Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Game Report: Fighters vs. Giants @ Tokyo Dome - We Need A Few More Kensukes, Please

I know there are things out there that are worse than spending your entire weekend at the Tokyo Dome watching your favorite team get beaten by the Giants. Really. But right now I'm too grumpy to think of any of them.

Also, for today's game I managed to get a seat in the visitor's cheering section... in row 10... which means I was RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE OUENDAN people. The flags were waving right over my head and the trumpets were blaring in my ear and I already had no voice or hearing by about halfway through the game. It was a really great experience and at the same time, a really scary one.

Before the game, two ladies who I met at Kamagaya two weeks ago came up and said hi, and the one gave me her card with her website address on it, and now I can see she wasn't kidding about always going there and taking pictures! Wow. They were surprised that I was there alone. "I, uh... I really love baseball, and the Fighters," I explained.

One downside of being in front of the ouendan banner-holders is that I felt a little weird holding up my signs. Not sure why. I know that in Sapporo it would have been totally normal, but it seems like in Tokyo people don't have them quite as much. There were actually a LOT of Tokyo-Dome-specific cheering things that I was generally unaware of -- I think the last time I actually saw the Fighters at the Tokyo Dome was, uh, in 2003. For example, there's a different tokuten song instead of Oi Oi Hokkaido, and there are some other songs, and uh, you can find a lot more about it here if you can read Japanese. At least I was aware of the new Kanto-only Chitty Chitty Bang Bang chance music, having learned it at the Seibu Dump a few weeks ago.

Anyway, we were all wondering what kind of lineup there would be today without Hichori. The guy two seats down from me managed to predict almost all of the lineups for both teams except that we were both surprised there was no Ogasawara in the Giants' lineup. Because they were so bizarre, here you go:

Fighters                Giants
-------- ------
Murata CF Kamei RF
Takaguchi 3B Sakamoto SS
Kensuke 2B Kimutaku 2B
Inaba RF Ramirez LF
Takahashi C Abe C
Sledge 1B Suzuki CF
Koyano LF Odajima 1B
Yoh SS Wakiya 3B
Glynn P Burnside P

So, I'm not sure who exactly will be replacing Hichori for the interim, but I guess it'll be some combination of Murata and Kudoh for defense, and then someone will get thrown in LF for their bat (I like Koyano, but he's not that great an outfielder). We have Shinji catching for us again, and Sledge fortunately back at 1B (or unfortunately, I'm not sure). Then on the other side they have Kimura Takuya batting third -- apparently Ogasawara's legs hurt... and Masakuni Odajima at first base. (The others around me were like "Who the hell is Odajima?" and I figured it was best if I didn't admit that I knew he had been traded from Yokohama for Toshihisa Nishi. You know, it feels like the Giants do a good job of BUYING other teams' stars, but not so great on the TRADING front.)

Oh yeah, and in case you are wondering, the reason why the Giants actually have room for Adrian Burnside in their foreigner limit is because Luis Gonzalez was suspended for failing a drug test and will subsequently be released. Bizarrely, it seems that yesterday Geremi Gonzalez died by being hit by lightning. GG, as he was called, pitched for the Yomiuri Giants last year. I have this feeling that nobody else named Gonzalez will ever play for the Giants again...

So, this game got off to another quick 2-0 lead just like Sunday's game, and that sucked. What sucked even more was that this time it was caused by a 2-run homer by Kimutaku.

Takahiro Suzuki made an amazing somersault catch to end the top of the 2nd. That's gonna be on the web gems this week for sure.

Fighters put a run on the board in the 4th; Kensuke Tanaka walked, stole second, and then scored on a single by Shinji Takahashi, sliding into the plate around Shinnosuke Abe and really pissing him off.

But the Giants made it 3-1 in the bottom of the 4th. Takahiro Suzuki singled, stole second, and then two outs later, of all people, pitcher Adrian Burnside -- who, yes, comes out to Burn Baby Burn -- hit a line drive to left, and Eiichi Koyano ran forward and dived for it, but failed to catch it and as a result Burnside ended up with an RBI single. Kamei followed that up with a double... and injured himself sliding into second... his left leg kind of got caught under him as he overslid the base and got stopped by the tag. After a delay, he ended up being carried off the field -- piggyback -- by one of the coaches. Ow.

In the top of the 5th we got a pinch-hitting Tsuboi! His first appearance in almost two months! ("Tsuboi-chan!!!" I shouted along with the others sitting near me.) I was wearing my old Tsuboi #7 t-shirt under my jersey, so I took off my jersey and joined everyone in the Tsuboi fanfare... and we had barely finished it when he hit a pop fly out to Ramirez.

In the bottom of the 5th we got another Kimura Takuya blast, although this time it only hit the wall for a double. Ramirez, on his way to a 4-for-4 day, singled, and then Kimutaku scored when Abe grounded into a double play. A bit later Takaguchi made a brilliant play to end the inning, but the Giants had brought the score to 4-1. I couldn't help but think that there was no way in hell the Fighters were going to score 3 runs with this lineup.

Okay, so Murata led off the 6th by singling to left, and then Takaguchi followed it up with a single to right, and then Hara decided to take Burnside out of the game and put in Yamaguchi. I had gotten out my big pink inflatable hand to wave for Kensuke Tanaka, so while everyone was kind of sitting around waiting for the pitching change, I started waving the hand and saying "Bye bye... bye bye..." so the guys next to me picked up on it and started singing "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye" and we got most of the rest of the people around us singing it too. Victory!

Would you believe that we all cheered like crazy for Kensuke Tanaka and then he ended up sac bunting? I find it really, really sad that Kensuke -- arguably either our best hitter or second-best -- is still leading the Fighters in sac bunts.

With runners on second and third and Inaba up, we launched into a genuine INABA JUMP, shaking the stands quite a bit. I suppose it kind of worked; he grounded out to short, but Murata scored, making it 4-2.

Things got even crazier in the 7th. Sledge led off with a single, and with a bunch of right-handed batters coming up, they took out Yamaguchi...

...and put in Nishimura. You know, the guy who hit Hichori with a pitch yesterday and broke his finger.

You know how some people say that fans don't boo in Japan? That is totally not true. It's just that they don't boo very often, and only in large groups, and only when there's a very good reason. But when Nishimura was announced, the Fighters faithful went NUTS. People booed and and booed, and yelled things like "Nishimura, you bastard!" "You'll pay for hurting Hichori!!!" and so on, the most extreme being the one guy who was yelling "I'm gonna kill you Nishimura!" To my credit, I just yelled "Go home, Nishimura!" (This is mostly because it amuses me to no end to yell "Kaere, [Giants player]!" now.)

We spent most of Koyano and Yoh's at-bats alternately either cheering the player, or booing Nishimura. It was also disappointing that when Yoh tried to sac bunt Sledge and Koyano ahead, instead, the ball got charged by that pesky Kimutaku, who made the throw to third for the force out. Grr.

Nishimura came out after Yoh's at-bat and Fujita came in, and we started up the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang chance music for the first time, and as I said, it is really fun. Although what was kind of dumb is -- Kudoh struck out while we were singing the really fast 頑張れ僕らのファイターズ lines, and Murata came up to bat, but because he also bats lefty and wears high socks, and I was concentrating on trying to get the words right very quickly, I didn't notice for the first pitch or so of his at-bat until the guy next to me kinda elbowed me because I was singing Kudoh and everyone else was singing Murata. Oops. So after Murata grounded out, I was like "err... sorry! btw, what did Kudoh do? I missed it. It's the socks."

The top of the 8th inning was fun, although sad as well. Kiyoshi Toyoda came out to pitch for the Giants (and it seems that his entrance song IS "Heat of the Moment" by Asia). The Fighters had put pitcher Miyanishi in the second batting position, so a pinch-hitter was obvious there, and Tomoyuki Oda was the man for it. But he struck out. (But at least I confirmed that ライト、レフトへセンターへ motions means, from the LF stands, you motion to your left, then your right, then front and back.) And then Kensuke Tanaka came up to bat, and we all sang a lot. I wish someone had data on how long in actual minutes and seconds everyone's at-bats take, because I SWEAR that Kensuke's take longer than everyone else on the team by far. It's not even just that he takes a ton of pitches (he does). It's also just that somehow he takes forever. We can easily do about 3 yells of "KENSUKE!!!!!!", then go through his cheer song about 10 times, go through three other cheers, and then start on his cheer song AGAIN before his at-bat ends.

But this time I didn't mind too much as he took a 3-2 pitch and launched it up, up in the air... and it was coming towards us... coming towards us... LANDING IN THE FOURTH ROW OF OUR SECTION! WHEEEEEE! Kensuke's 7th homerun of the year! I high-fived everyone using the ridiculous inflatable Kensuke hand because I'm a dork like that. 4-3!

And you better believe we had an Inaba jump after that! And Inaba launched a ball high into the air into the outfield too, but it died in centerfield. However, Shinji Takahashi singled, and then Sledge was up to bat...

...and I can't really explain exactly what the heck the ouendan folks were possessed by, but for some reason at this point a bunch of them all took off their orange happi coats and started trying to stand on the rails and were cheering like "WOOOOOOOOO!!!!" in a really, really bizarre high-pitched way. They were waving the orange coats like a bullfighters' jacket and yelling "SUREJJIIIII!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" It was really funny... and so naturally the rest of us around them joined in and also yelled a whole ton of SLEDGE WOOOOOOO. And Sledge walked, and we were all happy...

...and then they took out Toyoda, and we all knew it was Kroon Time. But there's no better way to celebrate certain defeat than to start singing and jumping, right? So the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fanfare started, and we all yelled "LET'S GO KOYANO!!!" and sang and jumped and... well, I know that Koyano tried hard, but he got up to a 2-2 count before sadly striking out.

On the other hand, from seeing the highlights on TV, I think the chance music sounds GREAT. Does that count for anything?

In the bottom of the 8th, Hara put in Ogasawara as a pinch-hitter, and we all started BOOOOOOOing again. The ouendan guy behind me was like "I don't know why, but BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" It was really funny. But, with a runner on second and first base open, they intentionally walked Ogasawara. And for whatever reason, we all started cheering at that. A bunch of people were yelling "DOLPHIN THIEVES!!!!!" at the Giants fans waving inflatable dolphins, though, and that was also pretty funny.

The Giants didn't capitalize on the runners, and so it came into the top of the 9th with the score at 4-3 and the bottom of the lineup due up. Naoto Inada (whose only advantage right now is hitting lefty) pinch-hit for Yoh, but hit a pop fly out. However, then Kudoh ripped a double to left! Could the Fighters actually manage to tie this one? I kind of expected Kudoh to steal third, but instead, Murata grounded out to short and Kudoh couldn't go anywhere. So here came Oda again... and we started the old chance music.

Oda got off to a quick 0-2 count, but then checked a swing for 1-2, took an outside pitch for 2-2, and then one nearly got away from Shinnosuke for 3-2. Exciting! Kensuke in the on-deck circle and Inaba behind him, and... and Oda swung at a pitch at the knees and missed, and that was that.

I packed up my stuff while listening to the hero interviews a little. First was the first-inning homer man, Kimura Takuya, who was a lot more composed this time. Then they had Adrian Burnside up there for getting a win in his first start -- he has quite the Australian accent. After that, they had Kroon up there because of getting out of the pinch AND getting his 100th save in the US and Japan combined, and he dedicated it to his grandmother.

And I left before they finished all of that, because I was really sad about the Fighters losing... and I was also sad because I didn't really get to talk to the people around me very much, and that was the aspect of being in the outfield that I was looking forward to. Since the Fighters lost, there really wasn't much of a happy feeling in general, and people just kind of slowly filtered out of our area.

To add insult to injury, on my way home, when transferring trains at Oji, I got shoved really hard by a guy behind me trying to get out of the train (helLO, I am ALSO trying to get out of the train) and then when I finally DID get out, some Giants fan kid got his bag strap caught on my Fighters bag and it RIPPED off one of my Fighters pinbadges, which fell on the ground and the back broke off. The kid didn't even apologize and the parents looked angry at ME for being a Fighters fan, so *I* ended up apologizing and running out of the platform. Sheesh. Fortunately the pin was just of Katoh #12, so I wasn't really mad like I would have been if it was my Darvish pin or Kensuke or Tadano or someone like that. Still... it was just one of those feelings of "This is a pretty crappy end to a pretty crappy day."

(For the record, though, I was able to glue it back together and it seems to be sticking so far...)

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