When Daisuke Miura was a pitcher for the BayStars, which he was for 25 seasons, the game was often in his hands.
Of all the complexities that can go into winning and losing a baseball game, sometimes it was as simple as the way the ball flew out of Miura’s right hand and what he could make it do in the space between the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box. If Hama no Bancho was feeling good, then it might be a good day for the BayStars. If he didn’t have his stuff, things might not go Yokohama’s way.
As the DeNA manager, Miura doesn’t exert the same control. He’s still effectively running the show, but the ball is physically in someone else’s hands. Miura won 172 games as a pitcher for the BayStars from 1992 to 2016 — he won his first on Sept. 4, 1993. On Sunday, he finally won his first game as the team’s manager after coming up short eight times.
“It was really hard during that period to win just one game,” Miura said after a 3-1 victory over the Hiroshima Carp. “It’s only one win, but it’s a big win for the team.”
The BayStars, who have had a nightmarish start to the year, were the last NPB team to register a victory in 2021.
They began the season 0-2-1 and began the past week by blowing an eighth-inning lead in a loss to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The BayStars lost to the Swallows again on Wednesday, despite Yakult being without six starters from the night before (although one was a starting pitcher) because of COVID-19 protocols after catcher Akihisa Nishida tested positive for the virus. DeNA blew another lead Thursday in an 11-11 tie with Yakult.
“It’s the manager’s responsibility when the team isn’t winning,” Miura said after that game.
The club then lost two games against the Carp to mark the deepest the franchise has ever gone into a season without a win.
DeNA starter Kosuke Sakaguchi threw five scoreless innings on Sunday to join Miura in picking up his first career victory. Kazuki Kamizato and Toshiro Miyazaki each homered for DeNA, and rookie Shugo Maki was 3-for-4 with an RBI.
“The team was stuck in a situation where we weren’t winning and that’s kind of the case for me as well,” said Sakaguchi, who was 0-3 in six career starts before Sunday. “I wanted to win and I put all my feeling into it.”
It’s hardly a stretch to say the start of the year hasn’t gone the way anyone in Yokohama planned.
There was a wave of enthusiasm when Miura, among the most revered players in club history, was named manager in November.
Miura, however, began the season with the club’s foreign players — including sluggers Neftali Soto and Tyler Austin and pitchers Edwin Escobar and Michael Peoples — stuck outside Japan due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The foreign players — especially Escobar, given some of the issues in the bullpen — could’ve helped the BayStars had they been around.
The club’s imports have since arrived in Japan and will work on getting into game shape once their quarantine periods end. In the meantime, the BayStars, now 1-6-2, will try to avoid falling into an even deeper hole.
Wins are precious commodities, something Miura, as a manager, has learned the hard way over the past nine games.
Elsewhere around the Central League, the coronavirus made its presence felt within the two Tokyo teams last week. While the Swallows were forced to switch out six players early in the week, the Yomiuri Giants announced Sunday that Yoshihiro Maru and Hiroyuki Nakajima tested positive for the virus.
The two clubs met at Tokyo Dome over the weekend, with each winning once and tying the middle contest.
The Swallows were 3-1-2 last week, and the Giants were 2-2-2. Both clubs will now move forward without some key members for the time being.
“No matter the situation, we’ll just keep fighting and moving forward,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said Sunday.
The Hanshin Tigers ended the first full week of the season in first place after splitting their six games last week, while the Carp were 4-2 and the Chunichi Dragons were 2-3-1.
The defending Pacific League champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are experiencing an early freefall after beginning the year with four straight wins. The Hawks beat the Orix Buffaloes to start last week, then lost five straight.
The Seibu Lions swept the Hawks during a weekend series in Fukuoka, the first time they’ve pulled that off in 17 years.
Lions starter Kona Takahashi, who beat SoftBank twice in three starts last season, had another good showing on Friday, winning behind eight innings of two-run ball. The Lions didn’t lose at all last week, winning four games and playing the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to a 1-1 tie on Wednesday.
The Buffaloes split their six games last week and got a pair of standout pitching performances.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, already recognized as one of Japan’s top pitchers, dominated SoftBank on Wednesday, striking out 13 while walking just one in a two-hit shutout. It was 19-year-old Hiroya Miyagi’s turn on Sunday, and the teen delivered eight shutout frames against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Miyagi, who made just three starts last season, has allowed just two runs — one earned — over 15 innings in a pair of wins this year.
Elsewhere around the PL, the Chiba Lotte Marines were 3-2-1 last week; the Eagles won four and lost two; and the Fighters had a winless week with three losses and two ties.
Getting offensive: The Marines batters pulled off a rare feat Thursday and Friday, putting up 16 runs in consecutive games in wins over the Eagles and Fighters.
It was the first time Lotte — which had nine runs combined in its first five games — had ever scored at least 16 runs in back-to-back games. It was also the first time it’s happened in NPB since the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2003, per Nikkan Sports.
Power outage: At the other end of the scoring spectrum are the Fighters, who have yet to hit a home run this season. The Fighters were last in the PL in home runs last season (though with just one fewer than the Buffaloes and Marines) so they weren’t exactly a power-hitting outfit to begin with.
It’s still surprising, though, that the club has made it through nine games without even someone getting lucky and running into one. The franchise hasn’t gone this long without a homer to start the season in over 60 years.
Arm in waiting: Carter Stewart Jr., the Hawks’ 21-year-old American pitching prospect, had a good outing for the farm team over the weekend.
He struck out five over five scoreless innings and got a winning decision against the Chunichi Dragons in a Western League game.
“I felt pretty solid today, and I had a lot of run support,” Stewart said after the 7-0 win.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.