There is no thought of social distancing, it seems, when celebrating a no-hitter.
When Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa became the 82nd NPB hurler to join the no-hitter club, catcher Akihisa Nishida wasted no time enveloping him in a bear hug on the mound.
The rest of the Swallows followed soon after, converging on the pair and jubilantly emptying whatever water remained in their plastic bottles onto their 30-year-old pitcher. Then, there were high-fives and more hugs.
It’s hard to blame them.
Ogawa tossed the game of his life Saturday in Yokohama, energizing an otherwise drab week for Yakult with a singular, brilliant highlight.
The Swallows won two of their five games last week and are in fourth place in the Central League. Ogawa’s no-hitter also helped snap a five-game losing streak. Now the club will be hoping to build off the momentum. That got off to a good start on Sunday as the Swallows chased Yokohama starter Kentaro Taira in the fourth and beat the BayStars 7-4.
The Swallows are in desperate need of good results on the mound as they linger in last place in the CL with a 4.49 team ERA. Of the six Yakult pitchers with at least four games started, only Ogawa and Kenji Takahashi have ERAs under 4.00. Ogawa is the only player to have thrown at least 50 innings. Yakult also has the fewest quality starts in the CL and has allowed a league-worst 235 runs.
If the Swallows are going have any hope of chasing down the first-place Yomiuri Giants for the pennant, they’ll have to pitch much, much better.
One positive was Ogawa, Hirotoshi Takanashi and Daiki Yoshida all throwing quality starts last week.
Ogawa’s, of course, stood out.
He threw the third no-hitter of the Reiwa Era — following Kodai Senga and Yudai Ono last season — by striking out 10 and by pitching around three walks and two errors.
Ogawa said he began to realize a no-hitter was in play around the fifth inning.
“I just tried to concentrate, since I knew it wasn’t going to be a simple thing to do,” he said.
The righty is planning to keep a memento from his achievement.
“I usually give winning balls to other people, but since this is my first (no-hitter), I’m thinking about keeping it for myself,” he said.
It was the 93rd no-hitter in NPB history and the first by a Yakult pitcher since Rick Guttormson in 2006.
The BayStars, meanwhile, were no-hit for the first time since June 28, 2013, against the Chunichi Dragons’ Daisuke Yamai.
“In baseball, there are days you hit and days you don’t hit,” Yokohama manager Alex Ramirez was quoted as saying by Sports Nippon. “Today was a day we didn’t hit.”
Second-place Yokohama was 2-4 on the week.
For DeNA, pitcher Shinichi Onuki remained on a personal hot streak, allowing one run over 5⅔ innings in a win over the Swallows. He lowered his ERA to 1.86 in 38⅔ innings and won his fifth straight start. The 26-year-old has allowed just three runs in his last 33⅔ innings.
At the top of the standings, the Giants won their first three games last week but finished up with a pair of losses to the last-place Dragons.
Ace Tomoyuki Sugano threw seven innings of one-run ball against the Swallows on Aug. 12 to improve to 7-0, while Hiroyuki Nakajima hit home run No. 200 in a win over the Dragons on Friday.
With no Climax Series this year due to COVID-19, the Giants are currently in a good spot with a four-game cushion atop the standings.
The third-place Hanshin Tigers were 3-2-1 last week, while the Carp, in fifth place, were 2-3-1 and the Dragons were 4-2.
In the Pacific League, Yuki Yanagita continued tear it up for the league-leading Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
Yanagita hit two homers against the Orix Buffaloes on Aug. 11 — including one on a funky swing that ended with one hand off his bat and his helmet on the ground — and another on Friday afternoon. He finished the series with nine hits and drove in eight runs.
The Hawks won five games in the six-game series. Pitcher Shuta Ishikawa helped wrap things up on Sunday with 5⅔ scoreless innings in his fifth consecutive winning decision.
In more good news for the team, Cuban sluggers Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne — who returned from their home country in July — are playing on the farm team after the end of their quarantine period.
At a time when Wladimir Balentien is hitting just .199, albeit with nine homers, the rich could be getting richer in very the near future.
In second place, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were mauled 11-1 by the Seibu Lions on Sunday, but came out on top with three wins, two losses and a tie in the series.
Eagles pitcher Hideaki Wakui continued his strong run to start the season, holding his former team to two runs over seven innings in a win on Wednesday. Wakui is now 7-0 with a 2.38 ERA in eight starts.
The Yuki Matsui experiment, however, still has yet to pay dividends. The former Rakuten closer, made his fourth start of the season in Thursday’s game and allowed three runs in three innings.
Matsui hasn’t pitched beyond the fifth in any game this year and has a 5.94 ERA in 16⅔ innings.
In the other PL series the Chiba Lotte Marines won four games during their homestand against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Still holding on: Naoki Miyanishi.
The Fighters reliever made history on Wednesday night in Chiba, tossing a scoreless inning to become the first NPB reliever to amass 350 holds.
Miyanishi already owns the NPB record for holds, but the latest milestone illustrates how steep the climb will be to catch him — which no one will be doing for a long time.
Not only is the 35-year-old Miyanishi the only player with 300 holds, the closest active pitchers are Ryota Igarashi and Kyuji Fujikawa, a pair of 40-somethings nearing the end of their careers who are tied with 163.
Still no victories: for Shintaro Fujinami.
The 26-year-old Tigers pitcher had a rough night against the Carp on Friday, allowing six runs in six innings, including a two-run double to rookie pitcher Masato Morishita.
Fujinami has lost all four of his starts this season and has a 4.00 ERA in 27 innings.
Crack open the wallet: Wladimir Balentien.
The Hawks slugger hit a home run during batting practice on Saturday that struck one of the 20 Pepper robots the team uses as a cheering troupe in the outfield.
According to full-count.com, the robots at PayPay Dome, which perform dances, cost about ¥2 million ($18,766) each. Retail versions sell for just under ¥200,000 ($1,876) on SoftBank’s website.
It was a good week for: Ernesto Mejia.
For one week at least, the Lions slugger was striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers again.
Mejia roared at the plate against Rakuten. He was 9-for-23 in the series and also connected on five home runs, nearly matching his 2019 output (six) in just six games.
It was an even better week for: Yasuhiro Ogawa.
No-hitters tend to do that.
It was a bad week for: Norifumi Nishimura.
When the finger-pointing starts, it often starts with the manager.
The Buffaloes are 3-14-1 in their last 18 games and are trending downward.
If this keep up, Orix skipper Nishimura may soon find himself being pointed in the direction of the nearest exit.