The second-place Hanshin Tigers, playing in their 129th game, achieved something they hadn’t done since they won their lone Japan Series title in 1985, but it wasn’t enough to secure a sixth straight victory in their loss to the last-place DeNA BayStars.
While that was happening, the Central League-leading Yakult Swallows were no-hit at home through 8-1/3 innings by the third-place Yomiuri Giants, and Seiya Suzuki returned to the Hiroshima Carp lineup with wham and a bam in Nagoya.
Japan’s Central and Pacific Leagues finished the pre-Olympic portion of their season on Wednesday, and won’t emerge until after a 30-day hiatus on Aug. 13.
That’s when the Orix Buffaloes will start with a 1-1/2-game cushion over the Rakuten Eagles in pursuit of the franchise’s first pennant since Ichiro Suzuki led the BlueWave to the 1996 Japan Series pennant.
The Eagles ended their pre-Olympic funk with the kind of pitching performances we expected to see in May, back-to-back solid starts from Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday and Takayuki Kishi on Wednesday. Third place belongs to the Lotte Marines, 2-1/2 back. The Hawks, who had the misfortune of running into Tanaka and Kishi, are another 1-1/2 further back.
The Eagles, with their miss-firing offense, look like the team that doesn’t belong in that group of four, but that’s why they play the games.
The Yakult Swallows were the big gainer this week, proving they could indeed not only beat the Yomiuri Giants but occasionally grind them into mush. This happened while the DeNA BayStars took two out of three from the front-running Tigers. After that it’s all about fourth place.
BayStars 4, Tigers 3
At Koshien Stadium, DeNA ace Shota Imanaga (3-2) allowed a run over seven innings while striking out 10, went 2-for-3. The BayStars took a 2-0 lead against Joe Gunkel (6-1). Three straight no-out singles loaded the bases, but the visitors had to wait for leadoff man Masayuki Kuwahara’s two-out two-run single to break the ice.
Koji Chikamoto hit his sixth homer for the Tigers to make it a 2-1 game in the third, before Imanaga drove in the BayStars’ third run in, in the fourth. Toshiro Miyazaki hit his eighth home run for DeNA in the eighth.
Former closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, however, nearly blew the lead. Kento Itohara singled in one run and Jerry Sands drew a bases-loaded walk before Yoshiki Sunada saved the day by striking out Teruaki Sato. Closer Kazuki Mishima ended it in the ninth with his 16th save.
Giants 11, Swallows 7
At Tokyo Dome, Yakult continued to bash Yomiuri a day after hitting seven home runs. Tetsuto Yamada, Jose Osuna and Yuhei Nakamura each reached base five times. Yamada scored four runs, while Osuna homered, scored twice and drove in five runs.
Osuna also took a tumble into the camera pit next to the first-base dugout to catch a foul ball.
Giants starter Shun Yamaguchi and former Giant lefty Kazuto Taguchi each allowed four runs. Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto tied the game 4-4 with a two-run homer, his Japan-best 27th.
Albert Suarez, the Swallows’ second pitcher, worked two scoreless innings and earned the win after Osuna singled in the tie-breaking run. Through the first five innings, the game remained close as the Swallows stranded eight runners over the first four innings. Osuna changed that in the sixth, with a three-run homer, his ninth.
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima’s Olympic pitching duo, 2020 rookie of the year Masato Morishita (6-4) and rookie closer Ryoji Kuribayashi, combined for a five-hit shutout to outduel Yuya Yanagi (7-5), who struck out nine over seven innings while allowing one run.
Fighters 6, Buffaloes 2
At Obihiro Stadium, Nippon Ham’s Yuki Nomura drove in three runs, doubling in Yuto Takahama to open the scoring in the fourth, and bringing the Fighters from a run down in the sixth, when he singled in Takahama and Ryo Watanabe.
Orix starter Daiki Tajima (5-5), had been on a good run, having allowed just one run over his previous five starts. He gave up three runs on three walks and five hits over six innings while striking out seven. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes’ bullpen gave up three runs as soon as he was gone and Nippon Ham’s didn’t.
Takahama and Kensuke Kondo drove the Fighters’ offense reaching base seven times in eight PAs. Starter Takayuki Kato allowed four hits and no walks, but two hits to open the fifth by Adam Jones and Ryoichi Adachi cost him the lead and the win as both came home to score on sac flies.
Lions 8, Marines 3
At MetLife Dome, Seibu’s Kona Takahashi (8-4) allowed three runs, two earned, on four fourth-inning hits, while retiring the side in his other six innings. Takeya Nakamura doubled in a run in the third, before Wu Nien-ting capped that rally with a three-run home run, his seventh off Kazuya Ojima (5-3). Nakamura hit his ninth with a man on in the seventh, and Hotaka Yamakawa also hit a two-run shot, his 13th.
Eagles 4, Hawks 2
At Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, Rakuten’s Takayuki Kishi (4-6) delivered the kind of performance we’re accustomed to seeing, allowing two runs over six innings on five hits and two walks while striking out seven.
SoftBank starter Nao Higashihama (2-2) gave up a walk and three singles in a three-run first inning, and Hiroaki Shimauchi, whose RBI single broke the ice, hit his 12th home run in the third. Nobuhiro Masuda hit his 10th in the fifth with a man on.
Both bullpens allowed enough base runners to give both managers fits of the sweats until Yuki Matsui closed it out by striking out the side in the ninth to earn his 23rd save.