Monday, May 12, 2008

Game Report: Dragons vs. Giants @ Tokyo Dome - un-Happy Birthday Kenichi Nakata

The Dragons' rotation -- and Kenichi Nakata in particular -- continued to break down on Sunday night at the Tokyo Dome, as Alex Ramirez and Michihiro Ogasawara hit home runs off of him and weren't even the game heroes in a 9-3 smackdown.

This was also yet another episode in the continuing saga of the dysfunctional Chunichi oendan organization. As far as I could tell, the cheering group at the Tokyo Dome was being led by a few random guys with small Chunichi flags and megaphones who were sitting in the middle of the cheering seats area. There were no trumpets, no drums, but amazingly enough, that didn't stop everyone from doing the chance music that sort of needs music and fanfares; I think they just banged cheer sticks even louder to compensate. Due to specifically being in the Tokyo Dome, the cheers also added a "Yomiuri taose o!" ("Defeat the Giants!") after every batter call, which is always a special occasion as well. Also, I saw some pretty great jerseys in the crowd; one guy had "Nice Leed #27", a reference to Tanishige's cheer song, and another person had "Ara Iba 2x6". If it was my jersey it'd say "Arakibata", but I'm weird. Heck, I'm still debating getting "Dragonbutt #31"...

Sunday was not only Kenichi Nakata's turn in Chunichi's rotation on Sunday, but it was also his 26th birthday. As such, we all sung Happy Birthday to him before the game, and before his at-bats. I took a video of one such occasion:

Tsuyoki no shoubu de, shouri wo tsukame
Ikkyu nyuukon, soreyuke Nakata!
Kattobase Nakata, YOMIURI TAOSE O!

Sadly, he struck out. Which is really pretty much what he did for the evening. I'm a little worried about Nakata -- I saw him pitch in Gifu on 4/29 and he was fantastic, but then on May 5th he was devoured by the Hanshin Tigers, who got 7 runs off him in the first inning alone. How he would bounce back tonight was a big question mark to everyone, but I think we hoped he'd have a good birthday wish come true and beat the Giants. With Kazuki Yoshimi having a bad start on Saturday, we were definitely hoping for some sort of extra luck.

But from the very first batter he faced, it wasn't meant to be.

Yoshiyuki Kamei (Rock Star #1, drums, age 25) led off the bottom of the first with a single, and then when Nakata tried to pick him off first, he overthrew and the result was Kamei on third when Hayato Sakamoto (Rock Star #2, guitar, age 19) hit a long fly ball to centerfield for a sacrifice. 1-0.

The Dragons had shifted their lineup back to Byung-Gyu Lee in the 3-spot and Masahiko Morino batting 7th for this game -- Morino had moved up after being overall awesome and Lee had cooled off from a hot start, but the switch seemed to have made both of them worse -- so it was Morino, not Lee, leading off the top of the 3rd inning. Which presented a perfect opportunity for me (and the other few crazy Morino fans in the section) to get out my towel and prepare to yell a lot. And it worked! Morino singled to center! Nice Leed Tanishige walked, and then Birthday Boy Nakata, amidst the strains of Happy Birthday, executed a sac bunt which moved the runners to second and third. Giants starter Seth Greisinger, who was overall solid for the evening, threw a pitch that even Abe couldn't stop, and so Morino scored and Tanishige made it to third. We all jumped up to celebrate the 1-1 tie, and Araki walked a pitch or two later.

I thought we couldn't do the Nerai Uchi chance music without trumpets, but I was wrong. And, it seems to have worked -- Araki stole second, and then Ibata hit a single which brought home the guys on base. 3-1. Lee, batting in the 3-spot, grounded to Sakamoto at short, who stepped on second base and threw to first for a double play to end the inning.

(So now we're back to Morino kicking butt out of the 7-spot and Lee sucking in the 3-spot? That's not good...)

Nakata had struck out Tomoya Inzen (Rock Star #3, lead vocals, age 23) to end the second inning, and so he started off the bottom of the 3rd by striking out Ryota Wakiya (Rock Star #4, bass, age 26), and striking out pitcher Greisinger, and getting a foul fly out of Kamei. Great!

With two outs in the bottom of the 4th, Alex Ramirez hit a 110-meter home run to right field, rounded the bases, and went into his dance routine with the Giabbit at the plate. 3-2. Shinnosuke Abe followed that up with a hit that bounded off Tyrone to end up in the right field corner for a double, but Luis Gonzalez struck out to end the inning.

Rock Star #3, Inzen, led off the bottom of the 5th with a single to right, and sat there on first as Rock Star #4 hit a pop foul, and Greisinger struck out bunting a third strike foul. So with Rock Star #1 Kamei at the plate, Inzen stole second. A pickoff throw to second actually looked pretty good, but he got back to the base safely. On the next pitch, Kamei hit the ball to right field for a double, scoring Inzen. Tie game -- again. 3-3. Rock Star #2 struck out to end the inning.

Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger led off the bottom of the 6th inning by BASHING Nakata's 88th pitch of the evening 135 meters into the Giants faithful in right field. 4-3. It all kind of fell apart from there. Ramirez came to the plate and Nakata's first pitch to him sailed over him to the backstop; four pitches later he walked. Abe struck out, Rami advancing on a wild pitch. Gonzalez singled to center, Morino throwing in the ball fast enough to prevent a run from scoring. The infielders were all playing in for Rock Star #3's at-bat with runners at the corners, so he obliged them by hitting a single to where Ibata probably normally would have been playing, and Ramirez scored. 5-3. Rock Star #4 followed it up with another single to left which scored Gonzalez. 6-3. Greisinger grounded out, moving the rock stars to second and third, and that's when Nakata came out of the game. He had blown out 8 candles in 5.2 innings, but also gotten 6 pieces of cake smashed in his face (5 earned).

Lefty Masato Kobayashi came in to pitch, and walked Rock Star #1 but got Rock Star #2 to hit a pop fly foul out to Tyrone. Thank god, because I was out of space for the inning on my scorecard.

For the record, the Dragons didn't do a damn thing on offense from the 5th inning onwards. I even ended up leaving the ouendan area in the middle of the 8th, although I had another reason for that which will become more apparent some other time.

The Giants tacked on another 3 runs in the 7th inning to make it 9-3, topped by a 2-RBI double by Rock Star #4 and capped by Tyrone Woods making a somersaulting catch of a foul fly by Rock Star #1 for the third out. The Dragons cheerers cheered madly -- and I giggled. "Mezurashii..."

(Jim Allen had given Tyrone a 5-yen piece for good luck before the game, and being as Tyrone hit 2 of the Dragons' 4 hits and made some pretty good plays in the field, you could say it worked.)

Makoto Kosaka actually got an at-bat in the 8th inning but struck out. I wonder: will Kosaka get his first hit of the year before or after Tatsunami gets his second?

Daisuke Ochi pitched the 9th for Yomiuri, being as they suddenly were in no need of a Kroon save by then, and he put down Lee, Woods, and Wada pretty quickly to end the game.

Oddly, the game hero wasn't Ramirez with his two hits and runs and the homer; nor Greisinger with his 7 strong innings pitched, nor Gonzalez with his two hits and two runs scored. No, it was all four of the aforementioned rock stars -- Kamei, Sakamoto, Inzen, and Wakiya.

Tomoya Inzen should have probably been the sole hero of this gang -- in his first time EVER in the starting lineup, no less -- from being 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and scoring the tying run in the 5th inning, and his smart baserunning, but, hey, whatever. During the hero interviews [YouTube], the first three guys were asked about the Young Giants kicking ass in the game, and they were all like "Oh, today it was all Inzen." So the camera pans to Inzen and he's just like "THIS IS THE BEST!!!!!"

I'm not a Giants fan in the least, but I have to admit it IS refreshing to see the game getting carried by foreigners and by young guys who were actually drafted and brought up by the Giants, because the stereotype is for foreigners to come to the Giants and take a lot of money and totally fail at baseball, and for the Giants to just buy big stars off other teams and never actually develop their own prospects.

On the other hand, it would have been nice for Nakata to get a win on his birthday, not face another blowout. Poor guy.

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