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[NPB NOTEBOOK] Toshiro Miyazaki Leads the Way as the BayStars Clinch a CL Playoff Berth

The BayStars' 5-3 win over the Hanshin Tigers also means the Yomiuri Giants are eliminated from postseason contention for the second year in a row.

The Yokohama DeNA BayStars defeated the Central League champion Hanshin Tigers 5-3 on Friday, September 29 to clinch the final postseason berth in the CL.

Toshiro Miyazaki had two hits and two RBIs, including a fourth-inning double that put the hosts ahead for good at Yokohama Stadium.

"I went to that at-bat with the feeling that I should connect with the opportunity my teammates had created for me," Miyazaki was quoted as saying by Nikkan Sports. "It was a pressure situation but I gave it everything I had."

Yokohama DeNA BayStars
BayStars star Toshiro Miyazaki smacks a fourth-inning double on September 29. (ⒸSANKEI)

Yokohama DeNA BayStars
Toshiro Miyazaki is batting .327 through September 29. (ⒸSANKEI)

Miyazaki is on course to win the CL batting title. He currently stands at .327 with his closest rival being Domingo Santana of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at .297.

The BayStars' win moved them to within one game of the second-place Hiroshima Carp, who dropped a 4-1 decision to the Chunichi Dragons on Friday.

In the first stage of the Central League Climax Series, the BayStars and Carp will meet, with all games at the home park of the second-place team.

Trevor Bauer (ⒸSANKEI)

Bauer Hopes to Return for the Playoffs

Meanwhile, BayStars pitcher Trevor Bauer says on his YouTube channel he is making steady progress from his hip injury and is eyeing a return in the postseason.

The BayStars removed Bauer from the active roster on September 1 after he was diagnosed with damage to the distal portion of his right iliopsoas muscle, basically his hip.

DeNA would love to get him back for at least part of the postseason. Before the injury, the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner was 10-4 with 130 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA in 19 games for the BayStars.

While a return in the first round seems unlikely, Bauer is said to be eyeing a return around October 20, assuming the BayStars can get past the Carp in Round 1.

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara (ⒸSANKEI)

Yomiuri's Woes Continue

Yokohama's win also meant the Yomiuri Giants were eliminated from the postseason for the second straight year under manager Tatsunori Hara.

Hara is the first manager in Yomiuri history to lead the team to two consecutive finishes in the bottom three places in the league, the so-called "B Class." 

It's also just the second time the Giants have finished in the B Class two consecutive seasons. The first was 2005-06.

It's hard to fathom this once-proud team not making the postseason two years in a row. The Giants were in contention for the final spot entering September but just couldn't put together a prolonged winning streak.

Hara has one year left on his contract. Obviously the team is not responding to whatever message he has and the honorable thing to do would be to step down and give someone else a shot.

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Pacific League Playoff Spots Undecided

While the Orix Buffaloes romped to their third straight Pacific League pennant earlier this month, two playoff spots in the PL are still up for grabs.

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks beat the Saitama Seibu Lions 1-0 on Friday to pull one game ahead of the third-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who are just a half game ahead of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

All three teams have a shot at the two spots available. The regular season ends on October 9.

Nipponham Finishes Last Again

The Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters (59-79-1 through September 29) will finish in last place for the second consecutive season under manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo. 

"I know that results matter," Shinjo was quoted as saying by Yakyu Cosmopolitan. "Next year will be my third year. I'm willing to die for the development of our players. If I don't show results next season, I'm prepared to take off this uniform."

Nobody expected the Fighters to win the pennant this season. But hopes were high the team would show some improvement.

At one point they were in fourth place in the PL standings, but the team faded over the second half of the season.

Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters slugger Chusei Mannami is among the Pacific League's premier home-run hitters this season. (ⒸSANKEI)

There were some positive developments for the Fighters. For starters, they moved into a new stadium, Es Con Field Hokkaido, which was popular with fans and players alike.

Outfielder Chusei Mannami has progressed to become a legitimate star in NPB. As of this writing, he was in a three-way tie for the PL lead in homers with 25. He was also tied for third in RBIs with 73.

Pitching has been a disappointment for the Fighters. The team's ace, Hiromi Ito, is only 7-10 this season with a 3.46 ERA. Naoyuki Uwasawa, a 12-game winner in 2021, has only managed eight wins so far this season.

'Mr. Baseball' Inspired Ducey

Speaking of the Fighters, one of their former gaijin players recently confessed on YouTube that he was inspired to go to Japan by the hit movie Mr. Baseball.

"I watched the movie, I watched Mr. Baseball," Rob Ducey, who made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987, said in a recent interview.

Ducey described how he was fascinated by what he saw in the movie and became even more interested when a scout from the Fighters approached him a few months later about the prospect of playing in Japan.

The Canadian-born Ducey spent two seasons with the Fighters in 1995 and 1996.

Now 58, Ducey batted .249 his first season with the Fighters and .246 the second season. He had 61 and 59 RBIs, respectively. 

Released in 1992, Mr. Baseball saw Tom Selleck play a past-his-prime former major leaguer who is forced to play for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan and is none too happy about it.

Under the watchful eye of his manager, played by Ken Takakura, Selleck's character Jack Elliot eventually comes to accept Japanese baseball's unusual (at least in his eyes) routines. 

Hard to believe the movie is over 30 years old. Where does the time go?

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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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