In one of the most anticipated showdowns of Japanese baseball‘s interleague season, talented pitcher Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines was thrashed by the Yomiuri Giants on Friday, June 3rd.
Kazuma Okamoto hit a two-run shot in the third inning at the Tokyo Dome for his 16th home run in the Central League, showing off Sasaki and giving the hosts a 3-0 lead.
“I went into the batter’s box with an attitude of being aggressive,” Okamoto said after the game.
Yomiuri added runs in the fourth and fifth to send Sasaki (5-1) into an early shower. The hard-throwing right-hander left the game after giving up five runs with eight hits and a walk while hitting six over five innings.
The Giants beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 10-3.
Shosei Togo (6-3) earned the win for the Giants, allowing four hits in seven scoreless innings.
Sasaki rose to fame on both sides of the Pacific when the hard-throwing right-hander threw a perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes on Sunday, April 10 as the 16th NPB pitcher and youngest-ever.
In that game, he hit a record 13 consecutive batters and set a Japanese record for a total of 19 strikeouts.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sasaki almost achieved the same feat a week later when he retired all 24 batsmen he faced against the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters before being knocked out after eight innings.
A closer look at the interleague game
Elsewhere in interleague play, it has been about the strong getting stronger.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, a perennial powerhouse, advanced Wednesday, April 1.
It was also the 5,500. Victory in the history of the franchise.
None other than Japan home run king and former SoftBank executive Sadaharu Oh and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son were present at the Tokyo Dome a day earlier as the Hawks started a three-game set with the Giants.
The Hawks, who got two out of three against Yomiuri, have the Giants’ number.
In addition to strong results this season, it wasn’t too long ago that the Hawks beat the Giants 4-0 in both the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Japan Series.
Defending Japan Series champions Tokyo Yakult Swallows have also performed well through June 3 in interleague play, going 7-3 and tied with SoftBank for the interleague lead on points.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Hiroshima Carp have not enjoyed the interleague games so far. They were last overall with a 3-7 record.
One team that has turned their tide in interleague play is the Hanshin Tigers.
That’s surprising given the Tigers have had a miserable start to the season but have so far won 6-4 against Pacific League opponents who are widely considered stronger than CL teams.
Among their most recent accomplishments was a 6-1 win over the Saitama Seibu Lions on June 2, where starter Joe Gunkel not only took the win, but landed on the plate with a 3-3 RBI.
Marines eye Osuna
Corresponding Nikkan Sportsthe Chiba Lotte Marines give former MLB closer Roberto Osuna a look.
The 27-year-old native of Mexico has proven to be one of the most successful strikers of recent years.
In six seasons in the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros, Osuna has 155 saves.
The powerful right-hander last played for the Astros in 2020 and was put on waiver at the end of the season.
He played in the Mexican league in 2021.
Osuna is a talented seamstress but comes with baggage.
In 2018, Osuna was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assault. He is said to have attacked his girlfriend, the mother of his 3-year-old son. Osuna was a fan favorite in Toronto prior to the arrest.
But he was placed on administrative leave by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and later received a 75-game suspension without pay for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.
In July 2018, the Blue Jays traded Osuna to the Astros, where he led the American League with 38 saves in 2019.
While he could be a valuable asset to the Marines or any team in Japan, one wonders if the baggage he’s carrying is worth it.
200 saves for Hirano
Orix replacement Yoshihisa Hirano recorded his 200th save of his career on Thursday, June 2 when he resigned the team in the ninth for a 3-1 win over the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.
It was his 15th save of the season, leading in the Pacific League. Hirano became the seventh pitcher in NPB history to record 200 saves.
Hirano, who started his career as a starter, has been with the Buffaloes since 2006. His best season as a reliever came in 2014 when he made 40 saves.
Hirano also spent three seasons in Major League Baseball; two with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018 and 2019 and one with Seattle in 2020.
Ex-NPB commissioner Kumazaki dies
Former NPB commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki died on May 13 at the age of 80.
Kumazaki became the 13th NPB commissioner in 2014 and was considered a key figure in baseball’s return to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where Japan won the gold medal.
He also helped organize the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s Premier12 tournament, a global event for national teams that began in 2015.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of former NPB Commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki,” WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari said in a statement. “He was a great leader, colleague and friend who helped get international baseball and the WBSC to where they are today.”
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Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a veteran journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here.