided — and here’s the kicker — none of your wins come against that closest competitor. That last qualification decides when your magic number will appear. On occasion, teams needing to beat that team to win, will win a pennant without ever having a magic number at all.

The thing about the ugly magic season is that few teams are actually eliminated from contention in August, and nobody clinches, so newspapers waste a whole lot of copy inches writing about magic number lore, precedents and you name it. The earliest magic number in franchise history? You betcha.

And if the second-place team drops down in the standings, and is replaced by a team with more games against the leading pennant contender, then the magic number can vanish, prompting even more dumb stories from the nation’s ubiquitous sports dailies.

And now for something completely different: baseball.

Pacific League

Lions 4, Fighters 2

At MetLife Dome, on the day Shogo Akiyama qualified to file for international free agency this offseason, he singled in two runs to overturn a 1-0 deficit and give Seibu the lead in a win over Nippon Ham.

Zach Neal (7-1) only struck out one batter over six innings, but retired nine-straight batters at one stretch and six more at another to allow just a run on Haruki Nishikawa’s first-inning leadoff homer.

Bryan Rodriguez (6-4) started and went five innings, allowing two runs, one earned, as Nippon Ham seems to be giving Mizuki Hori a rest from his duties as opener.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 7, Eagles 3

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Ayumu Ishikawa (4-5) was his vintage self, striking out 11 over eight innings, while Takayuki Kishi (2-4) was misfiring, allowing three runs over 6-2/3 innings in Rakuten’s loss to Lotte.

Central League

Giants 2, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, Yoshihiro Maru powered Yomiuri’s offense in the first inning, singling in Hayato Sakamoto with the game’s first run, moving to third on a fly out and scoring on a delayed double steal in a win over Chunichi.

Sakamoto’s first-inning double and Maru’s single represented the total of the Giants’ scoring opportunities through eight innings, the first seven against veteran lefty Yudai Ono (7-7). Giants starter Cristopher Mercedes (8-6) loaded the bases in the first with no outs, and left in the sixth with two on and no outs, but allowed just one run to earn the win.

Rubby De La Rosa earned his fifth save for the Giants after facing four batters in the ninth and striking out two.

Tigers 8, BayStars 0

At Kyocera Dome, DeNA walked Koji Chikamoto with two outs and two on in the fifth inning to load the bases, only for starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi (6-5) walked Seiya Kinami to open the scoring. Kosuke Fukudome followed with a three-run double to seal Hanshin’s win.

Tigers starter Koyo Aoyagi (6-8) struck out eight over 5-2/3 innings, including two back-to-back to escape a one-out, bases-loaded pickle in the second.

Jefry Marte iced the game in the seventh for Hanshin with a two-run home run.

Game highlights are HERE.

Carp 9, Swallows 8

At Mazda Stadium, Seiya Suzuki’s three-run ninth-inning homer off David Huff (1-3) tied it for Hiroshima, and Takumi Miyoshi singled in the winning run as Yakult blew a three-run ninth-inning lead.

Yakult appeared to have the game sown up after two-run, eighth-inning homers by Tetsuto Yamada and Yuhei Takai.

Japan’s favorite game

Shogo Akiyama, center, appears set to follow teammate Kazuo Matsui (left) to the majors.

Shogo Akiyama demonstrated Monday that he knows the game, not baseball, but Japan’s tradition of avoiding what you mean so that others will imply your intent without the necessity of being blunt or confrontational.

“All I can say (about playing in the major leagues in 2020) is that the possibility is not zero.”

–Seibu Lions center fielder Shogo Akiyama

This linguistic genre, known as “tatemae” is akin to lip service on steroids. It would be an exaggeration to say that Japan runs on tatemae, but not by much.

When Akiyama’s Seibu Lions teammate, Yusei Kikuchi was asked on Oct. 21 what he planned to do after the Lions announced they would post the pitcher, Kikuchi stuck his hands in his pockets and said, “Shucks guys. I’ve never given much thought to playing in the majors,” or something to that extent.

Despite this disclaimer, a source close to Akiyama has since disclosed that the lefty had been planning the move for years. This effort includes studying English every week, testing out a two-seam fastball in 2016, and hiring a pitching analysis company this year to help him improve his pitches in anticipation of such a move.

On Dec. 3 Akiyama refused a long term deal with the Lions that would have kept him in Japan’s Pacific League through 2021 and prevented him from exercising his option to file for international free agency next autumn. Since then, it has been a kind of open secret that he has the majors in his sights.

And though it appeared Akiyama might avoid the issue altogether, he proved in the end that he might too blunt to remain in Japan, when he clarified his position directly.

“I’ll need to put up decent numbers or its no dice. If I have something left to prove here, then I can’t really go to the majors,” he said.

My favorite story of Japan’s of linguistic two step is from 1999, when Kazuhiro Sasaki spoke to reporters at the Yokohama BayStars’ minor league facility in the waning days of the season. It was widely expected that Japan’s leading closer would file for free agency and bolt for the majors at the first opportunity — which he did.

“How do you respond when scouts say you could be the best closer in baseball,” I asked Sasaki, who answered that he was happy to hear such talk but had never given free agency a thought.

“It’s something I’ll have to think about going forward,” he said.

Two days later, the front page of Japan’s Nikkan Sports said, “Sasaki to be free agent.” The day after, it was “Sasaki headed for majors.”

A year ago, I asked Hiroshima Carp second baseman Yusei Kikuchi if he had any interest in the majors. His answer, “I’m not the kind of player who succeeds over there.”

This summer I asked the same question.

“Oh yes. I’d like to go. I’ve been training in America in the offseason, and I can’t wait.”

So I don’t want to say Akiyama IS going, but I will say the chance of his staying is not quite zero.