Most of NPB took Monday through Thursday of last week off, but we still have plenty to talk about! I hear that Shohei Ohtani is a pretty good baseball player.
The wunderkind out of Iwate prefecture has had a week for the history books:
June 16 = home run; June 17 = home run + stolen base, June 18 = 6 IP 1 R 5 K (W), June 19 = 2 home runs, June 20 = home run, June 21 = home run.
It was also a history-making week in NPB, with reliever Kaima Taira (Seibu Lions) playing his 34th game since Opening Day and still not having a run on his tab! He did walk home an inherited runner on Sunday, though, which dampened his spirits a little, but I think we can give him a mulligan.
Also happening right now (9:30 pm on Monday): the Orix Buffaloes have moved into sole possession of first place in the Pacific League. They defeated the Rakuten Eagles 4-3, which snapped the tie atop the standings. Against all odds (though truthfully, their rotation is finally getting attention for what it has been doing for a few years now), the Buffaloes are now 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, with their last loss coming on June 5 against the Chunichi Dragons.
Unfortunately, the biggest news story of the week is not a happy one, particularly for Yomiuri Giants fans. Their second import signing of the past offseason has left the club and is heading back to America. Justin Smoak cited frustration of being away from his family during the pandemic as his reason for requesting a release from the Giants, the team announced on Thursday. New NPB players were issued visas to enter Japan before the season started (or in some cases, after it had begun), but the government did not extend the exception to their families, which has left many players living alone. For Smoak, who signed with the Giants in part due to his interest in giving his daughters a chance to experience Japan, the reality that his family could not come this year was too much to handle.
Perhaps in response to this incident, or perhaps orchestrated in advance, the Seibu Lions made a special video for its import players (Zach Neal, Reed Garrett, Matt Dermody, Cory Spangenberg and Ernesto Mejia) and showed it on the big screen at Met Life Dome on Father’s Day. Fans, team executives, teammates, and the imports’ families appeared in the video, thanking them for the sacrifice they have made by coming out to Japan. The players were especially moved when they saw their families on the screen, with some even tearing up. Classy, heartwarming video, Lions.
Happy Father’s Day to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans!