Normally, we would be heading into the final stretch of the regular season, but this year we have some good news for you: still over 45 regular season games left, and more people will be allowed to watch the games in person!
NPB has announced that as early as September 19, teams will be allowed to admit enough fans to half-fill their stadiums. Because stadium capacities range from roughly 30,000 to 46,000, this will not look the same for every club, but certainly there will be more noise than there has been at games until now, which saw attendance capped at a maximum of 5,000. NPB has vowed that every team will take even more stringent measures to ensure safety and prevent any infections at ballparks.
In other league news, the league announced last Monday that it will abolish the “Tazawa Rule” from this offseason. Nicknamed after former Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa, the rule stipulated that any Japanese player who forsook the NPB draft in favor of playing overseas would need to wait 2-3 years after returning to Japan before being eligible for the amateur draft. Tazawa, who came back to Japan this year, recently signed on with the Saitama Musashi Heat Bears, an independent team. The 34-year old can now be drafted this fall instead of having to wait one extra year. No word on which teams are interested in choosing him.
The Yomiuri Giants are at it again. Not only are they running away with the Central League, but they have made yet another trade, this time with the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Giants have sent them 31-year old reliever Hirokazu Sawamura in exchange for 24-year old outfielder Kazuya Katsuki. Sawamura has already made an impact for his new team, pitching two shutout innings, while Katsuki is playing on the Giants farm squad.
And now a quick look at the most interesting game of each day this past week.
Tuesday: Kona Takahashi of the Seibu Lions took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Buffaloes, lost it on a single to center field, and then retired the final three batters of the game as the Lions won 2-0.
Wednesday: Hayato Sakamoto of the Giants became the first player ever to hit home runs in three consecutive at-bats in one game at Nagoya Dome. The third of his long balls was the difference as the Giants squeezed past the Dragons 5-4.
Thursday: Two PL sluggers reached milestones in different games, but both are worth a mention. In the Buffaloes’ lone win of the week, Adam Jones hit an RBI double in the top of the fifth inning to reach 2000 hits in MLB and NPB combined. Meanwhile, on the road in Chiba, Fighters first baseman Sho Nakata hit his 250th career home run in a 5-3 win over the Marines.
Friday: Giants manager Tatsunori Hara became the winningest manager in Giants history, getting his 1067th in a 2-1 win over Swallows. Team captain Hayato Sakamoto hit the game-winning home run. In other games, the Buffaloes got one-hit for the second time this week, this time at the hand of the Marines. Also, the Eagles blew a lead in the ninth against the Fighters, then gave up the go-ahead run in the tenth, only to walk it off with a home run by shortstop Eigoro Mogi.
Saturday: Baystars outfielder Tyler Austin returned to the lineup after a six-week absence and made an immediate impact, hitting a three-run home run in his first at-bat. The Baystars beat the Dragons 7-3.
Sunday: Both the Giants and the Tigers completed series sweeps. The Giants were in control nearly the entire game and won 3-1, while the Tigers and Carp played seesaw all afternoon until back-up first baseman Naomasa Yohkawa hit the eventual game-winning home run in the bottom of the eighth.
Good week: Giants (5-0-1), Hawks (5-1), Marines (5-1), Tigers (4-1-1)
Bad week: Swallows (0-5-1), Fighters (1-5)