Sit back, relax, sip on (or gulp down) a nice, cold beverage. NPB is on hiatus for a month to accommodate the 32nd Olympic Games. First, though, let’s recap the week of professional baseball in Japan…
Monday: The Hanshin Tigers were riding a 20-inning shutout streak, and it looked as though they would stretch it to 21 when they found themselves down 3-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. But five straight singles helped them escape from the clutches of death and defeat the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, 4-3, at Koshien Stadium.
Tuesday: Entering play on this day, the Yakult Swallows were 2-7-1 on the year against the Yomiuri Giants. No one could have predicted what would happen these two days. First, they swatted seven home runs (two apiece from Munetaka Murakami and Domingo Santana, one each from Jose Osuna, Taisei Yoshida, Tetsuto Yamada) en route to 14-6 drubbing of Giants. As a follow-up, they only hit one home run (Osuna) on Wednesday, but scored 11 runs to topple the Giants again, bringing themselves to within a half-game of the second-place Giants at the all-star and Olympic break.
Wednesday: In other Central League action, two Samurai Japan pitchers flexed their muscles in their final regular-season game before the Olympics. Hiroshima Carp sophomore starter Masato Morishita threw eight innings of shutout ball (five hits, no walks, five strikeouts) and his closer, rookie Ryoji Kuribayashi, threw a clean ninth to give their team a 2-0 win over the Chunichi Dragons.
The current standings in the CL are as follows (games behind in parentheses):
Tigers / Giants (2) / Swallows (2.5) / Dragons (12.5) / Carp (13.5) / Baystars (14)
The Pacific League standings look like this heading into the break:
Buffaloes / Eagles (1.5) / Marines (2.5) / Hawks (4) / Lions (6.5) / Fighters (10)
Thursday: The NPB version of All-Star Futures Game, called the Fresh All-Star Game, took place in Matsuyama (Ehime Prefecture), and featured the best young talent from the Eastern League defeating the top players in the Western League, 3-1. To be fair, the Eastern is composed of seven teams versus five for the Western, due to the geographical imbalance in team locations. (Every NPB team has a second squad, most of which play reasonably nearby their top squad club.) Swallows 19-year-old catcher Soma Uchiyama won the MVP award with a leadoff home run in the top of the third.
Friday: As you may be aware, NPB does a two-game all-star weekend, with both games played in a different city. In Tokorozawa (home of the Saitama Seibu Lions), the Pacific League opened up an early three-run lead, lost it in the sixth inning on a Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp) two-run home run. They would tie it an inning later, but ultimately, the Central plated the winning run on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth. Final Score: CL 5, PL 4. MVP: Kikuchi
Saturday: Before the game, the two-day home run derby ended in an exciting fashion with Masataka Yoshida (Buffaloes) earning himself a cool million yen. The eight-man tournament started on Friday with Hotaka Yamakawa (Lions) advancing to face the winner of the Saturday tournament block winner. Yoshida and Yamakawa were tied through “regulation” (two minutes of dingers), forcing an already fatigued Yoshida to swing his stick for another minute. He came out on top, hitting the winning homer with under 10 seconds to go.
The game itself was played in Sendai (home of the Rakuten Eagles), so it was fitting that Eagles outfielder Hiroaki Shimauchi hit the game-winning RBI double in the bottom of the eighth, giving the PL its revenge. Scoring the winning run was another Eagle, Hiroto Kobukata, and despite giving up two runs in the top of the inning, Eagles’ reliever Chia-Hao Sung was the winning pitcher. Final Score: PL 4, CL 3. MVP: Shimauchi
That’s all for now, folks. We’ll check in with you again in two weeks’ time during the Olympics!