On Saturday in Japan, Orix’s Elmore Leonard gang stole the Lions lunch money, while Munetaka Murakami continues to swing for the fences and beyond.
The home run was Murakami’s 148th, moving him past Kazuhiro Kiyohara on the list of career home runs by a 22-year-old. He is now second on the list and 30 behind Kiyohara for career homers by a 23-year-old, and third behind Kiyohara (212) and Sadaharu Oh (180) for career homers by a 24-year-old.
If you want a refresher course on every overgeneralization attributed to Japanese baseball, have a listen to Ben Verlander does Japanese baseball. Verlander is currently in Japan marveling at the game we know and love, and I guess it’s kind of fun to remember what it was like the first time we saw it.
Let’s get to the games shall we?
Buffaloes 6, Lions 0: At Seibu Dome, the Lions got run over by the 8:20 to Yuma, as the Elmore Leonard gang, Yuma Mune and Yuma Tongu, rode again to back the eight shutdown innings from Hiroya Miyagi (8-6), lifting the defending champs to within 1-1/2 games of the first-place Lions.
The Chunichi Dragons beat the Hanshin Tigers in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel on Saturday afternoon at Nagoya Dome, but the real story was not the tight pitching but the seventh-inning high school-style offense that produced the winning run.
Masataka Iryo, 30-year-old reserve outfielder, drove in the run off Yuki Nishi (2-2) who took the loss for his strong seven-inning effort.
Dragons right-hander Akiyoshi Katsuno allowed four hits, two by Jerry Sands, and two walks. After he was gone, lefty Hiroto Fuku, and right-handers Daisuke Sobue and Raidel Martinez were all lights out. But the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was that seventh inning.
Nobumasa Fukuda did the hard work with a leadoff single and was replaced by a pinch-hitter. That’s when the story really really began. Takaya Ishikawa, the Dragons’ 19-year-old slugging rookie infielder sacrificed.
“There it is, his first career sacrifice bunt,” the TV announcer crowed. Ishikawa hasn’t homered yet, and as excited as he was, it seemed like a sacrifice was the next best thing. Ishikawa admitted that he hadn’t bunted in a game since elementary school although he does practice bunting.
Dragons captain Shuhei Takahashi, who rejoined the team earlier than expected after suffering a hamstring strain two weeks earlier, hit behind the runner to advance him to third.
Iryo’s sharp grounder into the hole was grabbed by shortstop Seiya Kinami, who had no play at first, but Iryo did what Japanese players with a surplus of fighting spirit are expected to do: he went into the bag head first in a “spirited slide.”
New import Joe Gunkel, who entered the season in the Tigers starting rotation, returned to the team after suffering back stiffness and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.
The ultimate sacrifice
Thirty years or so back, no Japanese baseball broadcast was complete without a bizarre liturgy regarding the sacrifice bunt. Whenever a bunting situation came up, the analyst and announcer would talk about how extremely difficult it is to get a bunt down, about the skill required and the challenges one needs to overcome.
This was a setup, of course, and similar to the kind of things former first baseman say whenever someone refers to their old position as less challenging.
The purpose is to heap praise on bunters. The irony is that whenever a player failed to execute a routine bunt–which seconds before had been treated as baseball’s ultimate challenge–the former player serving as an analyst would attack the hitter for his inability to execute the simplest of tasks.
It was a wonderful time to be a fan of Japanese baseball.
BayStars continue to rock
The DeNA BayStars continued to play like they are on a mission on Saturday in a 6-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Yokohama Stadium.
Following widespread criticism of manager Alex Ramirez for his willingness to keep Jose Lopez in the lineup and Keita Sano in the cleanup spot, the BayStars’s offense has been dynamite, scoring 21 runs over the last three games with Lopez and Sano doing much of the heavy lifting.
Sano and Lopez each had two hits and an RBI, while Tyler Austin doubled twice, walked and scored two runs for the BayStars.
Lefty Shota Imanaga (3-2) allowed two runs, one earned over six innings. Lefty Edwin Escobar struck out four over two scoreless innings and struggling closer Yasuaki Yamasaki worked a 1-2-3 ninth after not pitching the last two days.
Tomo Otosaka, batting for Imanaga in the sixth, hit a three-run pinch-hit home run.
Kawabata saves Swallows’ blushes
Shingo Kawabata, the injury-prone veteran infielder who won the Central League’s batting title in 2015, came off the bench in the ninth inning to stroke a sayonara single, lifting the Yakult Swallows to a 6-5 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa allowed three runs over seven innings, but rookie setup man Noboru Shimizu surrendered a run in the eighth, and closer Taishi Ishiyama blew the one-run save before stranding three Giants base runners.
Norichika Aoki hit a two-run homer in the first off former Giants closer Hirokazu Sawamura, drew three walks and doubled to open the ninth, when he was pulled for a pinch-runner.
Sawamura was an emergency starter in place of Angel Sanchez, who complained of discomfort in his right shoulder prior to the game.
Had the game ended 5-5, it would have been the Swallows third 5-5 tie in four games.
Yoshihiro Maru homered twice for the Giants
Nakata blast completes Fighters comeback
Sho Nakata’s three-run home run broke a 6-6 seventh-inning tie as the Nippon Ham Fighters came back from an early 6-0 deficit to beat the SoftBank Hawks at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Ryoya Kurihara belted a first-inning grand slam off former Cleveland Indians farmhand Toru Murata, and Hawks starter Shuta Ishikawa allowed three runs over six innings, but the Hawks bullpen proved uncharacteristically vulnerable.
Taneichi blanks Lions for 1st career shutout
Lotte Marines right-hander Atsuki Taneichi (3-1) struck out 10, while walking four in a four-hit shutout in a 5-0 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome that was a scoreless game through six innings.
Lions starter Keisuke Honda (0-2) allowed a run in six-plus innings to take the loss. A walk and a stolen base by pinch-runner Hiromi Oka set up Lotte’s Hisanori Yasuda to drive in the opening run.
Yasuda, a 21-year-old left-handed-hitting corner infielder, was the Marines’ top draft pick in 2018. The rookie seems to hit one or two rockets every game. The Marines broke the game open in a four-run eighth off right-hander Tetsu Miyagawa, the Lions’ top draft pick last autumn.
Mune’s inside the parker sparks Buffs in 9th
Yuma Mune’s ninth-inning drive to the fence in right went for an inside-the-park home run, snapping a 3-3 tie for the Orix Buffaloes, who finished the night with a 6-3 win over the Rakuten Eagles at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Eagles right fielder Jabari Blash leaped to try and catch Mune’s drive off Eagles closer Kohei Morihara, but hit the wall awkwardly and was unable to give chase immediately while the speedy Buffalo circled the bases.
Buffaloes lefty Daiki Tajima allowed three runs over seven innings, while Eagles southpaw Takahiro Shiomi held the Buffaloes to a run over six innings.
The visitors took a 3-2 lead in the seventh against former Lion and Padre submariner Kazuhisa Makita. Aderlin Rodriguez opened with a home run to tie it.
With two outs and runners on the corners, the Buffaloes finally executed a play that has backfired on them twice over the past few games, the delayed double steal, with Mune scoring the go-ahead run on what might have been the biggest home plate collision in Japanese baseball since they were outlawed in 2016.
Catcher Yuichi Adachi crossed into Mune’s path to catch the ball, which struck the runner. Mune was ruled safe, and would have been ruled safe even if a tag had been made since NPB prohibits players from obstructing the baseline even with the ball in hand.
Tajima, however, surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the inning, setting up the thrilling finish. Brandon Dickson worked the ninth for Orix, earning his fifth save.
Dragons recall Takahashi, Carp drop Osera
The Chunichi Dragons activated their captain, Shuhei Takahashi on Saturday, while the Hiroshima Carp have deactivated ace right-hander Daichi Osera.
Takahashi suffered a mild left hamstring strain on July 11.
The 29-year-old was pulled after two innings from the Carp’s game on Friday in Yokohama due to an “accident” a catch-all phrase that could include any kind of incident or injury.
The Carp said later only that his “condition was not good.”
Osera threw a 116-pitch complete game on Opening Day and a 132-pitch complete game seven days later in a lop-sided win. Since then, he has surrendered 10 runs on 24 hits and six walks over 19 innings.
Meanwhile, the Seibu Lions have activated Venezuelan slugger Ernesto Mejia for the first time this season.