A funny thing happened this week. The Yakult Swallows moved into first place in the Central League while playing like pennant contenders but without their manager acting like they are.Continue reading NPB wrap 9-23-21
We waited an extra day for the showdown between the Pacific League’s top two teams, the Orix Buffaloes and Rakuten Eagles, and we get a tie. There are days when I wonder why they even play.
The Marines and Hawks each won, pushing third-place Lotte a half-game back of the Eagles with SoftBank another half-game further back in fourth.
The Yomiuri Giants were the sole winners among the Central League’s top teams, moving them one game behind the leading Hanshin Tigers, who lost, and one ahead of the Yakult Swallows, who tied.
Sugano, Gunkel return to mound
Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano was named to start Yomiuri’s game on Thursday against the Hiroshima Carp, the first time he’ll take the mound with the first team in nearly two months. On July 2, the right-hander was deactivated for the fourth time this season.
On Aug. 19, Sugano allowed a run over four innings on the farm in a game in which he hit 150 kph (93 mph), and has been working out with the first team at Tokyo Dome this week.
Meanwhile, Hanshin’s Joe Gunkel, who last pitched on July 14, when he suffered his only loss of the season, will get the start for the Tigers on Thursday against the DeNA BayStars. Gunkel (6-1, 2.47) allowed three runs over five innings in his last outing, also against DeNA, when he suffered his only loss of the season.
In Wednesday’s other news
The Orix Buffaloes have signed former Padres and Mexico right-hander Cesar Vargas, while the Seibu Lions have handed a one-month suspension to rookie pitcher Ken Sasaki for violating the team’s coronavirus safety protocols.
Live chat with former NPB star Leon Lee
Monday, Aug. 30, 11 am Japan; Sunday, Aug. 29, 7 pm Pacific Daylight Time.
Lee, who played 1,255 games over 10 years in Japan from 1978 to 1987 for the Lotte Orions, the Taiyo Whales, and Yakult Swallows. In addition to his accomplishments, Lee is a keen observer with a knack for explaining complicated things simply.
Bring your questions and enjoy.
Exclusive for jballallen.com and newsletter subscribers.
Giants 5, Carp 3
At Tokyo Dome, Kazuma Okamoto broke a 3-3 eighth-inning tie with a two-run home run, his Japan-best 31st as Yomiuri twice came from behind to beat Hiroshima, with Thyago Vieira recording his 14th save in the ninth and tying a team record, set by lefty Kyosuke Takagi in 2012, with his 29th consecutive scoreless appearance.
Hiroshima’s Shogo Sakakura opened the scoring with a two-out RBI single, and Zelous Wheeler tied it by drawing a two-out bases-loaded walk on a borderline 3-2 pitch from rookie Shogo Tamamura in the home half.
After three hits in the first, the Carp repeated the feat in the second, with Tamamura doubling in two with his first extra-base hit as he drilled a fastball to the gap in right.
Hayato Sakamoto, who singled and scored in the first, singled again in the third and scored on Okamoto’s second hit, a double. Wheeler then doubled in Okamoto, who finished a triple shy of the cycle.
BayStars 10, Tigers 2
At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Shugo Maki didn’t finish a triple shy of the cycle. The DeNA rookie shanked a fly down the line in right that bounced around in the corner, allowing him to reach third with his third career triple.
Tigers rookie Masashi Ito (6-6, 3.08) allowed five runs in three innings, his briefest outing yet, while Shinichi Onuki (4-5, 4.97) allowed two runs, one earned over six innings in which he struck out nine, walked two and allowed three hits.
Onuki pitched out of a two-out, two-on jam in the first by striking out rookie Teruaki Sato, and then gave himself the lead when he singled in two runs in the top of the second.
Toshiro Miyazaki, who singled and scored in the second, singled in the third to put two on for Maki, who made it 5-0 with his 14th home run.
Takumu Nakano singled in two for the Tigers in the third, but the BayStars scored three more in the fourth against Yukiya Saito, Hanshin’s second pitcher. A two-out Keita Sano infield single and two walks loaded the bases. Maki singled in two runs, and catcher Hikaru Ito singled in another.
Swallows 3, Dragons 3
At Shizuoka’s Kusanagi Stadium, Chunichi small-balled its way to a tie, coming from behind on a ninth-inning manufactured run to spoil what would have been an old-timer’s day win for Yakult.
Trailing by a run in the ninth, the Dragons scored against closer Scott McGough on a leadoff single, a sacrifice, a groundout to second and a wild pitch before Chunichi closer Raidel Martinez worked a 1-2-3 ninth to get no save, no hold and no nothing.
The run spoiled a potential win for 41-year-old lefty Masanori Ishikawa, after the Swallows rallied from a run down following a pinch-hit walk by 39-year-old Seiichi Uchikawa and a two-run RBI single by 39-year-old Norichika Aoki.
And just to show the Dragons were not practicing age discrimination, 44-year-old Kosuke Fukudome robbed Aoki of a first-inning single with a diving catch and drew a walk that contributed to Chunichi’s two-run second inning.
Chunichi starter Takahiro Matsuba allowed three runs, two earned, over 4-2/3 innings. The Dragons loaded the bases in the second with no outs, on a hit batsman, an Ariel Martinez single and a Fukudome walk. Two runs scored when third baseman Munetaka Murakami failed to stop a sharp grounder from Naomichi Donoue, but Ishikawa retired the next three batters to keep the game close.
The Swallows halved Matsuba’s lead in the fourth on a one-out Tetsuto Yamada single and a Jose Osuna double, before rallying to take the lead in the fifth.
Hawks 6, Lions 1
At MetLife Dome, Kodai Senga (2-1, 6.28) allowed two hits over seven innings. He walked six and struck out nine but did not allow a hit until one out in the seventh. With the Hawks leading 3-0 in the fourth, the right-hander drew a full-house, walking three and striking out three in a scoreless inning.
Zach Neal (1-4, 4.64) allowed five runs over seven innings on nine hits, three walks and a hit batsman. Neal surrendered three runs after retiring the leadoff batter in the third. A hit batsman and a walk put two on, and Ryoya Kurihara was credited with an RBI single on a grounder that third Wu Nien-ting failed to come up with. Wu chased down the ball in foul territory and threw to the plate, allowing both runners to advance and score on an Alfredo Despaigne single.
Dariel Alvarez’s two-out bases-loaded infield single, on an 0-2 pitch he chased well outside the zone made it 4-0 in the fifth. Despaigne doubled home Yuki Yanagita in the seventh. Kenta Imamiya doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Eagles 2, Buffaloes 2
At Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, Hiroto Kobukata hit the first pitch from Orix’s Daiki Tajima for his third home run. The Buffaloes, got even on Yutaro Sugimoto’s 20th homer with one out in the second against rookie Takahisa Hayakawa.
Better defense would have spared the Buffaloes in the fourth. Luis Okoye singled on a hot shot to third that Yuma Mune couldn’t handle, and Tajima bobbled a sacrifice bunt to put two on with no outs. After a failed sacrifice, Kobukata fouled off three 3-2 pitches before lining a fastball down the pipe for his second RBI and a 2-1 lead.
Marines 7, Fighters 4
At Sapporo Dome, two-run sixth-inning homers from Kyota Fujiwara, his fifth, and Koki Yamaguchi, his sixth, brought Lotte from two runs down against Ryusei Kawano (2-3, 2.36).
Yusuke Azuma (1-0) who took over for Lotte starter Kazuya Ojima with one out and one in the fifth, earned the win after walking a batter and getting out of the inning with a double play to prevent the Fighters from expanding on their 3-1 lead.
Yuto Takahama drove in a run with the third of three Fighters first-inning singles. The Marines tied it in the fifth on two singles and a throwing error.
Ryusei Sato, acquired in a recent trade from the Lions, went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored three of the Fighters’ runs, while Lotte leadoff man Takashi Ogino doubled twice walked and scored a pair of runs.
Naoya Masuda, the sixth Marines pitcher, worked the ninth for his PL-leading 26th save.
Thursday’s starting pitchers
Eagles vs Buffaloes: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 5:45 pm, 4:45 am EDT
Giants vs Carp: Tokyo Dome 5:45 pm, 4:45 am EDT
Tigers vs BayStars: Kyocera Dome (Osaka) 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 8/25/2021