Thursday, November 08, 2007

And here's to you, Kanemura-san; Hanshin holds a place for those who play

Hey hey hey.

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself...

Earlier this week, the Fighters traded Satoru Kanemura to Hanshin for Yasuhiro Nakamura. I know little to nothing about Nakamura to be honest, although, hey, he went to Keio. Neat. He was actually drafted out of IBM's industrial league team in Yasu City, and according to his Yahoo page, he's practically the same age, height, and weight as I am. And heck, we're both left-handed! I hope he can throw faster than I can.

Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the ground until you feel at home

Let's face it, I've been unnecessarily harsh on Kanemura for... well, forever. In reality, I was probably just really frustrated at feeling like the Fighters didn't have a genuine ace pitcher on the staff, and Kanemura was just our #1 because he'd been around a while and could throw lots of innings compared to the rest of the staff -- sort of a Ryan Franklin type, if you will. (And, well, he was Japanese, unlike Carlos Mirabal.) Imagine if Ryan Franklin was your pitching staff's ace? How would you feel?

The 2006 season really was pretty bizarre for Kanemura. He started off the year getting his ass kicked by Julio Zuleta, who stormed the mound following a beaning. After that he basically spent most of the season playing video games and being generally mediocre. On September 24th, he got in a huge fight with Trey Hillman, who pulled him from a game just shy of 5 innings; it was 4-1 with the bases loaded and two outs in the 5th. At the time, Kanemura had 9 wins, and had won 10+ games for the previous 4 seasons, so he was pretty pissed off about being denied the chance at a 10th win, and mouthed off about what a horrible and selfish person Hillman was; this resulted in Kanemura getting a 10-day suspension and missing half of the postseason. Despite getting shelled by a KBO exhibition team the week before, Kanemura came in to pitch Japan Series game 4, and got the win and the game hero accolades. The Fighters won the series, and everything seemed peachy. I even promised to stop making fun of "Kanemoron" for the time being.

Anyway, 2007 happened, but Kanemura didn't. For the first time since 1999, he didn't pitch 100 innings, but sat out with shoulder troubles, among other things. Perhaps if anything, the problem was actually psychological, realizing that the Fighters simply didn't NEED him in the rotation anymore. It wasn't like he had fallen to being the #2 or #3 starter, but at this point he was more like the #6.

So, rather than me remembering the LAST time I saw Kanemura pitch a game live (in September 2006 when he gave up a grand slam to Toru Freaking Hosokawa), I'm going to talk a little bit more about the FIRST time I saw Kanemura pitch a game, back in September 2003.

Sitting on the subway on a Monday afternoon
Going to the Fighters-Orix game, yeah

Picture taken in the 2nd or 3rd inning. What's missing
from this scene? Fans in the stands, perhaps?

When the Fighters played in Tokyo, they shared the Tokyo Dome with the Giants. However, they did not share the Tokyo fan base with the Giants. Giants games would pack the Dome to its 50,000 capacity or so, while the Fighters games would sell 50,000 tickets... over the course of an entire month, if they were lucky.

One day, in a subway station in Tokyo, we found these Fighters fliers with a grinning picture of Trey Hillman flanked by Michihiro Ogasawara and Itsuki Shoda, not that I had any clue who either of them were at that time. Even better, the fliers had coupons for discounts at Fighters games! 500 yen off any ticket! Wow! We could sit in the outfield for under 10 bucks! What a great deal!

Little did I know exactly how much that great deal would change my life, as we sat in the middle of the Fighters cheering section completely by accident, surrounded by flags and noisemakers and instruments and crazy people. They took us in and taught us the songs and cheers and we had a grand old time. From then on, I was a Fighters fan for life! Or something.

However, the outfield was fairly full. This is Japanese
baseball economics at its finest.

The starting pitcher for this game was Satoru Kanemura, who I was told at the time was the ace, so I was sure to see a good game. Infact, just for old times' sake, here's the starting lineups from that game:

Orix Blue Wave Nippon Ham Fighters
-------------- -------------------
Mitsutaka Gotoh, SS Tatsuya Ide, CF
Koichi Ohshima, 3B Tomochika Tsuboi, RF
Yoshitomo Tani, CF Michihiro Ogasawara, 3B
Roosevelt Brown, LF Angel Echevarria, DH
Kazuhiro Shiotani, 1B Kazuteru Shimada, LF
Jose Ortiz, 2B Yukio Tanaka, 1B
Takeshi Yamasaki, DH Kokichi Akune, 2B
Takeshi Hidaka, C Hiroshi Narahara, SS
Ikuro Katsuragi, RF Kazunari Sanematsu, C

Rui Makino, P Satoru Kanemura, P

One of the greatest things that Trey Hillman ever did for the Fighters was basically telling all of these random old guys, "You're old. You are not very good at baseball. You should retire so we can get some young guys who are actually good at baseball, and have them go out there and win games." Okay, maybe he didn't really say that, but I like to pretend that he did. It's still really funny to look back at these old lineups, though. And of course, there's only one guy from that starting lineup who will play for the Fighters next year (well, assuming they re-sign him), and that's Tsuboi, who's now become the 4th or 5th outfielder. Quite a step down from the 2003 season, where he batted .330, second to Ogasawara's league-leading .360.

(I actually think I know where most of those guys are now, too. Ide went off to be a Hawks coach, Shimada became a Fighters coach, Narahara became a Chunichi coach, OCD went to the Giants, Yukio is retiring, and Kanemura is now going to Hanshin. Echevarria ended up in the independent leagues in the States for a while. And Sanematsu, of course, did his greatest service to the team by getting traded to Yomiuri for one year of Hideki Okajima, back in March of 2006.)

Even better is looking at that Orix lineup. Takeshi Yamasaki!!1!1!1!!!1 And Jose Ortiz, too!

Kanemura also had 9 wins going into this game, looking for his 10th win. Funny how that seems to be a recurring state for him in September. Infact, this game resembled a lot of recent Fighters games in many ways.

What happened in this game? Kanemura actually pitched pretty well, all things considered. The only two runs that he gave up were on Orix homers (one by Jose Ortiz in the 2nd inning, one by Katsuragi (!) in the 6th.

In the meantime, the Fighters scored a run in the 3rd inning (batted in by Angel Echevarria), and then Echevarria also hit a 3-run home run in the 5th inning.

Scoreboard immediately following Echevarria's home run.

Kanemura stayed in for 7 2/3 innings, and wasn't pulled until the 8th inning, with the score at 4-2 and runners at first and second. Yoshinori Tateyama, the closer at the time, came in to finish out the game at that point.

Tateyama finished out the eighth inning without a problem, but...

Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose
Any way you look at it, you lose the top of the 9th, Ohshima hit a double, and then Roosevelt Brown hit a home run way over the centerfield wall, tying the game at 4-4. Argh. Thus Kanemura had been robbed of another chance at his 10th win.

Tatsuya Ide walks back to his position after watching the
ball sail over the centerfield wall.

However, all was not lost. Ide led off the bottom of the 9th with a double, and then Tsuboi hit a pop fly out to center. So with batting champion Ogasawara at bat and a winning run at second, they decided to walk Ogasawara and go for Echevarria, who was so far 3-for-4 on the day with 4 RBI. Not sure exactly what they were thinking, but Echevarria made them pay, hitting a single to center. Tani threw in the ball but Ide, who used to have pretty good speed in the day, ran and ran and ran and scored and the game ended right there at 5-4.

Final score - Echevarria 5 Fighters 5, Orix 4.

(Something neat is noticing that Kaneko and Nishiura came into the game for the Fighters, and Daisuke Hayakawa for Orix. Yes, THAT Hayakawa.)

Naturally, Tateyama got the win rather than Kanemura. I also remember that Echevarria was the game hero, and he spoke in English, and I could understand the Japanese translator better than I could understand "Echay" himself.

Kanemura did finally get his 10th win on September 21st that year, but he finished 10-8 and second-best to Carlos Mirabal's 16-11. Oddly, Mirabal had a higher ERA and much worse peripherals (Kanemura: 103 K, 56 BB, 24 HR, 157 IP; Mirabal: 103 K, 70 BB, 27 HR, 193.2 IP). Either way, they were both pretty mediocre when it really comes down to it. Kanemura was the 2004 Opening Day starter after the move to Hokkaido; Mirabal was the 2005 Opening Day starter and then had arm troubles and sort of just faded out of existence. In typical Japanese fashion, nobody noticed, since they were too busy admiring how cool Shinjo was.

And then 2006 happened. I don't know whether to be more surprised that Kanemura was on the Fighters in 2007, or that he won't be on the Fighters in 2008.

Either way, I guess I want to sort of send him off in a good way, rather than a bad way. Despite that I was always making fun of him, part of me is very sad that we won't have Kanemura to kick around anymore, as it were. (Though I'm betting he's pretty happy to put more distance between himself and Julio Zuleta.)

So here's to you, Kanemura-san. Hope you have fun hanging out with Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi again, drinking beer and talking about dogs, and whatever else pitchers talk about when they've gone from the Fighters to the Tigers. I promise not to make fun of you next year. Not much, at least.

No comments: