DeNA entered Sunday’s game a half-game behind Hanshin, whom they’d beaten 12 straight times at home. SoftBank was also going for a sweep over Orix at home in Fukuoka, and Seibu was doing the same against Rakuten in Sendai.
Deniers 5, Tigers 3: At Yokohama Stadium, Hiroto Saiki’s trouble with his command continued, but his pitches in the zone were hittable, and DeNA took advantage of him, scoring four runs off him, the first he’d allowed since giving up a run in 7-2/3 innings against Yomiuri on May 28.
Hanshin threatened a few times, and DeNA was lucky not to blow the lead in the seventh, when a well-struck ball off the bat of Yusuke Oyama off J.B. Wendelken was snagged at short for the second out with two on. Yasuaki Yamasaki earned his 17th save while Saiki’s record fell to 5-4.
On Tuesday, rookies took center stage in Hokkaido, while for 32-year-old Hideto Asamura had the kind of game we used to expect from him in past years, while Kaima Taira and Shuta Tonosaki led the Lions. The Central League’s games were all about pitching, with very little to separate the winners and losers.
On another note, I went on to the field for the first time prior to an official NPB game for the first time since Oct. 23, 2019 when the SoftBank Hawks completed their sweep of the Japan Series at Tokyo Dome.
MLB, South Korea’s KBO and Taiwan’s CPBL have all returned to their pre-pandemic pre- and postgame reporting norms, but Japan has been holding out, allowing teams to set their own COVID-19 restrictions on fans and reporters. Some teams have resumed letting fans on the field during batting practice so they can get up close to the players, while those same teams are still restricting reporters to the stands.
Reporting on the field
At Tokyo Dome on Tuesday, Seibu, hosted the SoftBank Hawks, who have been restricting their beat writers, to the stands and camera pen. The Lions side of the field was back to pre-pandemic normal. When I went to the SoftBank side, all the reporters were either still in the stands or in with the photographers, from where they were expected to talk to players.
I was allowed to stand on my own near the dugout until I started speaking to Kensuke Kondo. We were interrupted by a Hawks PR person who suggested I go over to where the other reporters were.
The Tokyo Sports Kisha Club, which organizes Japan’s pro baseball media, filed a complaint with NPB in 2021 and was told to mind its own business, but on May 8, Japan will officially downgrade COVID-19 to the status of a common cold, so it will be very interesting to see what restrictions remain.
I won’t be surprised if some teams want to hold out as long as they can to prevent reporters from loitering on the field where they can question everybody in uniform without the team’s permission.
BayStars 2, Giants 0: At Nagasaki, Kenta Ishida (2-1) allowed four singles, while striking out eight and walking none over eight innings, Neftali Soto’s bases-loaded RBI infield single broke up a scoreless game against Shosei Togo in the fourth.
Toshiro Miyazaki, who doubled in the fourth to contribute to the BayStars’ first run, singled in an eighth-inning insurance run after Keita Sano’s leadoff double, and Yasuaki Yamasaki retired three straight pinch-hitters in the ninth for his fourth save.
Lions 7, Hawks 3: At Tokyo Dome, Seibu erupted for four home runs while Kaima Taira (2-0) allowed a run over six innings on two hits by Ryoya Kurihara and four walks.
Ishikawa left in the fifth with one out and two one, but Tonosaki treated reliever Katsuki Matayoshi no less rudely, belting a three-run homer before Mark Payton’s third made it 7-1.
Swallows 2, Dragons 0: At Matsuyama, Chunichi created plenty of scoring opportunities but
Cy Sneed (3-0) stranded nine runners over six innings, while two catchable balls to Aristides Aquino in the first inning were not caught. One a routine fly to left, was charged an error, the second, to the warning track was ruled an RBI double for Munetaka Murakami.
Hideaki Wakui (0-3) only had one really tough inning, when the Swallows loaded the bases in the fourth, and got a run on a groundout. Instead, Sneed remained unbeaten in his career against the Dragons.
“Mucho (catcher Yuhei Nakamura) called a great game, we played pretty good defense and the bullpen did a fantastic job closing it out,” Sneed said. “Lot of runners on base today, but that’s where you have confidence in your catcher and in the fielders behind you and just keep trying to make good pitches.”
Jacob Waguespack (1-2) got two quick outs, but the game went south on a Yuma Tongu error that extended the inning and brought Asamura to the plate. He hit Waguespack’s second pitch for his first home run of the season. Waguespack walked Maikel Franco and Hitomi Honda allowed the runner on first to score on a single and two more walks.
Asamura’s two-out homer in the ninth sparked a two-run final inning.
Tigers 2, Carp 1: At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin’s Yuki Nishi (1-1) lost his shutout bid with two outs in the ninth when Ryan McBroom doubled home Ryosuke Kikuchi on a 2-2 pitch to put Hiroshima up 1-0, but picked up the win when the Ryoji Kuribayashi (0-2) blew the save opportunity.