One team got decimated by the continued spread of the coronavirus, while another team’s player saw his fate sealed by his refusal to play within the new norm.
The Hiroshima Carp have seen a total of twelve players and staff test positive for Covid-19 over three separate testing days during the past week and had their weekend series against the Hanshin Tigers postponed. The list of those who tested positive included stars Ryosuke Kikuchi and Seiya Suzuki, veteran Hisayoshi Chono and steady right-handed pitcher Aren Kuri. A decision about their participation in the first interleague matchups is expected to be reached sometime on Monday.
Meanwhile, Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder Ikuhiro Kiyota has lost his job by repeatedly violating his team’s pandemic regulations. Last fall, his extramarital affair in Sapporo while on the road was leaked when he and several of his teammates tested positive for Covid-19. The team forbade players to meet with anyone outside the organization at that time, and suspended Kiyota indefinitely. The penalty was lifted in early May, and within two weeks, he was caught with a different woman by a tabloid newspaper. The club has apologized to the public for his behavior and their naivety that he had learned his lesson and have released him from the two-year contract he signed this past offseason. The 35-year-old will be hard-pressed to find employment in NPB moving forward.
That covers the off field “action” so let’s see what happened on the diamond this past week!
Tuesday: Hideto Asamura of the Rakuten Eagles hit a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth to give his team a 3-2 victory over the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. It was his first of two home runs on the week.
Wednesday: Hanshin Tigers 19-year-old pitcher Junya Nishi pitched shakily through his first ever professional inning, walking the first two batters he faced. After that he was able to retire the side and threw the next four innings without giving up a hit. The Tigers were four outs away from no-hitting the Swallows, but instead settled for a 3-1 victory. Nishi picked up the win.
Thursday: Kevin Cron’s grand slam powered the Carp to a nine-run sixth inning and a 10-2 victory over the Yomiuri Giants. The aforementioned Aren Kuri went the distance for the Carp and snapped Zelous Wheeler’s 22-game hitting streak in the process.
Friday: The highest-scoring game of the week was a tilt between the Rakuten Eagles and the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Eagles stormed out to a 6-0 lead but saw it reduced to 6-4. The teams exchanged deuces in the seventh inning before pulling away in the game’s final innings. The 13-6 final included three home runs and three errors in an action-filled match.
Saturday: Two of the worst pitching staffs faced off at one of the most hitter-friendly parks in Japan for a 1-0 game. The Yakult Swallows came out on top, limiting the Yokohama Baystars to just four hits at Jingu Stadium, while scoring their run on a solo home run by Naomichi Nishiura. Yasuhiro Ogawa threw eight innings for the win, and Scott McGough recorded his first career NPB save.
Sunday: Forty-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada (ex-Cubs) of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks threw six-plus innings of one-run ball as his mates helped themselves to a second straight 7-2 win over the Orix Buffaloes.
Somehow, despite their ups and downs this season, the Hawks march into interleague play with the best record in the Pacific, though they are just a half-game up on the Eagles. The Tigers pace the Central with a robust 28-12-2 record, good for a 4.5-game lead on the Yomiuri Giants.
Good week: Hawks (4-1), Eagles (4-2)
Bad week: Baystars (1-3), Fighters (2-4)