Monday, May 26, 2008

Game Report: Fighters vs. Giants @ Tokyo Dome - Takuya-ki

First things first: Hichori's left pinky finger was broken when Nishimura hit him with a pitch in the 7th inning; effective tomorrow he is off the top team roster. It's unclear how long he'll be out. It doesn't sound like a bad break (he actually played defense in the bottom of the 7th and came out in the 8th), but it's still a break, and will take time to heal.

This sucks on so many levels it's not even funny, though. First, he had a streak going of playing every inning of 221 consecutive games, which is now broken. Second, he's pretty much my favorite player on the Fighters these days (I've still never really found someone to fill the void since Ogasawara ripped out my heart though), which means that now my favorite Dragon (CF/3B Morino) and favorite Fighter (CF Morimoto), both of whom are incredibly important to their team, are BOTH on the DL with injuries now. I think I officially refuse to have any more favorite players this year.

Worst of all -- you may have noticed something a little bit frightening about the Fighters' so-called hitters. Notably, that they are awfully few and far between. We pretty much have Hichori, Kensuke, Inaba, Shinji Takahashi, sometimes Sledge, and sometimes Tomoyuki Oda. And half of those guys pretty much can only DH or play first base. NOBODY else in the lineup right now seems capable of consistently hitting a baseball with a bat. This is kind of a problem if you think about it, since winning games depends on scoring runs, and runs kind of depend on hitting a baseball with a bat. Everyone who plays in the left side of the infield is batting under .200 -- Naoto Inada, Koyano, Iiyama, Chon-so Yoh. Backup outfielders like Kudoh and Konta are also hitting under .200, and I have NO clue what's wrong with our veterans like Tsuboi and Kaneko these days.

So, great. On a team that can't hit, that mostly relies on scoring a few runs and having great defense and pitching, we just lost our Golden Glove centerfielder and leadoff hitter.

Anyway, despite all that, and the Fighters losing tonight's game, I actually had a pretty good time. I should explain that part of why I haven't written a lot this week is that I have been spending all of my spare time on what I've been calling my "Fighters Art Project", which has been to make a player poster book. I got a B4-sized sketchbook and a lot of colored paper, and some glitter glue, and have been cutting letters and gluing and glittering pages. (Let me tell you that when you run out of glitter glue at 2am and live in the middle of nowhere in Saitama, you're pretty much stuck until the next day.) I've done this in a way that each page opens out to be a poster for each player to hold up during their at-bats. So far I have pages for Hichori ("Hichori #1"), Sledge ("Go! Go! Sledge"), and kanji name pages for Inaba, Kensuke, Shinji, and Kudoh. Here's a few of them -- my friend Pau, who was crazy enough to go to a Fighters game with me, was also forced to take pictures.

(Atsunori) Inaba sign.

Kensuke Tanaka sign, Shinji Takahashi sign. Pay no attention to the girl wearing the bear ears.

So Pau and I meet up outside the Tokyo Dome store around 5:20; he goes off to buy a Fighters hat and I make my way into the stadium. They're handing out Seung-Yeop Lee cards at the door (which is pretty funny since he's on the farm team right now), and I accidentally go the wrong direction, so I don't make it to my seat until about 2/3 of the way through the Fighters' lineup announcing. As it turned out, despite being fairly far down the 3rd base line, on the second floor, our area was about half Fighters fans and half Giants fans. I hate how that always happens at the Tokyo Dome (except for, I'm sure, Hanshin games).

I got out my huge stash of Fighters cheering stuff -- a jersey for Pau (away plain; I wore my home Ogasawara jersey since this seemed like an appropriate occasion), cheer sticks, BB mascot ears (which are a bit small for my gaijin head), inflatable green Hichori microphone, inflatable pink Kensuke hand, player bracelets (I have Kensuke, Kaneko, Naoto, Hichori, and Inaba), my Kensuke wristband, and... oh crap, I forgot to bring a towel with me. Which is a bigger mistake than you'd think, because for whatever reason, the Tokyo Dome was REALLY FREAKING WARM. Most people were sweating well before the game even started.

The people sitting in front of us were a group of 5 -- if I guess correctly, it was a married couple, plus the brother or friend of the guy, plus the parents of the girl (I think). As it turns out, the guy in the middle was a big Fighters fan (but his brother or friend was a Giants fan). I forget how it started, but we basically kept being like "LOOK WHAT I HAVE". See, he saw the inflatable cheer stuff, so he said to Pau, "Did you buy that at a ramen shop in Sapporo?" and Pau's like "no, they're hers," and I'm like "I bought them in Sapporo, at that place near Fukuzumi station," and so the guy's like "Dude, I was just in Sapporo for the weekend to see the Fighters," and starts showing me stuff like his ticket stubs which he still had with him, and that he had TAKAHITO KUDOH'S BATTING GLOVES. No joke. So I find the picture of me with Trey Hillman on my cellphone and am like "I got to chat with Hillman-kantoku!" and they're like "Oh, you are from Kansas City?" I reply "No, I was visiting Seattle and yelled SHINJIRARENAAAAIIIII at him!" So the guy gets out his camera and shows me pictures he took from the Fighters' dugout on Saturday before the game. I asked if he was friends with Kudoh, but it turns out no, he's just friends with someone on Fighters staff. I think he totally won the "LOOK WHAT I HAVE" game. I also think he got the impression that we live in Sapporo.

Uh, so anyway, there was a game. Shugo Fujii, whose redeeming features include that he is left-handed and 5 days younger than me, started for the Fighters. Hiroshi Kisanuki started for the Giants, and his not-so-redeeming features include that he hit Tomoaki Kanemoto in the head with a pitch a few weeks ago. (Kanemoto retaliated by hitting a home run.)

Kisanuki dealt with the Fighters fairly quick in the top of the first, and then the Giants got out to a quick lead when former Fighter (grrr) Ogasawara hit a two-out single to right. "And here's Ramirez, who's gonna hit a home run off his former teammate Fujii in 5...4...3...2.." BLAM, he hit a looong fly ball to left, which fortunately was NOT a home run, but Terrmel Sledge, in left, fielded the ball and threw the weakest throw in that I've ever seen. Sheesh. Ogasawara scored, and then Shinnosuke "GO HOME!" Abe followed it up with another double, scoring Rami. 2-0. Tani grounded out after that to end the inning.

I might point out that, as I mentioned, the Fighters have a couple guys that can't do much more than play first or DH in Shinji (we seem to have given up on him as a catcher, especially with a defensive catcher like Tsuruoka in the mix being fully endorsed by Darvish) and Sledge and Oda and... so in the DH-less games of interleague, it seems the solution is to put Shinji at 1B and Sledge in LF, but... ugh.

Shinji hits a one-out single in the top of the 2nd, and then Sledge follows that up with a home run to left-center! 2-2 tie game! We stand up, cheer, high-five people, etc. "See, he made up for that throw," said Pau.

But naturally the bottom of the 2nd starts off with -- of all people -- freaking KIMUTAKU hitting a home run to right. 3-2. Fujii proceeds to then strike out the next three batters, but given that they are Terauchi, Kisanuki, and Kamei, I'm not sure whether that's impressive or not.

Between the third and fourth innings, we start chatting with the people in front of us again. I'm setting up my Kensuke poster because he's leading off the fourth, and so they look through my posters and are all like "these are awesome!" So for whatever reason, the Giants fan guy in the group gives me a container of takoyaki (breaded fried octopus). No joke.

(I still need to tell the story about my adventure in Kamagaya on 5/12, where an old dude gave me a beer for yelling English cheers at Mitch Jones. Hmm.)

So, Kensuke Tanaka leads off the 4th by hitting a single. And still no Inaba Jump, which has Pau very disappointed. (I think it's just that the Kanto ouendan are afraid of losing their identity to the Sapporo traditions.) Anyway, Inaba Jump or no Inaba Jump, Inaba doesn't care, he hits a big fly ball out to left, and it's going, going, going, HAITAAAAAAAAA!!!! I nearly drop the takoyaki and my scorecard and everything as I jump up to watch, but here's another gyakuten and it is now 4-3, and there is much rejoicing. Yay.

But then in the bottom of the 4th, after Tani singles, Takuya Freaking Kimura, AGAIN, hits this long fly ball to left-center. It ends up being a double, and Tani scores, 4-4. Kimutaku overruns second trying to stretch to a triple, and I could have sworn the throw to second and the tag came in to get him out, but the umpire doesn't think so. It ends up not mattering, though.

Also, as it turns out, the takoyaki does not have shrimp in it, so Pau is able to help me eat it. (We both have wacky seafood allergies.) The people in front of us are happy that we can actually eat takoyaki. In the meantime, Shinya Tsuruoka actually hits a double, which is cool. Fujii strikes out, but Hichori hits a long fly ball and Tsuruoka tags up to third. Koyano walks, and that's curtains for Kisanuki, who comes out after 4.2 innings with the game tied, and to his credit, does not seem to get angry. Soichi Fujita, who sucked with Lotte last year but seems to be pretty good for the Giants this year, came in, and got Kensuke to hit a pop fly out to left.

Other things happen. Kentaro Nishimura, who is probably the ugliest baseball player in Japan, comes in to pitch after Fujita walks Sledge in the 6th. This will become relevant in a bit. In the meantime, I end up giving a package of Fighters cookies to the Giants fan guy who gave me the takoyaki. I admit that I do not quite understand the Japanese customs of gift-giving, and when you are supposed to give something back in return, but if I have something to give, I feel like I should. Kind of.


Ramirez starts off the inning by grounding to short. Kind of. More like there's a weird confusion over who is getting the ball, third or short, and then Iiyama, who has just come in to play short, manages to get the ball, but then throws it somewhere in the general vicinity of first, and it bounces towards the stands. Oops. Shinnosuke Abe FAILS to sac bunt, and instead pops out foul to third. Tani singles, moving Rami to second, and that's it for Fujii.

Yataro Sakamoto comes in to pitch to Kimutaku. "Err... we got him from Yakult. I think he doesn't suck... maybe..." [looks at stats] "Oh, yeah. I guess he sucks. But he went to Urawa Gakuin!" Kimutaku grounds to Kensuke, and it was close to being a double play, but no cigar. Rami moves to third on the play.

I swear that I had just been talking about Takayuki Shimizu, thanks to a side conversation about Urawa Gakuin, and what happens? Shimizu comes in to pinch-hit! (Really, there is some law that if I go to a Giants game, Shimizu must pinch-hit so I have "Go West" in my head for a week.) So the Fighters put in former Waseda lefty Ken Miyamoto to pitch and we start talking about Miyamoto instead.

Miyamoto comes in and OH MY GOD THE FIRST THING HE DOES IS THROW A SLIDER INTO THE DIRT and Tsuruoka can't block it and the ball goes rolling off into the sunset and Ramirez runs home. 5-4.

"What the hell was THAT?" I say in Japanese. And in English, "If that ends up being the final score, I am going to be REALLY, REALLY annoyed."

So, in the top of the 7th, the Fighters get their last baserunner of the night when Nishimura hits Hichori in the arm with a fastball. Ow.

Yachiho Hoshino pitches the bottom of the 7th. Kiyoshi Toyoda pitches the top of the 8th. And in the bottom of the 8th, Kudoh replaces Hichori at center. At first I'm all like "Oh, cool, Kudoh," and the guy in front of me gets out his Kudoh gloves, but then it occurs to me that something weird must be up, because I'm pretty sure Hichori NEVER comes out of the game unless there's a catastrophe. But, alas, we don't know. Hoshino stays in for the bottom of the 8th. And naturally, Alex Ramirez gets to ABSOLUTELY CRUSH a pitch off him which we could tell was a homerun pretty much from the second it left the bat. 6-4.

Rami does his little homerun dance on the screen. Pau covers his eyes. "Is it over yet?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say. "And at least there's one good thing that came out of that..."


"The final score isn't going to be 5-4, it's going to be 6-4."

He nods. "Yeah. Next is Kroon. And who do you have on the bench?"

"Now that Kudoh's in? Nobody. We have, uh, Naoto, who is also batting under 200, and uhh... I have no clue who is on the top team these days."

As it turns out, I forgot we had Oda. But as it also turns out, Oda lined to left field to end the game, so it was kind of a moot point. Giants win. Game heroes were Ramirez and Kimura, which shouldn't surprise anyone, except maybe Kimura himself, who looked a little dazed as he was being driven around the stadium to be all heroic in front of the fans.

We said goodbye to the group that had been sitting in front of us, and left... except we ended up running into them again. And the Fighters fan guy noticed that I was wearing an Ogasawara jersey, and suddenly he realizes, wait a second, maybe you guys also live in Tokyo. So it turns out they live in Oji, which is actually relatively close to where I live (I switch trains there to go to the Tokyo Dome, even). After a slight communication mishap, from them saying "let's hang out sometime!" and me not understanding, we all swap phone numbers. Pau explained it all to me though; this is really the kind of thing I'm just as confused about in English as in Japanese.

After that, we wandered around the Tokyo Dome area a bit and looked through baseball books at Yamashita. There's a new Doala book out and I MUST HAVE IT but didn't buy it today. Also, we deciphered statistics in the Baseball Times; it's kind of funny since I have the stathead background and Pau has the super Japanese ability so between the two of us we can kind of figure stuff out. I'm still annoyed that they're not putting K/TBF BB/TBF in there though, but I guess the fact that there's a Japanese sabermetrics magazine out there at all should be considered a good thing. And this week they named Shinjiro Hiyama as the MVP for Hanshin, which made Pau happy, and which made me say "I think this must be based on Win Expectancy. And WTF do you mean Hiyama is regularly starting in right field?"

Anyway, tomorrow I get to go back and do it all over again! Except I'll be there alone... but I'll be there in left field in the cheering section, so by definition I suppose I won't REALLY be alone. On the other hand, I was planning to wear my green Hichori shirt tomorrow, and now that seems like a bad idea. Sigh.

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