Congrats to the Chiba Lotte Marines, who defeated the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks two games to one in the Pacific League Playoff Stage 1. Stage 2 starts up in Hokkaido on Saturday at 1pm; my guess is Darvish will face Shunsuke, but that's obviously just a guess right now. Either way, it's irrelevant, as the Fighters are going to win. Sorry, Chiba, that's just the way it is.
I did watch Game 1 of the playoffs over the internet -- thanks to not getting to Lawson's until 12:30pm on the day the tickets went on sale, rather than at 10am -- but rather than liveblogging it here, I just did the play-by-play in the chatroom on japanesebaseball.com, which you can read here. Submariner Shunsuke Watanabe pitched a complete-game win, because he rules, and Kazumi Saitoh continues to be plagued by bad luck in the playoffs.
I missed games 2 and 3 because I was at work. Essentially, Toshiya Sugiuchi rules, so he won the game yesterday for the Hawks. And then Yoshihisa Naruse is still The Boy Who Couldn't Lose, so today he pitched a complete game shutout to win the game and the series for the Marines. Jason Standridge started for the Hawks, but walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th inning and then Saburo came through with a bases-clearing triple to put the Marines ahead 3-0, followed by Satozaki successfully pulling off a squeeze to make it 4-0, which is where it would end.
When I think about it, it's still funny how I went to Chiba last year on a whim to see Naruse pitch, just because I thought he was interesting. I came out of that game thinking "Eh, he's pretty good, but I don't understand why," and the thing is, I still sort of feel that way. But, whatever mystique surrounds him, when he starts a game for Lotte, they win. It's pretty crazy.
Yesterday's playoff game was mostly eclipsed in the news by the final game for Atsuya Furuta, though. Furuta, for those who don't know, is pretty much the greatest catcher of this generation of Japanese baseball. He's not only had a Hall of Fame career on the field, but also was the leader of the players' union, organized the strike in the fall of 2004 that led to the creation of the Rakuten Eagles, and when he became manager of the Swallows last year, was the first player-manager in Japan since Katsuya Nomura (also regarded as one of the best catchers and managers in the history of Japan) in 1977. Though he didn't play much this year, people still made a big deal over "daida, ore", otherwise known as "Now pinch-hitting, me." Tonight was his last game as a player, and sure enough he did a Daida Ore in the 9th inning, AND he got a hit, too.
I randomly happened to watch a sports program that had Furuta on as a guest, and I really wanted to cry. The wacky thing about Furuta is that he doesn't even really look 42; I'd say he looks like he's still in his mid-30's. They did a whole video retrospective on his career and had brief quotes from tons of random players, it was both awesome and sad all at once. They showed some footage of him back in the late 1980's when he started playing; it's funny how some teams passed on drafting him because of his ridiculously big glasses. Of course, some teams passed on drafting Ichiro because he was a ridiculously skinny runt, so hey, nobody's perfect. Still, Ichiro grew up and Furuta got smaller glasses, and both have had Hall of Fame careers, so hey.
The thing that sucks is that I never actually got to see Furuta play. Even in the Giants-Swallows game I went to in 2004, he didn't play; nor in any of the bunches of Yakult games I saw in the last two years. I've always had an insane amount of respect for the man, and it's sad to see an era come to an end.
As an aside, with the CL games finally coming to a close yesterday, the man who won the drama-filled CL home run race was, in the end, Yokohama's Shuuichi Murata. First, it was a tie between Murata, Yomiuri's Yoshinobu Takahashi, and Chunichi's Tyrone Woods, all at 35 homers. The Giants finished the season and Murata got his 36th, so Yoshinobu was out of the race.
Chunichi's final game was on Sunday... against Yokohama. I managed to talk to Tyrone Woods before the game a little, and he said he didn't think they'd pitch to him, but he was sure going to try to hit a home run. As it is, they did pitch to him, and he didn't hit a home run, so Tyrone also found himself out of the race. However, in the meantime, that same day, Aaron Guiel of the Yakult Swallows hit a normal home run and an inside-the-park home run, to bring his total up to 35. So, there was still a race going on... just a slightly different race.
Naturally, Yakult's final two games were against Yokohama as well. Now, of course, if both teams simply walked each other's home run leaders, then Murata would just win outright. But, as it is, Murata just struck out a lot, and Guiel didn't manage to hit any home runs, so in the end, Murata got the title. And good for him, too, because he's really an amazing hitter, by far the current best Baystars bat.
I finally got a DVD player a few days ago and watched the 2006 Fighters DVD, which I was too cheap to buy last year, and found used for 1500 yen at a store a few weeks ago. Let me tell you, it's simply amazing. Highlights from every 2006 game, from the playoffs, from the series... not only that, there's footage from the 1962 and 1981 Fighters/Flyers teams as well. It reminded me how much I really love these guys and how sad it is that I have this long-distance relationship with them. Since they'll always have the top spot in my heart, I think it's okay if I see the Dragons and Baystars in the meantime, when the Fighters aren't in town. I mean, it's okay, they're in the other league anyway, so it's technically not cheating on them, right?