The JapanBall tour continued to roll across the country with stops in Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Tokyo, and Sendai (for the lucky group that is seeing every ballpark). The trend of road teams winning continued for all games not involving the plummeting Chiba Lotte Marines. Here are the details, plus a three-peat announcement that the tour missed by just one day.
Tuesday, September 19: Orix Buffaloes vs Chiba Lotte Marines
The Buffaloes seem to have no shortage of pitchers, despite the potential loss of Yoshinobu Yamamoto to MLB this offseason. On this day, youngster Kohei Azuma threw seven innings of one-run baseball. The bats gave him a lead in the second inning on an RBI groundout by Marwin Gonzalez and an RBI double from Yutaro Sugimoto. They tacked on another run in the middle innings, and closer Yoshihisa Hirano made the game dramatic by surrendering a home run in the top of the ninth. Fortunately, he recorded the final out on a fly ball to the warning track, and the Buffs hung on to beat the Marines, 3-2. Their magic number sat at two.
Wednesday, September 20: Hiroshima Carp vs Yokohama DeNA Baystars
Shugo Maki opened the scoring early with a two-run home run in the top of the first inning. That was all the run support needed for Baystars starter Katsuki Azuma, who racked up his 15th win on the year, pitching seven innings of one-run ball. The Baystars downed the host Carp, 3-1.
On this same night, the Buffaloes clinched their third straight Pacific League pennant by trouncing the Marines by a 6-2 score. They scored all their runs in the seventh inning off six hits, a walk, and a hit batter. Two years ago, they clinched the pennant on an off-day, as the Marines lost their game and the Buffaloes’ magic number 1 vanished without them setting foot on the field. Last year, they snuck into first on the last game of the season, winning their last game (on the road) and waiting three minutes for the second-place team to lose theirs. This time, though, they were able to seal the deal at home in front of a sold-out crowd. They are truly on an incredible run, and currently sit 17 games ahead of the second-place Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Thursday, September 21: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks vs Chiba Lotte Marines
On that note, the tour continued at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka. Former big-leaguer Kohei Arihara threw seven innings of two-hit ball and Kensuke Kondoh’s three-run home run more than erased the Marines’ slim lead created by a Gregory Polanco solo home run (his PL-best 25th) in the top half of the frame. Final Score: Hawks 4, Marines 2.
Saturday, September 23:Yomiuri Giants vs Hiroshima Carp
With two aces on the mound (Tomoyuki Sugano and Masato Morishita), this was expected to be a low-scoring affair. After six innings, it was knotted at three. Then, blossoming Carp slugger Shota Suekane slugged home runs in back-to-back at-bats to put the game out of question and to give his team some breathing room in the standings. They sit 1.5 games up on the Baystars, and 4.5 up on the Giants. Final Score: Carp 7, Giants 3.
Sunday, September 24: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles vs Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
The Fighters can’t seem to find a way to win these days. They were leading early but allowed the game to be tied in the bottom of the seventh. Two innings later, Hiroaki Shimauchi hit a two-run home run to walk the game off for the Eagles, who took the game by a 3-1 score. The Fighters have guaranteed themselves a losing record against all PL opponents for the second straight season.
Tonight, the Eagles and Hawks won big, and the Marines lost (to the Hawks), meaning they now sit in fourth place. They have lost six straight and have a 5-14 record in September. They will try to stop the bleeding and move back into playoff position tomorrow against the Fighters, as the JapanBall 2023 tour comes to a close in Hokkaido.
For standings and leaderboards, check these links: