The Yakult Swallows have a magic number and it’s not even the all-star break. Either they are really good, or the rest of the Central League is really not that good. Or both. Anyways, the first half of last week showed them flexing their muscles against the competition, and they just kept rolling the rest of the way.
Tuesday: The Hiroshima Carp brought a 3-0 lead against the Swallows into the sixth inning, only to see it vanish with one swat of Munetaka Murakami’s bat. The 22-year-old defending CL MVP brought in three runs and his team ultimately won 6-3.
Wednesday: As a curtain call, Murakami went yard two more times (in the game’s final two innings) as the Swallows crushed the Carp 9-2. Murakami leads NPB with 29 home runs and 78 RBI. In other news, the Chunichi Dragons defeated the Yomiuri Giants 3-2 in extra innings… on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. They remain in last place, though.
Thursday: The Yokohama DeNA Baystars completed a sweep of the Hanshin Tigers by coming from behind in the bottom of the ninth and walking the game off thanks to a beautiful slide into home by Taishi Ohta. They have already swept two series at home against the Tigers this season – something they had not done in over a decade. In the only other game, Swallows’ veteran pitcher Masanori Ishikawa became the 28th pitcher in NPB history to throw 3000 career innings. His Swallows won the game and completed their clean sweep of the Carp.
Friday: In a battle of aces, Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines became the 26th pitcher in NPB history to strike out four batters in a single inning, and the first one to ever do it in the first inning. He left the game after four innings and 11 strikeouts due to popped blisters. Rakuten Eagles’ Masahiro Tanaka, the other starter, only lasted five innings himself. Neither figured into the decision but the Marines were victors in the end, by a score of 6-4.
Saturday: Two more aces faced off in Sapporo, with Nippon-Ham Fighters starter Hiromi Itoh throwing a complete-game shutout (five hits, four walks) against Yoshinobu Yamamoto and the Orix Buffaloes. The Fighters won 5-0. It was the first of four shutouts over the weekend, as the Carp blanked the Giants 2-0, and…
Sunday: The Hanshin Tigers saw 23-year-old righty Hiroto Saiki return from Tommy John surgery and throw five shutout innings. The relievers held down the fort for the game’s final four innings, allowing the Tigers to blank the Chunichi Dragons 3-0. Also, the Seibu Lions barely avoided being served their third no-hitter of the season, as Shuta Ishikawa (SoftBank Hawks) one-hit them and won 3-0 in Saitama.
Good Week: Swallows (5-1), Marines (4-1), Baystars (4-2)
Bad Week: Carp (2-4)