Dragons 4, Fighters 2
As tonight's game was starting, everyone undoubtedly had one question going through their head, depending on which team they favor; whether Chunichi's Kenshin Kawakami was going to be an ace or a joker; and whether Nippon Ham's 20-year-old Yu Darvish would hold up to the pressure.
At first, it seemed like Evil Kawakami had shown up and Good Darvish, as Kawakami took 24 pitches in the first inning to retire the side, with a bunch of full counts and a walk, and then Darvish only took 10 pitches to retire three Dragons, even getting Kosuke Fukudome to strike out on three pitches straight and breaking Araki and Ibata's bats.
But the tides reversed in the bottom of the second. Tyrone Woods walked, and Masahiko Morino hit a double to center, advancing Woods to third. Kazuki Inoue was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Motonobu Tanishige, who ripped the ball up the middle for a timely single as Woods and Morino scored, making it 2-0 Dragons. Kawakami bunted the runners over, and Masahiro Araki also walked. Hirokazu Ibata came up to bat with the bases loaded; Darvish got ahead of him two strikes to none, but then fell behind to a full count before Ibata grounded out to first. Darvish needed 34 pitches to get through that inning alone.
The Fighters struck back against Evil Kawakami in the top of the third, though, Hichori Morimoto hitting the first pitch he saw for a single to right, and Kensuke Tanaka bunting him over to second. Michihiro Ogasawara, who's been walked almost every time he's come to bat with guys on base in the last month, walked yet again, so when Fernando Seguignol singled to right, Hichori was able to score, making it 2-1. Atsunori Inaba walked as well, loading the bases. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, with a flair for the dramatic, fouled off a whole bunch of pitches before ultimately hitting a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Ogasawara, bringing it to a tie game at 2-2, as Tsuruoka lined out to end the inning.
It didn't remain tied for long. Fukudome struck out again to lead off the bottom of the third, but then Woods singled to left. Morino grounded back to the mound, and Darvish fielded the ball, hesitated, looked at first, looked at second, and both runners were safe as he didn't throw anywhere. Alex Ochoa grounded out to the mound for real, as Woods and Morino advanced. Inoue hit a single to left. Woods scored easily from third, and Morino also made a break for it, but was thrown out at the plate for the third out of the inning, but Woods's run counted, so the score was 3-2.
At this point, Good Kawakami suddenly came out and disposed of Evil Kawakami, and the rest of the game was pretty much in the bag. The Fighters spent most of the fourth and fifth innings striking out; in the sixth, Shinjo hit a double off the right-field wall, but was ultimately stranded. The seventh inning saw a fruitless pinch-hitting appearance from Tomochika Tsuboi, and the eighth saw Inaba get a two-out single, which was cancelled shortly afterwards by what sounded like a 5-6-4 leaping spinning glove job by Morino to get the force out at second, confusing everyone in the chatroom between the names Inaba and Ibata. (Just be glad we didn't have Inada playing today too!)
Despite some low points like walking Kawakami and hitting Ibata in the fourth, Darvish handled the Dragons through six innings. Hisashi Takeda came in for the seventh for a 1-2-3 inning, but then ran into some problems in the bottom of the inning, walking Tyrone Woods, who was bunted over and then pinch-run for. Takeda then did a poor Yagi imitation and booted the ball on a pickoff attempt at second, which resulted in a pinch-running Hidenori at third base. Alex Ochoa hit a double off the left field wall, scoring Hidenori and bringing the score to 4-2 Dragons. Hideki Okajima came in for the Fighters at that point; he walked Inoue, and Tanishige sac bunted, and then Kazuyoshi Tatsunami came in to a standing ovation to pinch-hit for Kawakami, and flew out to Morimoto in left.
Chunichi closer Iwase came in and dealt with Jose Macias and Makoto Kaneko pretty quickly, and with a dome echoing with chants of "Ato hitori!" from the Dragons fans, a pinch-hitting Yukio Tanaka, getting his first ever Nippon Series at-bat after being on the Fighters for 21 years, who played in his first pro game two months before Yu Darvish was born... grounded out to shortstop for the third out, and that was it.
The TV broadcast pointed out that since 2001, the team that won game 1 of the Nippon Series had won the whole thing, so apparently this means the Dragons are pretty set. Ochiai was more like, "hey, we've got to win three more," in his interview, and I tuned out before Kawakami started his hero interview.
Tomorrow night they play a second game in Nagoya, where the Fighters should be pitting young lefty Tomoya Yagi against the Dragons' old lefty Masa Yamamoto. Who will ultimately end up walking more this series, Ogasawara or Woods? Tune in to find out!
(This is a reposting of the game summary I wrote for japanesebaseball.com. Original game 1 live-blogging transcript is here.)