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[NPB NOTEBOOK] Hanshin Tigers Overcome Yomiuri Giants in Familiar Fashion

In a heated pitchers' duel, the Hanshin Tigers prevailed against their Central League archrivals in a series-closing win on April 18 at Koshien Stadium.

The reigning Japan Series champion Hanshin Tigers beat the Yomiuri Giants 2-1 in 10 innings on Thursday, April 18 in a game that had a distinctly familiar feel to it.

Yomiuri ace pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning at a raucous Koshien Stadium. 

The 34-year-old right-hander had pitched a strong game, striking out nine and holding the powerful Hanshin batters to just three hits through seven innings.

Sugano, who is looking to regain the dominant form that allowed him to win the Sawamura Award in 2017 and 2018 as Japan's top pitcher, was at 100 pitches but new Giants manager Shinnosuke Abe elected to let him go out for the eighth inning against their archrivals.

Pinch hitter Ukyo Maegawa led off by slicing a single to left. Koji Chikamoto followed with another base hit and Shota Morishita singled to left, allowing the tying run to score and knocking Sugano out of the game.

The Tigers would score the winning run in the bottom of the 10th with three hits off reliever Taisei Ota, including Teruaki Sato's game-winning shot down the right-field line.

Hanshin Tigers
The Hansin Tigers, including Teruaki Sato (center) celebrate their walk-off win over the Yomiuri Giants on April 18 at Koshien Stadium. (KYODO)

Yomiuri Giants starter Tomoyuki Sugano pitches to a Hanshin Tigers batter. (©SANKEI)

Pitching Decisions Backfire for Giants Manager Abe

When Tatsunori Hara was the manager of the Giants, up until the end of the 2023 season, he often got burned by leaving his pitchers in too long. It's one of the reasons he's no longer the manager. 

Of course, anyone can second guess a manager in this situation and a lot depends on your bullpen. But generally speaking, when a 34-year-old pitcher gets to 100 pitches it's wise to look for relief.

The Giants had the second-worst team ERA last season and only one regular starter, Shosei Togo, had double-digit wins with 12.

If the Giants are to make strides this season, they will need to do a better job of managing their starters and using their bullpen at the right time.

Abe took a chance that Sugano had at least another inning left in him and it cost Yomiuri the game and the series and Sugano what could have been his third win of the season.

The final line on Sugano was one earned run on six hits with nine strikeouts and two walks over 7⅓ innings.

After the game, Abe tipped his cap to the opponents.

"It doesn't feel like we lost," Abe told Nikkan Sports. "But in the end, they were last year's champions and it was impressive how they showed such tenacity in the late stages of the game."

Hanshin Tigers
Hanshin Tigers starting pitcher Yuki Nishi in action against the Yomiuri Giants. (KYODO)

Nishi Keeps the Tigers in the Game

Hanshin starter Yuki Nishi, who had a no-decision, was equally impressive, allowing one run on four hits over eight innings.

Meanwhile, Hanshin manager Akinobu Okada did his best to try to suppress his joy at winning two out of three over the Giants. The first game of the series ended in a 1-1 draw, the second game finished 2-0 win for the hosts.

"There is no point in getting too happy," Okada said in his usual deadpan manner. "The season has just started and there is a long way to go."

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Hotaka Yamakawa
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks slugger Hotaka Yamakawa belts a grand slam in the sixth inning against the Saitama Seibu Lions on April 13 at Belluna Dome. (SANKEI)

Hawks Newcomer Yamakawa Gets Revenge

It was quite a homecoming for Hotaka Yamakawa

In his first game as a visitor at Belluna Dome, Yamakawa was hitless on Friday, April 12 in his return to the stadium where he played for 10 seasons for the Saitama Seibu Lions before moving to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks for this season. 

When he came to the plate for his first at-bat he was met with a thunderous round of boos and jeers. Every time he made an out there was wild applause.

But the next day, Yamakawa got the last laugh when he hit a pair of grand slams to lead the Hawks to an 11-2 rout over the Lions.

Hitting one grand slam would be nice, but doing it in back-to-back at-bats in your former stadium is the sweetest revenge.

Hotaka Yamakawa
Hotaka Yamakawa is congratulated by teammates after hitting an eighth-inning grand slam, his second of the game, on April 13. (KYODO)

Yamakawa, a three-time PL home run leader, made few appearances in the 2023 season after a sexual assault allegation surfaced in May. 

He was not charged with a crime but was indefinitely suspended by Seibu before filing for free agency and joining the Hawks over the winter.

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Yoshitomo Tsutsugo speaks at a news conference on April 18 in Yokohama. Tsutsugo, who began his NPB career with the Yokohama BayStars in 2010, returns to the team after spending the past four seasons in MLB and with various minor league teams in North America. (©SANKEI)

Welcome Back, Tsutsugo

Speaking of sluggers returning to their former home, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars have announced that Yoshitomo Tsutsugo has rejoined the Central League team.

The 32-year-old Tsutsugo signed a three-year contract with an annual salary of ¥300 million JPY ($1.94 million USD) through the second year and is subject to change in the third year, Kyodo News reported.

Tsutsugo enjoyed success with Yokohama with his best years coming between 2016 and 2019 when he hit 139 homers but he could not catch on in the major leagues. 

In a total of 182 major league games for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates between 2020 and 2022, Tsutsugo could only manage a .197 batting average with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs.

"I expect him to bring positives to our club, not just his hitting ability but his attitude toward baseball," Yokohama manager Daisuke Miura said, according to Kyodo News. 

US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel (center), National Baseball Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch (left) and former NPB and MLB pitcher Masanori Murakami attend a press conference held at the US Ambassador's Residence in Tokyo's Minato Ward on April 18. (KYODO)

Japan Gets Hall of Fame Exhibit in New York

In recognition of a 150-year tradition of baseball in Japan, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, is opening a new exhibit entitled Yakyu/Baseball: The Transpacific Exchange of the Game between Japan and the United States.

In an announcement made in Tokyo on Thursday, April 18 at the residence of United States Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, National Baseball Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch said the exhibit will open in July of 2025.

The exhibit is debuting in the same year as Ichiro Suzuki's first appearance on the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Hall of Fame ballot. Ichiro will be a shoo-in to make the Hall.

Looking ahead the exhibit will feature artifacts and stories about a game that became the most popular sport in Japan less than 50 years after the United States and Japan established diplomatic relations.

"For more than 150 years, baseball has been at the heart of the national culture in both the United States and Japan, with America's National Pastime quickly becoming Japan's national sport," Rawitch said.

"This exhibit will explore the transpacific exchange of baseball, including players, styles of play, equipment and the fan experience," he added.

Ambassador Emanuel also commented on the countries' shared passion for baseball.

"Japanese players have contributed so much to our shared national pastime over the decades, and this exhibition highlights yet another aspect of our two countries' deep-rooted friendship that has given joy to millions," Ambassador Emanuel said.

Details of the Exhibit

The exhibit will feature displays on Japanese teams touring America, including the first such tour by the Waseda University team in 1905.

It will also feature exhibits on American teams touring Japan, including the first trip in 1907 and the massively popular tour featuring Babe Ruth in 1934.

Players born in the United States but who played in Japan like Larry Doby, Randy Bass and Warren Cromartie will also be featured. Cromartie was on hand at the US Embassy on Thursday for the announcement.

Also featured in the exhibit will be players who were born in Japan but played in the United States, starting with Masanori Murakami in 1964 right up until current stars like Seiya Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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