Yeah, so I went out to Tokorozawa for the Lions-Fighters game today. I knew that things might be a little difficult for the good guys; after all, Hideaki Wakui, the Lions starter, is one of the best young pitchers in Japan, heck, one of the best pitchers period. The Fighters had Tomoya Yagi starting; last year Yagi was the Pacific League Rookie of the Year, but this year he's had some injury troubles.
And besides, Seibu's home uniforms are really amazingly stupid-looking (I personally call it the "stove repairman motif", with the jerseys and pants BOTH in a putrid shade of sky blue), so that would be working in our favor as well.
I showed up at 4pm for a 5pm game, and the leftfield seating was already pretty full, though there were some wide open spots near the lower parts, which didn't make sense to me until I went down and sat there -- thanks to the fences, you have a decent view when you're standing but a pretty lousy view when you're sitting. BUT, I saw some familiar people there -- I don't know them personally, but last year at a Fighters game in Seibu, there were these Hichori Morimoto fans there, who ran a site called "Hero's Hichori", and they even gave me an inflatable dolphin, back when that was used for cheering Ogasawara... back when he was on the Fighters... back when I wasn't bitter about him. But I digress. I remembered they were pretty nice, and I sat behind a couple that I also saw last year (I remembered the lady who was very pretty and wearing a BB bear-ears headband), and I sat next to another person who was there alone, a smiley-happy guy who actually sort of danced when he was doing player cheers.
Like I said, I sort of picked my spot a little randomly, and debated moving elsewhere, but decided not to. Little did I know exactly what a good choice I'd made.
So sure enough, things get under way. We did our pregame lineups and cheers and whatnot, and ominously, the first pitch to Hichori is a strike, and he even strikes out. Kensuke Tanaka follows that by hitting a fly ball to center. And then Atsunori Inaba is up, and I was thinking how he had hit a lot of home runs recently, maybe I'd get to see one. We sing his cheer song, start singing it again, and suddenly,
The ball flies up and up and up and I'm thinking "Dude, come on, let it clear the wall, that'd be awesome."
Up, up, up... the ball's coming towards us...
It clears the wall and bounces in one of those lower empty spots, and goes up, its arc leading straight at me. I put up my hand and the ball lands in it!
My first ever home run ball. Thanks, Inaba! :)
(Yes, it has the date of the game, and an "NPB Official Ball" stamp on it.)
Everyone's cheering and doing high-fives as we always do after home runs. An usher comes up to me and I say in Japanese, "Do you want the ball?" and he replies "No, no, please keep it."
And then about twenty OTHER people come up to me and want to high-five me and to touch the ball and to see it and to take pictures of it and babble at me in Japanese, saying things like "Congrats!" or "Good catch!" or "Wow! You are lucky!" One girl even saw my scorecard and was like "You wrote all of these names? Amazing!" And one guy made me take a photo with him and the ball... I tried to explain that I hate pictures of me, but whatever.
After the inning ended (Shinji Takahashi was DHing and struck out for his first time), about ten more people came up and wanted to see/touch the ball. That was just pretty crazy. They were all just like "Wow, Inaba's home run ball. How cool. Good for you!"
Yeah, so sadly, that was the third at-bat of the game and most of the rest of it was a letdown. I mean, the Fighters were leading 1-0 for the first 7ish innings, but both Yagi and Wakui were pretty on today.
(Lineup note: Fighters weren't playing Seguignol, or Tsuboi; as I said, Shinji was DHing and Tsuruoka was catching instead. Kudoh was playing left field -- funny, he hasn't gotten many starts this year but he started in the other game I went to. I suppose this is what's going to happen if I go to a lot of Sunday games. I'm sad that I missed Yukio getting a start yesterday, actually.)
Kensuke Tanaka walked to lead off the 4th inning, but Inaba and Takahashi made quick outs. So during Kudoh's at-bat we started cheering "Hashire, hashire, Kensuke" (run, run) instead of "get a hit Kudoh", and sure enough Kensuke took off to steal second and he was out by a mile. Yeesh.
Yagi actually had a perfect game through three innings, but on the second time around the order, Tomoaki Satoh (not to be confused with Takahiko "G.G." Satoh) hit a hard liner through the middle for a single. And unlike Kensuke Tanaka, he successfully stole second, though he didn't get any further than that.
Fighters got a runner to third in the 5th inning (a double by Kudoh and a sac bunt by Naoto Inada), but failed to capitalize on that too, despite us all singing the "chance" music. (PS -- thank you Fighters oendan for writing chance music that doesn't suck in the last few years.)
Lions at-bat music note: Toru Hosokawa still comes out to Kiyoshi no Zundoko, which is really freaking bizarre given the echo in the Goodwill Dome (you hear it going "ZUN! zun! ZUN zun ZUN zun ZUN zun DOKO doko!" as it reverbs). Hisashi Takayama, who was batting after Hosokawa, also used an enka theme song, and also echoed in a bizarre way. And uhh... Kazuhiro Wada uses "Hit me Baby One More Time" as his at-bat music, which is just plain freaking weird.
Yagi got into a bit of a pinch in the 6th inning -- Hosokawa singled and was bunted up, and then Yagi hit Kataoka with a pitch, so there were two on with one out, but then Satoh grounded into a double play (which reminds me, I may not really have an excuse to say it in this entry but Makoto Kaneko is still fantastic and awesome and I still adore him).
Everything sort of fell apart in the bottom of the 7th. Hiroyuki Nakajima nearly hit a home run that Inaba caught at the wall, and then Kazuhiro Wada hit a double off the back wall for real, and then BLAM, Alex Cabrera hit a home run that not only cleared the outfield wall but it actually hit the back wall in center, under the scoreboard. That brought the score to 2-1.
The Fighters evened it up in the top of the 8th. Toshimasa Konta led off (pinch-hitting for Yuuji Iiyama, who had come in defensively for Chon-so Yoh) and doubled down the leftfield line. Tsuruoka bunted, and Konta moved to third. Hichori Morimoto came to the plate and very excitingly singled to right, scoring Konta! 2-2. Lots of high-fives and whatnot among the crowd, and some excitement again. Kensuke Tanaka, whose at-bats literally took about five minutes each (I know, because we looped the cheer songs), grounded out, moving Hichori to second. So for Inaba, we all got very excited to start singing his cheer songs, and... and they started to intentionally walk him, so instead we all just started booing and yelling things about what a bunch of cowards the Lions are, etc. And then our glorious DH, Shinji Takahashi, proceeded to strike out for the third time that day. (Don't get me wrong, I like him a lot, but I thought it was a bit weird having him in cleanup.)
So with the score tied 2-2 into the bottom of the 8th, and Yagi looking tired, there was a call to the bullpen. (You could argue that it should have been done an inning earlier for an Ejiri-Hisashi-Micheal finish, but whatever.) Shintaro Ejiri came out, and he's actually been a pretty good setup guy this year in general, but... but... but not today. Takumi Kuriyama pinch hit for Takayama -- the DH batting 9th -- and took the first or second pitch he saw and sent it flying into the Seibu cheering section in right field. 3-2. Yikes. And the bleeding didn't stop there -- Kataoka singled, Satoh hit into a fielder's choice but the play wasn't made at second so there were two runners, and then Nakajima was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. At this point there was another call to the bullpen and Takehiko Oshimoto came out to pitch, and fortunately some miracle occurred that I couldn't clearly see due to the stupid fence, but the Fighters somehow got a double play to catch Kataoka running home AND to catch Kazuhiro Wada running to first, so no run scored an there were two outs, and then Oshimoto struck out Alex Cabrera.
Still, the damage was done, and Alex Graman came out to close the 3-2 game, and he struck out Kudoh and Inada, both looking, on very close pitches. Kaneko grounded out to second and that was the game.
After the game I went over to the Hero's Hichori people and said (in Japanese), "Hey! I remember you guys, I met you last year! You gave me a dolphin!" "A what?" "An Ogasawara dolphin!" "Oh yeah! Wow, that was a long time ago, do you only go to games out here?" "No... I go to Chiba and here..." "Oh, not the Tokyo Dome?" "No, sadly." "Ahh, we are at many of the games, please come say hi again... and good job getting Inaba's home run ball!" "I was lucky!" "Maybe... well, see you again later!"
It turns out the Fighters are playing in Chiba on Monday Sept 10th, so I am going to try to go to that game, I think. Of course, that was also the weekend I was planning to go to Nagoya and visit a friend and see the Dragons game on the 9th, so it could be a pretty busy weekend. I'm debating going down to Yokohama for the Baystars game on September 2nd -- it's an afternoon game, so a great excuse to get a low seat and bring my camera, although it's also supposed to rain in Kanto next weekend so who knows. I'll decide later this week, I guess.