Though there are still more than 25 games left in the 2021 season, the pennant races are getting extremely heated. The three Central League playoff teams are a foregone conclusion, but the order is far from decided. Meanwhile, the Pacific League sees the current dynasty team on the outside looking in, but still within striking distance of the postseason. Here is what went down this past week.
The Chunichi Dragons defeated the Yakult Swallows 1-0, and the game’s controversial ending had Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu steaming. You can check the video below for the play itself, but suffice to know that the umpire did not indicate that the force out at second happened, which resulted in a game-ending double play. After over 15 minutes of protesting, Takatsu and his team left the field disappointed.
Softbank Hawks ace Kodai Senga threw a gem for his team but still came out on the losing end. His 13 strikeouts after seven innings of work were only enough for a tie game, and he gave up a two-out, bases-loaded two-RBI single to Chiba Lotte Marines designated hitter Brandon Laird. The Marines won 3-1 and currently have a 3.5-game lead on the Orix Buffaloes atop the PL.
The Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama DeNA Baystars exchanged blows all night in a battle of two of the top-hitting teams in NPB. The visiting Baystars dropped a three-spot on the Giants in the top of the first, but captain Hayato Sakamoto replied with a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth. The clubs exchanged single runs in the sixth and eighth, and the Baystars put one final run up in the top of the ninth… but the hosts got four singles and a walk off closer Kazuki Mishima, and got the walk-off win on a Kazuma Okamoto sacrifice fly. Giants win 7-6 and currently sit in third.
The Orix Buffaloes have fallen into a bit of a funk and are feeling the loss of top hitter Masataka Yoshida. They got worse news on the weekend, as front-end starter Taichi Yamaoka had surgery on his elbow. They stopped the bleeding some on this night, scoring two runs on an eighth-inning home run from Yutaro Sugimoto, earning themselves a 3-1 over the third-place Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The lone game (an incoming typhoon canceled two outdoor games) saw the Yakult Swallows trounce the Yomiuri Giants, 8-2 at Tokyo Dome. They hit three home runs (Domingo Santana, Tetsuto Yamada and Yasutaka Shiomi with a grand slam) as they padded their lead in the standings over the Giants
Three pitchers had absolutely outstanding outings to lead their teams to victory: Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Buffaloes threw eight innings of shutout ball, fanning 11 in a 4-0 victory over the Saitama Seibu Lions at Kyocera Dome Osaka. Hanshin Tigers’ lefty Haruto Takahashi threw seven innings of shutout ball, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits as his team edged Yudai Ohno and the Dragons 1-0 at Koshien Stadium. Finally, Drew Verhagen of the Nippon-Ham Fighters threw six innings of one-hit baseball, sitting down 10 batters as his team defeated the Marines 1-0 at Sapporo Dome. Also making headlines on this date was Yasutaka Shiomi of the Swallows, who hit for the cycle against the Giants. The teams fought to a 6-6 draw.
The Swallows managed a happy ending to their week, though. Munetaka Murakami became the youngest NPB player ever to reach 100 career home runs, deposting one in right-field bleachers at Meiji Jingu Stadium and helping his team to a 5-1 win over the Hiroshima Carp. He is just 21 years 7 months of age. It will be fun to see how quickly he gets to the 200 mark. But probably weighing more heavily on his mind right now is his team’s quest to win the Central League pennant. They currently trail the Tigers by 1.5 games.
Marines (3-1-1), Baystars (3-1), Eagles (3-1), Swallows (3-1-2)
Lions (1-3-1), Hawks (0-3-1), Carp (1-3)