Nonetheless, I sat up in Row 26 with some of Team 26 and cheered for Shunsuke, who handled his first 26 batters pretty well.
He throws from a hand down under. Can you hear the thunder?
I should perhaps first explain that I was there as a guest of the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force, which is how I ended up sitting right under the press box. To my left was an old guy who has been a Lotte fan for approximately ninety billion years who hates the Fighters, and to my right was the Murata family, who kidnapped me and brought me to the stadium and then had their 9-year-old son hypnotize me and force me to sing the Marines songs, and one section over was a heckler who threatened to kill all non-Marines fans, and...
...no, I'm mostly making that up. Max is a great kid though. And the heckler is really a nice guy. And the old guy didn't actually hate the Fighters but he kept needling me about all the players they've lost over the last few years (as well as tell me random stories about Marines players; I didn't know Daisuke Hayakawa was from Funabashi). And I wasn't really kidnapped; rather, I got a ride down to Chiba with them from Tokyo. But I really was there as a guest of the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force. More on that later.
I scribbled scorecards, munched on a Bobby Burger, did some Chiba cheers, and then the game got going.
(Yes, they have Bobby Burgers at the stadium Lotteria. We don't have them up here in Saitama, so this was my first chance to try one. It was also surreal to see the Philly cheesesteak stands selling Ivar's clam chowder, which is a crazy hybrid of two of my "hometowns". All they'd need is pierogies and my brain would explode.)
I spent the first inning trying to play with the focus on my camera to take pictures of Shunsuke from behind the homeplate netting. As you can see if you look at my game picture set, I sort of succeeded but not really. What was really great was the angle we were at; it looked like he was throwing the ball up towards us. Seeing that through a camera zoom lens was even crazier, like when you watch a 3-D movie and things start flying towards you.
In the second inning, Orix got off to two outs fairly quickly when Arihito Muramatsu grounded into a double play after Greg LaRocca singled. But then shortstop Mitsutaka Gotoh smacked a double to left, and Shinji Shimoyama singled him home. 1-0.
The Marines almost got a run in their half of the second. Saburo led off with a double to center, and then Ohmatsu grounded out weakly up the line, advancing Saburo. Orix starter Hidetaka Kawagoe then hit Julio Zuleta with a pitch, in the shoulder. So with runners at first and third... Satozaki, who was DHing, struck out throwing his bat away. Oops. But then catcher Hashimoto walked, loading the bases. Shunichi Nemoto, in his second plate appearance of the year, struck out. Called. He seemed kind of confused by it.
Zuleta has just been hit by a pitch and is not too happy about it.
Satozaki says, "HEY! COME BACK HERE, YOU OLD BAT!"
The next few innings went pretty quickly, and the rain started up more and more. There were a lot of close calls and a couple scattered hits, but that was it. Kawagoe called a timeout for a possible injury in the 6th inning, and then in the 7th ended up giving up one run to the Marines; Hashimoto singled, Nemoto singled, Nishioka grounded out. With two outs runners at second and third, and people yelling all kinds of encouragement at Daisuke Hayakawa (the heckler yelled "Don't do it for us, do it for Shunsuke!!"), he grounded back to the mound. OR DID HE? Kawagoe couldn't get ahold of the ball in time and so everyone advanced a base safely, Hashimoto scoring on the play. 1-1! Third baseman Jose Ortiz grounded into a fielder's choice after that.
(I point out that Jose Ortiz was playing third, because Imae wasn't playing at all. I guess since Imae's been ON FIRE lately they were afraid the rain might extinguish him or something. Alternately, maybe it was just a way to get another left-handed bat in the lineup with Nemoto.)
One pretty cool thing about the new features at Chiba Marine Stadium is that they use the "Auroravision" screen that goes around the infield to show all of the out-of-town scores between some innings. And even cooler, we got to see in realtime that the Yakult Swallows -- predicted to finish last in the CL -- had finished sweeping the Yomiuri Giants out of Jingu this weekend.
Shunsuke was still out there pitching into the 8th. Ex-Fighter Kuniyuki Kimoto grounded out, but then Takeshi Hidaka hit a double to center -- his second double of the day, even. Sakaguchi hit a popup for the second out, but then Masahiro Abe hit a low line drive to right field, over a jumping Nemoto. Saburo threw the ball in and Zuleta got the cutoff, but not in time to catch Hidaka at the plate. 2-1. Then, uh... that Tuffy Rhodes fellow came up to the plate, and he took the first pitch he saw and WHAM it went flying over the centerfield wall for a home run. 4-1, and Shunsuke was out of the game.
Ogino came in to pitch and also seemed to have some trouble at first -- he hit Greg LaRocca with a pitch and walked Muramatsu, but then Gotoh grounded out and that was it for the top of the 8th.
Kazuya Motoyanagi pitched an eventless bottom of the 8th, and Brian Sikorski struck out two in a 1-2-3 top of the 9th. Orix closer Daisuke Katoh came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Katoh is actually a really good pitcher, and can throw in the mid-to-upper 140's and some pretty great stuff at that. I wonder how long it'll take Orix to trade him away for a sack of beans?
Actually, it wasn't that easy a save for him. Satozaki led off by finally getting a hit, and while Hashimoto struck out on a checked swing called third strike, Nemoto literally fouled off 6 balls in a row to the third-base stands; when he finally hit a ball the correct direction, it was caught in right field for the second out. Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled after that to get Satozaki to third, but Hayakawa also hit a big blooping fly ball to left field for the last out of the game. Winner: Kawagoe. Loser: Shunsuke. Save: Katoh. Score: 4-1. Rain: still going.
Morozumi says: "No, kid, second base is THAT way. Yes, your hair looks fine with those gloves."
Anyway, the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force, otherwise known as Larry Rocca, came up and visited us halfway through the game for a bit, and then afterwards he took our small posse (me, the Murata family, and a guy who's doing international relations for Chiba prefecture named Benjamin, and his friend whose name I never caught) into the "backstage" of the stadium briefly and we got to meet a few assorted cast members of the Marines. I met Paul, the "Minister of Information" behind the Marines, who Westbay had mentioned to me several times, so it was neat to put a face to the stats and chat a bit about Seattle. There were some other people around, coaches and whatnot, and literally like 40 feet away from us there were a crowd of reporters interviewing Shunsuke Watanabe (or, as Larry put it, "hey Deanna, look over there, it's your boy... you can kind of see him in the postgame media swarm."), and then Bobby Valentine actually came down the hallway. And Larry introduced me, and I got to shake hands with Bobby, and he actually knew who I was, and I was completely flabbergasted, and the rest of it is kind of a blur (except for where he's got me thinking about ways to translate Korean box scores, but that's another story). And I wish I got pictures of any of this, but alas, I didn't. Maybe some other time.
Afterwards, I got a ride back to Tokyo with the Muratas, who gave me a Marines flag. So now I can wave a flag and yell "BA! MO! FLIO!!" with everyone in Chiba, which is the Japanese version of "Vamos Julio!" for Zuleta. No, really.
(Also, in case you are wondering, no, this is NOT a permanent blog name/color change. What's today's date? I did this last year too...)