Baseball / Japanese Baseball | The week in NPB

Yuki Yanagita powers Hawks past Eagles in six-game series

by Jason Coskrey

STAFF WRITER

With no All-Star Game, Yuki Yanagita held his own personal home run derby last week in Fukuoka.

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles may have arrived from Sendai in first place and with NPB's hottest hitter, Hideto Asamura, but it was Yanagita whose star shone brightest as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks took four out of six in the series.

Yanagita connected on five home runs during the series, including a sayonara shot in the 10th inning on Friday that gave the club its 1,000th victory in its home park. He has eight overall, second only to Asamura, who has nine, in Japanese baseball.

The Hawks also got a pair of homers from Nobuhiro Matsuda, who was 7-for-21 against Rakuten, and Ryoya Kurihara during the series. Kenji Akashi helped keep traffic on the bases with 10 hits in his five games.

In more good news for SoftBank, ace pitcher Kodai Senga, who missed the start of the season with an arm injury, made his 2020 debut July 7. Senga had command issues but got the win, allowing three runs over five innings while also touching 161 kph with his fastball.

The series should give the club plenty of momentum heading into this week's six-game set against the Orix Buffaloes in Osaka.

Speaking of the Buffaloes, they clawed their way out of last place by going 4-1-1 against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the team that replaced them in the PL cellar.

The series included the first NPB victory for Tyler Higgins who got the win in relief on Saturday.

"I'm just happy the team got a win tonight," he said during his hero interview today that night. "It was a tough game, tight the whole time, so it was good we came out on top."

He's been among the club’s bright spots and has yet to allow a run in six appearances out of the bullpen.

"I'm just finally starting to get comfortable here," he said. "The team is really making me feel at home and I'm starting to get into a rhythm."

Then on Sunday, ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto struck out 13 over the distance in a 2-1 victory.

"He'd given up a run, but he'd really been holding them down, so I put the ending in his hands,” manager Norifumi Nishimura told reporters about sending his pitcher out for the ninth.

After stumbling out of the gate by losing nine of their first 10 games, the Buffaloes are 7-2-2 in their last 11. They're 8-11-2 overall.

"The team's condition is good right now," Nishimura said in his televised manager's interview. "We want to do whatever we can to get back to .500 quickly."

The Chiba Lotte Marines and Seibu Lions squared off in the other PL series last week. The Lions won the series 3-2 with veteran Takumi Kuriyama contributing a pair of home runs and seven RBIs in their five games.

In the Central League, the Hanshin Tigers didn't get on the field until Thursday, with rain wiping out their first three games, including one that was itself a makeup of an earlier rainout.

Once they finally got on the field, the Tigers beat the Yomiuri Giants before taking two of three in a weekend series with the Yokohama BayStars.

The most important takeaway, though, is the emergence of Justin Bour. After batting .194 in 10 games in June, including an 0-for-19 start to his NPB career, Bour is 10-for-28 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last eight games.

The rainouts, though, are going to come back to bite Hanshin later in the year.

Due to their makeup games, the Tigers now have two separate stretches with 13 straight games waiting for them late in the year.

"We just have to do it," Tigers manager Akihiro Yano was quoted as saying by Nikkan Sports. "We don't need to think about the second half. We might have 13 straight games, but there's nothing we can do about it now."

While the Tigers remained rooted to the bottom of the CL, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows moved to the top.

The Swallows, who finished last in 2019, haven't been in first place since April 20 of last year, or 449 days according to Sports Nippon.

The Birds started the week with two wins and a tie against the Chunichi Dragons in Nagoya before winning both games against the Giants following a rainout on Friday.

Saturday's win over Yomiuri included a home run by longtime star Norichika Aoki that was the 8,000th in team history.

"Yakult has a long history and I'm glad I was able to write my name in there," Aoki said in his hero interview.

Aoki also homered in Sunday's win over Yomiuri.

Young star Munetaka Murakami helped push the team to the top of the CL with eight hits and six RBIs in Yakult's five games last week. Murakami leads the CL with 20 RBIs.

Yakult's two wins left Giants manager Tatsunori Hara stuck on 1,034 career victories.

Hara will break a tie with Shigeo Nagashima for the second-most wins in club history with his next victory.

The Kyojin lost all three games they played last week and are on a four-game losing streak overall.

Elsewhere in the CL, the Hiroshima Carp won three of their five games, the Yokohama BayStars were 2-3 and the Dragons were 1-4-1.

Welcome back: was the greeting Chiba Lotte Marines PA announcer Emi Taniho gave at Zozo Marine Stadium on Friday afternoon.

That marked the first day fans were allowed to attend NPB games this season. The year began behind closed doors due to COVID-19.

Per governmental guidelines, teams can admit up to 5,000 fans per game, though clubs could set the number lower if they wanted. Sunday's game between the Dragons and Carp in Nagoya had the highest announced attendance at 4,973.

The hits just kept coming: for the Carp on Saturday at Nagoya Dome.

Hiroshima had a field day against Chunichi's pitchers racking up 23 hits in a 19-4 romp.

Per Daily Sports, you have to go back to 2004 for the last time the Carp put up 19 runs. Their 23 hits were the most since 2010. The 11 hits they had in the third inning tied a team record.

Working overtime: is what Hanshin outfielder Kosuke Fukudome did Thursday.

The 43-year-old played for the Tigers' farm team that morning, going 0-1 with a pair of walks against the ni-gun Hawks.

That night, he appeared as a pinch hitter for the top team, flying out in his only at-bat against the Giants.

It was a good week for: Yuki Yanagita.

The Hawks star terrorized the Eagles’ pitchers, going 10-for-22 with five home runs and eight RBIs in six games.

It was a bad week for: the Fighters.

Nippon Ham sank to last place thanks to a tough week against Orix in Osaka.

The Fighters were blown out in the first game of the series 7-1. After a win and a tie, they gave up a sayonara home run in the ninth on Friday and lost Saturday after yielding four runs in the eighth.

On Sunday, they stuck out 13 times and managed just a single run.

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