There were so many incredible things happening in NPB this past week that it is hard to put them all into such a short article. Instead of touching them all, we will look at just a few stories of major interest. We’ll start with players “touching them all” and finish with a pitching performance for the ages. Here are the top 5 stories of the week!
5) Starting and finishing with a round-tripper
Matt Shoemaker (Angels, etc.) made his first NPB start on Saturday for the Yomiuri Giants (10-5), and unfortunately, he gave up a run before many fans were in their seats. The first pitch he threw was sent into the stands by Yasutaka Shiomi of the Yakult Swallows (7-7). Fortunately, Shoemaker settled down (6.2 IP 5 H 3 BB 5 K 2 R 1 ER), and though he did not get the win, he witnessed something that had not happened in 52 years in NPB: both the first and last pitches of the game ended up in the stands. Pinch-hitter Soichiro Tateoka walked the game off with a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Giants a 3-2 win.
4) Making winning look hard
The Hanshin Tigers finished just .005 behind the Swallows last season, and many speculated that they would contend again in 2022, given that most of their core was still in place from the previous year. However, they rattled off nine straight losses to start this campaign, then won one, and have since failed to get back into the win column, losing one in extra innings (after being a strike from winning in nine), tying one, and then losing out the rest of the week. Their 1-12-1 record is easily the worst start in club history.
3) Covid keeps teams off the field
The Yokohama DeNA Baystars (5-5) beat the Tigers in extras on Wednesday but did not play the rest of the week because too many of their players contracted Covid-19. Including staff, no fewer than 18 people have tested positive for the virus, and three others were considered close contacts. (Not sure how that second number is so low.) Then today, the Orix Buffaloes (6-9) experienced a similar outbreak, with at least seven players sidelined due to Covid. Their first series this week against the Rakuten Eagles (8-3) has been postponed. Let’s hope the rest of the teams can avoid an outbreak of their own.
2) Rare plays, losing streak snapped
The Saitama Seibu Lions (5-8-1) have underwhelmed so far this season, that is for sure. In fact, they entered Sunday’s action riding a seven-game losing streak and brought newcomer Dietrich Enns (Twins, Rays) to the mound against the 10-1-1 SoftBank Hawks. A lot of things went well for the felines, though. They recorded a 5-4-3 triple play in the fifth, stole home (delayed double steal) in the sixth to snap out of their funk in style. It was just the Hawks’ second loss of the year.
1) Best pitching performance ever?
A lot of people have been onto Chiba Lotte Marines (7-6) phenomenal 20-year-old pitcher Roki Sasaki for some time now. Many predicted he would have a breakout season. But could anyone have guessed that he would grab more international headlines in the last 24 hours than Shohei Ohtani and Seiya Suzuki? All he had to do was: 1) throw a complete game, 2) strike out an NPB-record (tie) 19 batters, including 3) 13 in a row, 4) on just 105 pitches. He fanned the last batter of every inning, his fastball topped out at 164 km/h (102 mph) and only two balls went beyond the infield. Fifteen of the strikeouts were of the swinging variety and four were punchouts. If you still need more to be impressed, the catcher who called the game was all of 18 years old. That’s right, Kou Matsukawa just graduated from high school last month. This was the first perfect game thrown in NPB since 1994. Sasaki is indeed the Beast of the Reiwa Era!
I am not sure this week will be topped by any other this season but stay tuned – we will be back with another report in seven days!