After a couple of games we're back to a great set of pitching matchups today, too. Lotte-Rakuten was Shunsuke Watanabe vs. Yasuhiro Ichiba (Rakuten won, 7-3); Seibu-Orix was Fumiya Nishiguchi vs. Masato Yoshii (Seibu won, 4-1). And the Fighters-Hawks matchup is Kazumi Saitoh vs. Yu Darvish. Awesome!
So, I'll add to this as the game goes on.
Hichori CF Ohmura CF
K. Tanaka 2B Kawasaki SS
Tsuboi LF Buchanan DH
Seguignol DH Matsunaka 1B
Inaba RF Kokubo 3B
Takahashi C Shibahara RF
Inada 1B S. Ide LF
Green 3B Inamine 2B
M. Kaneko SS Matoba C
Darvish (0-0, 3.00) K. Saitoh (1-0, 4.38)
And the game's off... sadly, with Hichori Morimoto striking out swinging. Go figure. Kensuke Tanaka pops an outside pitch up towards shortstop where Kawasaki makes an easy catch. Saitoh's curve actually looks really good but it's not really coming in for strikes today. Once it does, the Fighters better watch out. Tomochika Tsuboi WOW gets ahold of that one and drives it to the back wall, it hits up high and Tsuboi's just FLYING for a triple by the time Shotaro Ide can field it. Woohoo! Seguignol hits a blooper way out to right field for a single, scoring Tsuboi. Score is 1-0 Fighters. (And I get to sing along to "Oi Hokkaido" with the oendan, wheeee.) Geeez... Inaba hits a ball into center for a double as well and my GOD, Seguignol lumbers all the way home on that! The throw's close but Seguignol clearly evades the tag from Matoba on the way in -- Fighters 2-0! Wow -- Shinji Takahashi ALSO gets a hit, driving in Inaba... and then Naoto Inada ends the inning by hitting a pop fly up to left, easily caught. Wow. Saitoh threw 28 pitches in that inning, and the Fighters are leading 3-0. WOW.
Well, let's see if the Hawks can fare any better against Darvish. I suppose so. Ohmura leads off with a single up the middle. Kawasaki and his high socks come to the plate, and Darvish is pretty much throwing him everything outside, getting up to a full count before he hits the ball up the left-field line for a double, Ohmura going to third as Tsuboi barely scrambles for the ball in time. Here comes Brian Buchanan... and now the strategy seems to be to pitch him inside. Buck lines a ball up to second, splitting a splinter off his bat, but Kensuke Tanaka's there to make the catch and prevent the batters from moving. Okay, so Nobuhiko Matsunaka hits a grounder to the shortstop side of second base, and Makoto Kaneko's there to get it -- Kawasaki stuck to the bag as Kaneko made the throw to first to get Matsunaka, but Ohmura scored on the play. 3-1 Fighters. OH GODDAMNIT, so Kokubo hits a grounder between third and short, and Andy Green stops the ball but fumbles it and doesn't have time to make a play, so now we've got Kawasaki at third and Kokubo at first (they seem to be calling that an error). Lots of low stuff to Shibahara and he strikes out swinging, the ball bouncing in the dirt and Takahashi tagging him out. Darvish threw 26 pitches in that inning. Wow, this is crazy.
Andy Green is leading off for the Fighters this inning. I swear I have not seen Saitoh throw a curve for a strike yet, but he gets a couple of strikes on forkballs before Green goes down swinging. Okay, so Makoto Kaneko walks on four straight balls after almost getting hit in the shoulder. (Hawks already calling the bullpen? What?) Okay, so first a pitchout on Kaneko, who doesn't go. Hichori fouls one off and then narrowly misses hitting into a double play -- Kaneko's out at second by a few steps and Hichori pretty much steps on the first base bag at the same time the ball gets there, 6-4 fielder's choice. Ha, Saitoh's first pitch to Kensuke Tanaka is actually a curveball strike! (I love watching Naoki Matoba's signals -- he's set up real low and makes a bunch of fists for the fork -- then next sets up behind Tanaka's kneecaps, maybe to signal to try to throw out Hichori?) Another pitchout -- but Hichori's on his way and slides into second under a leaping Kawasaki. Not that it matters, as Kensuke Tanaka walks on the next pitch. And a mound conference ensues. And now, Tsuboi! High socks Tsuboi! (Seems Saitoh's finally throwing that curve for consistent strikes, so maybe the Fighters should stop watching them.) A fastball right down the middle is apparently a little too high, and then Tsuboi grounds the next one towards first, where Matsunaka gets the ball and runs across first for the play. Score is still 3-1 Fighters, and Saitoh threw a whopping 24 pitches that inning for 52 total so far.
Shotaro Ide leads off the inning by hitting an awesome liner to right field but it is matched by the awesomeness of right fielder Atsunori Inaba. Inamine goes down swinging shortly after that. Here comes Naoki Matoba, who has yet to get a hit this season. Matoba watches two go by for strikes and then fails to check a swing on a third slider, and that's it for him and the inning. Darvish threw a more economical 11 pitches that inning for a total of 37 so far.
It occurs to me that if Matoba (career batting average somewhere around .150) was not Kazumi Saitoh's preferred catcher, he'd literally never get to make a start ever again. Poor guy.
Seguignol goes up swinging and goes down grounding out to second. Inaba goes up swinging and hits a ball into the left-field wall for a double, getting to second around the same time as the baseball. Takahashi is caught looking on a slider that's barely on the outside of the plate, and Naoto Inada also strikes out. 13 pitches that inning for Saitoh for a total of 65.
Yeah, things are definitely speeding up. Ohmura grounds out to second, and Kawasaki tries to bunt the first pitch he sees but Darvish isn't fooled and fields it perfectly, throwing Kawasaki out at first. And Buchanan grounds to short, an easy grounder for Kaneko. 8 pitches that inning -- Darvish's 45 pitches in 3 innings now looks a bit more normal. Still 3-1 Fighters.
Green hits a big fly ball up to left field, easy for Ide to catch. Makoto Kaneko, on the other hand, hits a hard grounder up the middle, which goes just past a flying and diving Homare Inamine for a single. Back up to the top with Spaceman Hichori Morimoto who better not ground into a double play agaaaaaaaaa.... haha, okay, so he grounds up the third base line and Hiroki Kokubo drops the ball. So due to that error, now we have Kaneko on second and Hichori on first. Well, after a long and valiant 8-pitch battle, Kensuke Tanaka strikes out. (Lots of pitches in the dirt.) And man... every time you wonder whether Saitoh's faltering he does something like this and ALSO strikes out Tsuboi on another slider. Yeesh. 23 pitches that inning though for a total of 88 through four.
Matsunaka hits a high fly ball right to Tsuboi and his high socks. Kokubo... (hey, is he using SMAP's "Arigato" as at-bat music?) strikes out on a ball that's way down and out in the dirt. And then pretty much every pitch to Shibahara is in the dirt (Takahashi keeps leaping to get the ball), until he tags one through a diving Kaneko for a single to left. Whew, Ide grounds to third and Andy Green makes a nice play on it. 13 pitches this inning for Darvish, 58 total.
Seguignol comes up. Ball goes up. Ball comes down in Inamine's glove. 1 out. Inaba grounds up towards first, Matsunaka almost makes the play unassisted before throwing to a bag-covering Saitoh. And man, much as I hate to say it, Takahashi obviously didn't get the "Saitoh's curves are coming in for strikes now" memo and just watched pitch #100 go by for a beautiful third called strike.
By the way, I was totally right about Kokubo's at-bat music. I actually think the Hawks have pretty good taste in music in general, all things considered.
A little kid announcer announces Inamine leading off the inning, but Inamine hits a fly ball to Hichori Morimoto in center. Matoba predictably strikes out on three straight pitches, poor guy. Ohmura less predictably strikes out. 69 pitches total for Darvish, 11 this inning.
Naoto Inada grounds out to short. Andy Green does a sankyuu sanshin, karaburi (swinging strikeout on three straight pitches). Kaneko, in his usual fashion, singles to left. (He's so totally like Marco Scutaro.) Hichori grounds out on the first pitch, well, a fielder's choice to short, 6-4. 8 pitches this inning for 108 total.
More strikeouts for Darvish, starting with Kawasaki, continuing with Buchanan, and... then he walks Matsunaka on four straight pitches. Whoa. Little bit of trouble with that one corner... but, Kokubo hits a foul fly caught by Inada. Woohoo. 89 pitches for Darvish through 6, 20 this inning.
(sings along: utte, utte, faitaaaazu! susume, susume, faitaaaazu! hashire hashire faitaaaazu! F-I-G-H-TERS! LET'S GO!)
HEY, it's CJ Nitkowski taking the mound! AWESOME!
(Saitoh's line: 6 innings, 108 pitches, 7 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts, 3 runs, all earned, no homers.)
It occurs to me that watching Kazumi Saitoh face the Fighters is a lot like me watching Rich Harden face the Mariners. There's just no bad outcome for me -- either an awesome pitcher I love gets the win, or the team I root for gets the win.
Whoosh, Kensuke Tanaka strikes out to start the inning. (Yeah, I guess Nitkowski makes sense. Tanaka and Tsuboi hit lefty and Seguignol's a switch-hitter. And two minutes after I type that, the announcers say the same thing.) Tsuboi catches a piece of a slider but lofts it into shallow centerfield where Ohmura makes an easy catch. Nitkowski's chewing gum, which would look totally normal in the MLB, but looks pretty weird to me in the NPB for some reason. Seguignol walks. The yellow balloons are coming out from the Hawks fans for their half of the inning, and Inaba isn't handling the outside pitches well and strikes out swinging on one. Whoosh. 18 pitches for Nitkowski that inning.
(It should probably strike me as sad that I've learned the Hawks 7th inning fight song the same way I learned the Lions fight song a few years ago from the internet broadcasts.)
Shibahara starts off the bottom of the 7th by striking out. After one crazy high pitch that almost was headed to Hokkaido, Darvish also strikes out Ide. Inamine comes up to bat and... and ALSO STRIKES OUT! THAT'S THE SIDE! GO DARVISH! 102 pitches for Darvish, 13 this inning, and that's eleven strikeouts, too!
I hope he can finish out the game so the freaking bullpen doesn't choke up the game again. There's no way in hell Darvish should still not have won a game pitching the way he has been.
Nitkowski's still out on the mound for the Hawks, and he gets Shinji Takahashi to ground out to short. Naoto Inada's got to be due for a hit by now... and... no, after several pitches he grounds out to second. Andy Green on the other hand doesn't seem to be due for much of anything yet, and yeah, he grounds out to third eventually. Nitkowski's thrown 37 pitches total, 19 this inning.
(My attention is wandering to other stuff. Banana Power Seguignol! Or... I need a better caption for this than just "My curve breaks THIS BIG".)
Okay, lots of changes. Yuuji Iiyama comes in to play third base since Green's not doing so great. And no big surprise, but Honma is pinch-hitting for Matoba. He grounds the ball up towards first but Inada and Darvish don't make the play in time on the speedy Honma, so it's an infield single. Ohmura then hits the ball into the right-field wall for a single, which moves Honma to third. Lots of loud Hawks fans cheering for Kawasaki and OKAY ARGH, so Kawasaki grounds to second, Kensuke to Kaneko to get Ohmura, but Kaneko's throw to first is wide and Kawasaki is safe, and in the meantime, Honma scores. 3-2 Fighters, with the Hawks catching up. Oh THANK god, okay, Darvish strikes out Buchanan with a 93mph fastball that barely crosses on the low and outside corner. Aaaaaand... they're intentionally walking lefty slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka with the intention of going after righty Hiroki Kokubo, maybe setting up a double play, I dunno. 119 pitches to Darvish so far, this could be one wacky showdown. First pitch foul... second pitch... flies up and INADA CATCHES IT! Whew! 121 pitches total for Darvish now, through eight innings, and the score is still 3-2.
Alright, let's see. Michinao Yamamura is on the mound for Softbank. Honma stays in at second base and Yamazaki is catching. Nitkowski's line: 2 innings, 37 pitches, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, nothing else.
Kaneko reaches base for his fourth time today, hitting a single through to right. Hichori comes up looking to bunt, but isn't doing such a good job of it and DAMMIT HICHORI grounds out to short. At least Kaneko was already running so it didn't become a double play. Yamamura leaves the mound and lefty Kouji Mise comes in. Kensuke Tanaka hits a long fly to center which Ohmura does an over-the-shoulder catch while running towards the wall. (Kaneko doesn't tag up though.) And then... okay, Tsuboi grounds towards second, Honma runs in to field the ball and throws to first and Tsuboi LITERALLY THROWS HIMSELF DOWN ON THE GROUND AND SLIDES HEADFIRST INTO FIRST BASE AND IS OUT ANYWAY ARRRRRRRRGH and I nearly have a heart attack.
Darvish appears to still be on the mound for the bottom half of the ninth. Toshimasa Konta takes over in left field -- I wonder if that's for defense or because Tsuboi wants to clean himself off after taking a faceful of dirt. Sheesh.
Shibahara tries to waste a bunch of pitches but eventually grounds out to third. Shotaro Ide strikes out and... Oh-kantoku comes out to put in a pinch-hitter? Ah, Yuichi Honda (lefty batter) And it gets to a 3-2 count... (on a REALLY close low pitch) and now Darvish's 138th pitch of the night + HONDA STRIKES OUT WOOOOOOOO THE FIGHTERS WIN!!!!!
Finally, Darvish gets a win :)
(9 IP, 138 pitches, 5 hits, 14 strikeouts, 2 walks, 2 runs, both earned.)
Here is the box score -- Fighters 3, Hawks 2 courtesy my Perl scripts and Michael Westbay's website.
Darvish is unsurprisingly the game hero. He's happy about finally getting the win, glad he can help the team, had a good slider and curve, glad he got out of the 8th inning pinch, and I wasn't really paying close enough attention to catch the rest of the interview.
(The stadium is totally emptying out and yet the Fighters cheering section is still there singing songs. 進めファイターズ勝利の男!)
I think I am going to go back to sleep. Wada vs. Glynn at 9pm Seattle time tonight...