Over the past weekend in Japan, the only thing hotter than the weather, was the play of a trio of foreign NPB stars.
None may have been hotter than Japhet Amador. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles slugger caught fire for the Pacific League leaders over the weekend with a display the league’s youngest franchise hasn’t seen before.
Amador got started on Saturday against the Orix Buffaloes, going deep in three consecutive at-bats in an 8-7 win. That made him the first player in franchise history (since 2005) to achieve that particular feat in one game.
“I didn’t know until I heard it just now,” Amador said after that game. “I didn’t think it was going to go out when I hit it,” he said of the third homer. “I think the wind and God helped it go for a home run.”
He also became the first Rakuten player to hit three homers in a game since Takeshi Yamasaki during the 2007 season. Amador also had a single, giving him his first four-hit day in Japan.
“I had a bad start (to the season),” Amador said. “I’ve worked hard and been able to start warming up. Because I’ve started to have good results, I’d like to keep it up.”
He followed that with a sayonara home run the next day that sank the Buffaloes and lifted the Eagles 30 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history. The slugger now has 13 homers on the season.
“I’m happy to be hitting like this and I have to thank God,” Amador said Sunday.
Amador wasn’t was the only foreign player to heat up over the weekend.
Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson turned it up another notch against the Yokohama BayStars on Friday night. Entering the game in the ninth, Mathieson pitched two innings and struck out all six batters he faced (four swinging and two looking) to keep the score knotted at 3-3, the eventual final tally.
He appeared in all three games of the weekend series, picking up a pair of holds and a save with eight strikeouts in 3⅔ innings.
This isn’t a recent upswing for Mathieson, who has allowed just a single run over his last nine appearances, a span of 9⅓ innings.
The BayStars’ Jose Lopez was also impressive over the weekend.
He had a big game on Friday night, going 5-for-5 (and avoiding the Mathieson buzzsaw that night) against his former Yomiuri teammates. He then went 3-for-4 on Saturday. While the Giants finally held him hitless on Sunday, Lopez still managed to drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. Lopez has driven in a run in each of the last four games.
The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ three wins over the Orix Buffaloes this past weekend left the Sendai club with an 11-1-1 record against Orix this season.
The Eagles have the Buffs’ number for sure, but they’re a few victories shy of having the most wins against a single opponent.
That distinction currently belongs to the Seibu Lions, whose eyes must light up with joy whenever the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters come around on the schedule. The Pacific League clubs have played 16 times this year, with the Lions a dominating 14-2 in those affairs. Seibu has outscored Nippon Ham 106-38 this season.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks have the next-highest number of wins over a single opponent with 12 (and just three losses) against the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Hawks are also the only team in Japan with double-digit wins against three different opponents so far, having also gone 10-5 against both the Fighters and Lions.
First time for everything
Hanshin Tigers pitcher Randy Messenger has built up a long list of achievements in Japan since arriving in 2010. He added one more on Sunday night against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium, connecting on his first NPB home run in his team’s 5-0 win.
“It was the wind, it was definitely the wind,” Messenger joked. “It feels great to finally get one and in front of the great support we always have. It’s awesome.”