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Swallows dynamo Yamada set to join exclusive club

by

Staff Writer

Tetsuto Yamada had three hits against the Hiroshima Carp but it was a stolen base that mattered most to Swallows fans on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Jingu Stadium.

The Tokyo Yakult cheering section launched into rhythmic exhortations of “hashire (run!) Yamada” whenever the Yakult infielder was on base.

Finally, in the sixth inning, Yamada gave the faithful what they’d been waiting for, taking off and swiping second for his 30th stolen base of the season.

Yamada is also hitting .333 with 33 home runs this year, so barring an epic collapse he’ll join an exclusive club of players who have ended a year with an average above .300 and at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, or a “Triple 3” campaign.

There have only been eight such seasons in NPB history. It’s been done twice over the last 15 years with Tomoaki Kanemoto hitting .315 with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 2000 for the Hiroshima Carp, and Kazuo Matsui, the last player to do it, posting a .332 average with 36 homers and 33 steals for the Seibu Lions in 2002.

The last players to do it in the majors were the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout (.326, 30 homers, 49 stolen bases) and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, (.319, 41 homers, 30 stolen bases) both in 2012.

There’s a good chance Yamada won’t be the only new member of the Triple 3 club this season, with Fukuoka Softbank Hawks outfielder Yuki Yanagita knocking on the door.

Yanagita also registered a stolen base, his 28th, on Sunday, and is currently batting .360 with 29 home runs.

The two players are putting together amazing seasons and are in the running to be named MVP of their respective leagues, Yamada in the Central and Yanagita in the Pacific, after the season.

Yanagita, who has driven in 90 runs for the Hawks, leads all of Japan with a 1.082 on-base plus slugging percentage, with Yamada right behind at 1.028 — no other player is above .943. Yanagita also has the edge in weighted on-base average (which was created by Tom Tango and measures overall offensive contribution) at .469 to Yamada’s .440.

Yamada, however, has a shot at becoming Japan’s first Triple Crown winner since Nobuhiko Matsunaka (Daiei Hawks) in 2004, and the first from the CL since Randy Bass in 1986 for the Hanshin Tigers.

Yamada’s average is second to teammate Shingo Kawabata’s .335 in the CL and he trails another teammate, Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, in the RBI race. Yamada has driven in 87 runs so far, two fewer than Hatakeyama. Yamada is leading the Yokohama BayStars’ Jose Lopez by nine in the home run race.

Mr. 200: Seibu Lions outfielder Shogo Akiyama is heading toward the seventh 200-hit season in NPB history as the 2015 campaign winds down.

Akiyama, who has 196 hits, would be the sixth player to reach the 200-hit plateau (Norichika Aoki did it twice) and only the third PL player to do it.

Former Orix BlueWave star Ichiro Suzuki owns the PL record with 210 hits in 1994 — during, it should be mentioned, a 130-game season, 13 fewer than Akiyama will play this year. Ichiro’s mark stood as the NPB record until 2010. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who had 206 hits for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2010, is the only other PL player to reach the mark

Akiyama, who had a 31-game hit streak earlier in the season, has 16 games left to attempt to make a run at Ichiro’s PL record or the current NPB mark of 214, set by the Hanshin Tigers’ Matt Murton in 2010.

Fight to the finish: The Chiba Lotte Marines and Seibu Lions are locked in an intense battle for the final spot in the Pacific League Climax Series.

The teams played an important series in Chiba over the weekend, with Seibu taking all three games and leaving with a two-game lead over the fourth-place Marines.

Looking ahead, the Lions only have 16 games remaining in the season, while the Marines play 24. The two clubs play each other once more this year.

That gives Lotte a chance to gain ground, but it won’t be easy with six games remaining against the first-place Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and five left against the second-place Nippon Ham Fighters. The Marines are 15-24 against those clubs.

The Lions only see the top two teams four more times, facing Nippon Ham three times and Softbank once.

Anything can happen down the stretch, but the Marines, on paper, have a real uphill battle in order to overtake Seibu after being swept in a huge series.