Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Japan Series, Game 3: Inaba-Ibata-Inada-gadda-da-vida

Fighters 6, Dragons 1

Satoru Kanemura was eligible to pitch in this game, and had been named as the probable starter for the Fighters, but instead, Masaru Takeda got the start against Chunichi's Kenta Asakura.

With the action moved to Sapporo, the Pacific League homeground, the game lineups featured designated hitters. The Dragons' lineup was exactly the same as in Nagoya, but with NPB active hits leader Kazuyoshi Tatsunami DHing and batting 7th. The Fighters went back to their normal lineup with Fernando Seguignol as the DH, with Michihiro Ogasawara moving back to his normal station at first base and Naoto Inada starting the game at third. Shinji Takahashi got a start behind the plate while Shinya Tsuruoka got the night off.

The Dragons got off quickly to a 1-0 start, as Masahiro Araki led off the game with a single, stole second during Kosuke Fukudome's at-bat and was subsequently driven home as Fukudome singled to center.

However, Kenta Asakura was roughed up a bit in the first inning, with Hichori Morimoto also leading off with a single. Kensuke Tanaka predictably came in to bunt him ahead, but Tanishige's throw to second base was too late to nab Hichori, so there were two batters on when Michihiro Ogasawara stepped up to the plate. Ogasawara got a nice pitch down the middle and hit it all the way back to the wall in left-center field for a double, scoring Morimoto and Tanaka. Fernando Seguignol singled to advance Ogasawara to third, allowing Atsunori Inaba to hit a long sac fly to right field, scoring Ogasawara. Shinjo grounded into a double play after that, but the score was set at 3-1 Fighters.

Asakura settled down after that and only allowed two more Fighters baserunners in the next five innings, when Seguignol walked in the 4th and was erased by a double play, and Takahashi was stranded in the 5th following a bloop single.

The Dragons managed several hits over the next few innings, but Masaru Takeda (and then Hisashi Takeda, who took over in the 6th) managed to scatter them well enough that only one Dragons runner reached third base for the rest of the night.

Fielding played a large factor in tonight's game, notably that the Dragons turned two double plays and the Fighters turned three, including an impressive 3-6-3 play where Ogasawara charged in for a grounder, threw it to second and ran back in time for the relay at first. Also, the enormous foul territory in the Sapporo Dome played a part as five outs were made by catching pop flies near the dugouts.

The Fighters didn't capitalize on a one-out two-runner opportunity in the seventh, but in the eighth, amidst several pitching changes by Ochiai-kantoku, they managed to score three runs, each charged to a different pitcher. Hichori Morimoto led off the inning with a blooper single and was bunted over, at which point Asakura was pulled for Masato Kobayashi, a lefty, who hit Ogasawara in the knee with his first pitch. Kobayashi was then pulled for Atsushi Nakazato, who struck out Seguignol, but then Inaba came to the plate and took the first pitch he saw and launched it into the second row of seats in straightaway centerfield for a 3-run home run.

Asakura was ultimately on the hook for four runs over a 98-pitch, 7.1-inning ordeal; Kobayashi was on the hook for plunking Ogasawara and the resulting run, and Nakazato for Inaba's homer.

Trey Hillman kept reliever Hisashi Takeda in for almost 3 innings, having lefty Hideki Okajima come in to face Fukudome at the end of the 8th inning, striking him out on three straight pitches. Micheal Nakamura still came out to finish out the game, despite Inaba's blast making the lead too large for a save opportunity. It took 8 pitches to end it as the Fighters won 6-1, bringing them ahead two games to one in the series now. Masaru Takeda was credited with the win.

For his amazing plays at first base, his RBI double in the first inning which put the Fighters ahead, and for scoring a second run later on, the game hero was Michihiro Ogasawara. Ogasawara's 33rd birthday is tomorrow -- what a great present for him, getting to play in a Nippon Series as well as coming home with a game hero award!

Tune in tomorrow night as the Fighters rock the Sapporo Dome again... or not, as the expected starters are Satoru Kanemura and Kenichi Nakata, though of course we won't know for sure until about ten minutes before the game starts. How Kanemura performs tomorrow may very well set the pace for the rest of the series.

(This is a reposting of the game summary I wrote for japanesebaseball.com. Original game 3 live-blogging transcript is here.)

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