It’s retirement season in NPB.
As the 2020 campaign begins to wind down, fans across Japan will be saying goodbye to some familiar faces.
Hanshin Tigers reliever and former major leaguer Kyuji Fujikawa announced in September that he was calling it quits at the end of the year.
His impending departure was brought back to the forefront last week, when the Tigers set a date for his retirement ceremony — Nov. 10, when the team hosts the Yomiuri Giants — and called him up to the top team on Thursday.
Fujikawa was with the Tigers for that night’s game against the Chunichi Dragons and posted a note on Twitter to express his gratitude to the fans in Nagoya. He also posted photos of him receiving flowers from Doala, one of the Dragons’ mascots, and posing with former Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase.
“The cheers of the Dragons fans made my body shake,” he wrote. “Playing baseball was a dream come true.”
Fujikawa is fourth all time with 243 NPB saves, all for Hanshin. He also has a pair of saves in MLB, where he played for the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers.
Thursday also saw Ryota Igarashi, another former MLBer, hold a news conference to discuss his own impending retirement.
“I decided around the start of August,” Igarashi said about the timing of the decision. “I kept believing I could keep going up until the very last minute.”
Igarashi began his career with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 1999, winning the 2001 Japan Series with the club. He left for MLB after the 2009 season.
After stints with the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, Igarashi returned to Japan in 2013 and helped the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks win Japan Series titles in 2014, 2015 and 2017. He returned to Yakult last season.
“When I look back, I’m really happy I became a pro baseball player,” he said.
Between NPB and MLB, Igarashi has played in 905 games. He hasn’t made an appearance this season.
“My body felt fine, but when I looked at my results, the feeling of (nearing) retirement became stronger,” he said.
Longtime Hiroshima Carp catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara held his retirement presser on Friday in Hiroshima.
Ishihara debuted with the Carp in 2002 and has been with the team ever since, playing in 1,619 games and contributing to three Central League pennants.
Even as Ishihara was passed by Tsubasa Aizawa in his later years, he was behind the plate for most of the games pitched by American lefty Kris Johnson, who arrived in 2015.
When Johnson became the second-ever foreign-born Sawamura Award winner in 2016, he singled out Ishihara for recognition, saying, “A lot of it has to go to him. He and I have been a team.”
Ishihara has played in just three games this season after making only 31 appearances last year.
“As a baseball player, I thought I’d have to retire if I couldn’t help the team,” he was quoted as saying Friday by Nikkan Sports.
Giants pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma joined the party Monday, with the team announcing that the 39-year-old will step away at the end of the year. Iwakuma won the Sawamura Award with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2008 and threw a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners in 2015. In 2009, he was part of the Japan team that won the World Baseball Classic.
Iwakuma, who has yet to make an appearance for Yomiuri, is 107-69 with a 3.25 ERA for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, where he started his career in 2001, and the Eagles. He was 63-49 with 3.42 ERA in six MLB seasons in Seattle.
With the season nearing its endpoint, there should be at least one last sendoff for all four in the near future.
As for happenings on the field, it was a rough week for the Giants at the top of the Central League. The leaders won just one of six games, ending the week by blowing a five-run lead in the seventh inning against the Yokohama BayStars on Sunday.
On the bright side, the Kyojin still dropped their magic number to seven, which should put their beer supplier on high alert since the celebration of yet another CL pennant isn’t far away.
While the Giants stumbled, the Chunichi Dragons continued to live up to their fire-breathing nickname.
The club has leapfrogged the Hanshin Tigers to move into second place and is making a strong push for its first A-Class finish since 2012.
The Dragons lost to the Carp on Sunday, but that was the only blemish in a 6-1 week that left them a game ahead of the third-place Tigers. Chunichi is 11-4 since the calendar flipped to October.
Hanshin had a 2-3 week but managed to hold off the BayStars and cling to third place. Yokohama is applying pressure, though, having won four of five last week to move within one game of the Tigers.
Keita Sano hit four home runs for the team last week and Takayuki Kajitani hit two on Sunday, including a grand slam, to help lead the win over Yomiuri.
At the bottom of the league, the Carp were 2-3-1 and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows finished 1-4.
In the Pacific League, the first-place Hawks put some daylight between themselves and the Chiba Lotte Marines by sweeping the Orix Buffaloes and the Eagles in a 6-0 week.
The Hawks briefly lost sole possession of first place after a loss to the second-place Marines on Oct. 9. Since then, SoftBank is 8-0 and has opened up a 5½-game lead. Per Sports Hochi, a win Tuesday would give SoftBank a magic number of nine.
“We have to take care of each game,” Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo was quoted as saying by Sports Hochi. “I want us to come together and use everyone’s strength.”
The Marines didn’t fare as well last week, going 2-3.
In third place, the Eagles had a 2-4 week, which was just enough to keep the fourth-place Seibu Lions, who won three of six, at bay by a half-game.
The fifth-place Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters won three of their five games, while the Buffaloes sank even lower with a 1-5 performance.
Had to happen sometime: Tomoyuki Sugano
The Giants ace finally dropped a decision this season, allowing four runs — three earned — over seven innings of a 4-3 loss to the Carp.
Sugano, who broke the record for most consecutive wins to start a season by an opening-day pitcher, was stopped one shy of Tsuneo Horuchi’s club record of 14 straight wins to start a season, which was set in 1966.
Batter up: Hanshin Tigers
On Saturday the CL club announced it would form a women’s club team for 2021.
Details about the selection of a manager, coaches and players for the Hanshin Tigers Women’s Baseball Club Team will be announced at a later date.
The Tigers will be the second NPB club to sponsor a women’s team, following the Seibu Lions, who set up a team in January.
It was a good week for: Keita Sano
The BayStars outfielder homered in each of the team’s first four games last week. That was part of a streak of five straight games which tied five other players for the team record. His run ended Sunday.
Sano’s blast on Friday was a two-run shot in the eighth inning that propelled the team to a 2-1 win over the Giants.
It was a bad week for: Orix
The Buffaloes have lost a lot of games, but Friday’s loss is the one that assured the team of a losing season for the sixth straight year.
Orix has had just two winning seasons since 2010.
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