Round one goes to the Central League and, of all teams, the Chunichi Dragons.
Interleague play kicked off across NPB last week, and the Dragons, who were in fifth place in the CL after the first-half of intraleague competition, are at the top of the standings.
While the early part of the season didn't go well for the Dragons, they are no doubt hoping to kickstart their year with a successful interleague campaign.
Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi got things started last week with seven scoreless frames against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks — the Pacific League leaders then and now — on May 25. Yanagi, who leads NPB with 73 strikeouts, improved to 4-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.62.
The Dragons followed that with another win on Wednesday and earned a tie on Thursday to finish the series against Japan's reigning dynasty without a loss.
"What the players and staff have done led to this result," manager Tsuyoshi Yoda said, according to Nikkan Sports. "I want to keep fighting with this confidence."
Chunichi was blown out by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Friday, but bounced back with wins on Saturday and Sunday to stand atop the standings at 4-1-1.
Pitcher Koji Fukutani led the way Sunday, holding the Fighters to one run on five hits over six innings.
"I wanted to compete in the strike zone and have a good rhythm and tempo," Fukutani was quoted as saying by Chunichi Sports.
Dragons slugger Dayan Viciedo had a nice week against PL pitching, going 11-for-22 with a home run and four RBIs in six games. Catcher Takuya Kinoshita had a pair of homers and drove in six runs.
The Dragons were without fire-balling closer Raidel Martinez, who has been called up to the Cuban national team for Olympic qualifiers. Reliever Katsuki Matayoshi made a seamless transition into the role last week, finishing with four saves in five scoreless appearances.
The CL as a whole is 17-14-3. The league has only finished with a winning record once since the interleague format was introduced in 2005.
The Yokohama DeNA BayStars' Neftali Soto had a pair of two-homer games and drove in nine runs against Pa League competition. The Orix Buffaloes' Masataka Yoshida, meanwhile, has three homers for his PL club and tops the early charts with 12 RBIs.
DeNA is in last place in the CL standings — and has been there for some time — but is third in interleague at 3-2-1 so far.
The PL's Chiba Lotte Marines are sandwiched between the two CL clubs in second place.
Neither league's first-place team made a winning start. The CL's Hanshin Tigers are 3-3, while the Hawks are 2-3-1.
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka got his first taste of interleague play since returning from MLB. Tanaka faced the BayStars on Saturday and turned in his strongest start of the season with eight innings of one-run ball.
The right-hander allowed his only run on a solo homer by Tyler Austin, his former teammate with the New York Yankees, in the sixth inning. The game finished 1-1, leaving Tanaka 2-3 with a 2.54 ERA.
The leagues alternated hosting series last week. This week, however, CL teams will have home field advantage in every game.
Young at heart
The Dragons' Kosuke Fukudome may be NPB's elder statesman at age 44, but the veteran still has something left in the tank.
Fukudome turned back the clock against the Fighters on Saturday, going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. It was his first four-hit game since 2018.
The Hawks lost to the Giants on Sunday afternoon, but that is not usually how things go when these teams meet.
Before Sunday, the Hawks had reeled off 11 straight wins over the Giants, a run that consisted of an interleague win in 2019, back-to-back Japan Series sweeps and two more regular-season wins this year.
If spring training games are included, then SoftBank actually went on a 14-0 run before finally dropping a game.
Tigers rookie Teruaki Sato is living up to the hype this season. The powerful young slugger turned heads again on Friday night with home runs to center, left-center and right-center in a win over the Seibu Lions.
Sato became the first Central League rookie to have a three-homer game since the Giants' Shigeo Nagashima in 1958. Sato is currently third among all NPB hitters with 13 home runs.
Before Takashi Toritani joined the Marines in 2020, the infielder spent 16 seasons with the Tigers, where he was a fan favorite.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 interleague schedule, costing Toritani a chance to meet his former team on the field.
He finally got his opportunity on Tuesday at Koshien Stadium, where Tigers fans showed their appreciation. He made a pinch-hit appearance in that game and made it count with an RBI single in the seventh.
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