[NPB NOTEBOOK] Orix rookie Ren Mukunoki comes closer to a no-hitter in one shot

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Japanese Racing Association

In the no-hitter season, Nippon Professional Baseball was that close to another on Wednesday, July 20.

Back then, Ren Mukunoki, the Orix Buffaloes’ top draft pick last fall, conceded his only goal of the game with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning in a 2-0 win over the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters.

The Fighters’ Ryusei Sato put down a 2-2 slider down the middle at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka to end the rookie right-hander’s attempt at history.

Four no-hit shutouts were thrown in 2022. That’s the record for second most in a single season.

“I wanted to end with a strike, but it backfired,” Mukunoki, 22, told Kyodo News. “Throughout the eighth inning, the crowd applauded every pitch and I wanted to respond to that. But I ended up throwing a bad one.”

Mukunoki (2-0) hit 11 while walking three in a 116-pitch outing, only his second pro start. On his July 7 debut, he allowed two hits over six scoreless innings.

The Buffaloes scored all of their goals in the third inning on a home run by Masataka Yoshida.

Roki Sasaki, Nao Higashihama, Shota Imanaga, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto have all thrown no-hitters this season.

TIED TOGETHER:

Win #5,500 for Tigers

The Hanshin Tigers became the third franchise in NPB history to reach 5,500 wins as of Friday, July 22.

Koyo Aoyagi allowed a six-inning run to lead Hanshin to a 6-3 win over the Yokohama DeNA BayStars at Koshien Stadium. It was also the 250th win for fourth-year coach Akihiro Yano.

The Tigers got two homers from two runs by Yusuke Ohyama and Teruaki Sato.

The Pacific League’s Yomiuri Giants and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are the other two teams to have amassed 5,500 wins.

The Tigers are one of the original members of Japan’s first professional league and achieved their first victory on April 29, 1936.

Roaring lions

The surprising Saitama Seibu Lions have been one of the hottest teams in NPB lately.

Few picked the Lions to compete in the Pacific League, but they’re right in the middle of the pennant hunt.

Submarine right-hander Kaito Yoza (7-3) threw five innings of one-run ball to lead the Lions to a 5-1 win over the Nipponham Fighters at the Sapporo Dome on July 18. That win temporarily put the Lions in first place in the PL standings, a half-game ahead of the SoftBank Hawks.

At the time of this writing on Saturday, July 23, the Lions were in second place, a half game behind the Hawks.

The Lions have the most homers in the PL (73) and the lowest ERA (2.46).

Hotaka Yamakawa is first in the league in both RBIs (58) and home runs (29).

The Lions finished bottom in the six-team standings last season, making their rebound in 2022 all the more impressive.

Falling giants

At the other end of the spectrum, the Yomiuri Giants are in free fall.

After a strong start to the season and spending most of the first half at or near the top of the Central League standings, the Giants plummeted to fifth place on July 23.

The last time the issuing Giants were ranked fifth after 90 games was way back in September 2009.

What is the problem? Mostly pitching.

When Yakult Swallows hitter Jose Osuna scored a grand slam in the first inning ahead of Tomoyuki Sugano on July 18 at Jingu Stadium, it was the fourth straight game the Giants lost a grand slam.

The Giants have the highest ERA (4.09) in the CL and most runs abandoned (436). No other CL team has given up over 400 runs. The second highest after the Giants is 348, abandoned by Yokohama.

Milestone for stadium announcers

Chiba Lotte Marines Stadium Announcer Emi Taniho was on Sunday, July 17 at ZOZO Marine Stadium for announcing their 2,000th game for the Pacific League team.

Taniho made her stadium debut on August 9, 1991 at Kawasaki Stadium.

Anyone who has ever been to a Marines game will recognize their unique way of announcing a player’s name by lengthening the last syllable. Saburo Ohmura, who went by his first name Saburo, was “Saburoooohhhhh”.

One of the many endearing qualities of Nippon Professional Baseball is the presence of female stadium announcers known as “Uguisu Jo”.

“It all went by so quickly,” Taniho said Yahoo News. “I want to see a championship, so I have to hold out a little longer.”

Akiyama is heating up

It’s been a while, but Hiroshima Carp’s Shogo Akiyama is regaining momentum after returning to NPB earlier this summer after more than two seasons in MLB.

Akiyama went 4-on-4 with a tied homer in the eighth inning on Friday, July 22, leading the Carps to a 5-2 win over Central League leaders Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

The win allowed Carp to move within 11 games of the Swallows.

Akiyama also scored a double in a thrilling 10-5 win over the collapsing Giants at the Tokyo Dome on July 17.

In that game, Shota Dobayashi hit a grand slam with a pinch hit in the fourth inning as Hiroshima ended a three-game sweep against the Giants.

The Akiyama takeover is starting to look like it will pay off for the Hiroshima club, who lost Seiya Suzuki to the Chicago Cubs in the offseason.

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.

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