(Photos at the end of the post in one lump sum, for the most part.)
Further in the realm of "Things I get to do in Japan, but not in America", I went to see the Lions play the Giants at the Seibu Dome tonight... for game 4 of the Japan Series. Yes, it would have been nicer if certain other teams had made it, but... I GOT TO GO TO SEE THE JAPAN SERIES. (Thanks to a friend who works for the Lions, I even had help to get tickets to sit in the FIFTH ROW behind first base. Dude.)
Accompanying me for this game was my friend Brian, who is visiting Japan for the week from Seattle. I've known him since our freshman year of college, which is longer ago than I'd like to admit. He'd said before that he didn't mind getting dragged to a baseball game while he was here, but I'm pretty sure that having Game 4 of the 2008 Japan Series as his first ever Japanese baseball game was not exactly what he expected. I was in total verbose mode babbling about pretty much everything. "...and those guys, they're called the ouendan. That means support group, or cheering group. They have flags and trumpets and they lead everyone in singing cheer songs for players. And see that big guy right there? His name's Nakamura, but everyone calls him Okawari-kun. It basically means 'Mr. Second Helping.' And that guy over there, that's Bocachica, he actually played for the Mariners back in 2004. Yeah, the bad year. These balloons? No, we'll blow them up during the 7th inning and everyone in the stadium will throw them into the air together. Really!"
I bought a bunch of souvenirs, including a 2008 Pacific League Champions towel, which I promptly opened up and put around my neck, being as we were on the Seibu side and I was prepared to be my usual Giants-hating self. I got a 2008 Japan Series noisemaker, and so even though it felt REALLY strange to be singing along to the Seibu ouenka and cheering for the Lions, that's just the way things went.
I was a bit disappointed there was no ceremonial first pitch, considering Saturday night I watched on TV as Yukiko Ueno threw the pitch in the Tokyo Dome, and last night Tulio Tanaka, the Brazilian-Japanese star player for the Urawa Reds soccer team, threw out the first pitch at the Seibu Dome. Something funny: I would say that Tulio threw like a girl, except given that Ueno IS a girl and can throw 100mph or whatever, I'm not sure that's the right way to put it.
Starting for the Lions was Takayuki Kishi, and starting for the Giants was Seth Greisinger.
And for a change... unlike Tuesday night where Giants leadoff batter Takahiro Suzuki got on base and scored within the first 5 minutes of the game, setting the pace for the Giants to win, this time the Giants went down quickly and the Lions leadoff batter Yasuyuki Kataoka got on base, stole second, and Kuriyama hit a double up the right-field line to bring him home -- scoring the first run for the LIONS in their first five minutes and setting the pace that way. 1-0.
Kishi didn't even give up his first hit of the evening until the 4th inning when Ryota Wakiya hit a hard grounder to the mound that Kishi couldn't field cleanly. The first REAL hit of the evening for the Giants came for a pinch-hitting Takuya Kimura in the top of the 6th.
Meanwhile, the Lions offense -- or more like, Nakajima and Okawari-kun -- were keeping busy on the base paths. Kind of. Nakajima was having a tough time of it at first when he came up in the 4th inning, and he took some big swings off of Greisinger and looked kind of unhappy about it, even walking around home plate to get his bearings... came back in, and BAM, the ball hit him in the arm. Except for whatever reason, rather than Greisinger tipping his cap and Nakajima calmly going to first, Nakajima took a few steps towards the mound, yelling, Greisinger took a few steps off the mound, yelling, and then EVERYONE ran out of the dugouts towards the mound and EVERYONE was yelling. Eventually Ramirez kind of got Greisinger away from the crowd and walked him towards the mound, and Kuriyama pulled Nakajima away.
Nakaji and Greisinger are not happy.
So naturally everyone has to run out and see what's up.
A completely non-violent but somewhat loud bench-clearing party.
Ramirez takes Greisinger back to the mound.
Kuriyama walks Nakajima to first base.
"It's because he's a damn gaijin, causing problems," one of the guys behind me said.
I turned around and made a face at him. He shut up.
(A bit later he actually tapped Brian on the shoulder and said something about "sorry we're being so noisy," which really meant "sorry for the gaijin comment", except Brian didn't understand it, so I was like "no problem, it's okay," really meaning "You probly didn't think I'd understand you anyway.")
I would also like to note that unlike certain Hosokawas I can name, catcher Tsuruoka actually managed to block the fight in a really effective way.
Anyway, exciting bench-clearing brawls aside, the very next thing that happened was, naturally, Okawari-kun Nakamura coming up to the plate and doing what he's been known for doing all year -- completely devouring the first pitch he saw, an inside pitch, and sending it over the left-field wall. BAM. 3-0.
A bit after that we got to see Giants centerfielder Takahiro Suzuki do one of his now-patented Golden Glove Diving Somersault catches. I always feel guilty admitting I like him, but he's really about as un-Giants-like as you get while still being on the Giants.
So naturally in the bottom of the 6th, Nakajima leads off again, and he's still pissed off, and he takes a huge chop, totally splits his bat, and the ball goes shooting to short on a choppy grounder. Teenage Wonderboy Hayato Sakamoto gets it, and makes a throw to first, but it's a bit wide and so Nakajima is safe.
Okawari-kun Nakamura comes up to the plate.
"MOU IPPON!!" I yell. "OKAWARI-KUUUUUN!!!1 MOU IPPON ONEGAISHIMASU!!!!" ("HIT ANOTHER ONE!")
The old guy next to me (who was a nice old guy, he and his wife kept being like "look at how nicely that young lady writes kanji!") laughed, and then the first pitch came to the plate, and
the pitch went up, up, and AWAAAAAAY and landed in the left-field Giants cheering section yet again. 5-0.
Okawari-kun Nakamura says, "I'll take another inside pitch, please!"
Nakajima and Nakamura high-five at home plate following the two-run homer.
Okawari-kun tips his hat to the Lions fans.
Greisinger came out of the game and Yamaguchi replaced him on the mound.
The excitement continued as Ishii singled and Gotoh walked (no home run for me today, sadly) and Tomoaki Satoh sac bunted them up to second and third. The Seibu cheering section actually did their running cheer for Satoh, even, which was pretty nuts given how crowded it was. Then Hosokawa came up to bat, and was just one gigantic pile of fail as he ended up striking out bunting, and Akada ("He's the player leader, but he spent half of the year in the minors," I explained) also struck out swinging.
During the top of the 7th, I got out the balloons I'd bought earlier. "NOW we blow these up... see... so are those people..."
The Giants actually got a runner to second base during their Lucky 7, but that was it. Although we'd already filled up our balloons when Abe came to the plate with two outs, so it took quite a while for him to single and move up to second on a wild pitch to the backstop, but then Kamei hit a sharp grounder towards right which went past the first baseman but Kataoka managed to snag it and throw to first in time for the play, and "Hoero Lions" started playing on the loudspeakers.
Let me tell you that it was VERY strange being on the other side of all that. This was infact the first time I'd ever been on the first base side for a game!
Kataoka walked to lead off the bottom of the 7th, and then... and then Kuriyama hit a big pop fly to left field, almost a home run, so Kataoka was off running on the crack of the bat. Kuriyama was out, Kataoka ran back to first, and then he was out too. How? We weren't quite sure. Everyone was in a "WTF" mode, until one of the younger guys behind me that I'd been talking to a bit said he heard on the radio that Kataoka went past second when he ran out and didn't tag it on the way back. Whoops!
Lions fans cheered and booed for Kiyoshi Toyoda when he took the mound for the Giants. It was kind of surreal.
Kishi stayed out there for the ninth inning, amazingly, and got through it 1-2-3, ending on an awkward grounder to first that Kishi had to cover the bag on, and that was the game as the Lions won it 5-0.
Watanabe-manager came out and gave a speech, and then Okawari-kun was a game hero and gave an interview (mostly "What were you thinking on those inside pitches?" "I was thinking I was going to hit a home run for Nakaji."), and then... and then the entire stadium started yelling "KI-SHI! KI-SHI! KI-SHI! KI-SHI!"
He came out after about a minute of that, looking kind of sheepish, in a "Wait, I'm a game hero too?" sort of way, and was very nervous during his interview, while they were saying how good his pitching was and everything else, he was just staring at his feet like "I'm just glad I could help the team and win an important game."
"ASHITA MO NAGERU YO!" ("Pitch tomorrow too!!") yelled one of the younger guys behind me, and everyone laughed.
Okay, because I'm writing this mostly offline, all the rest of the photos are in one big chunk. I admit the lighting in the Seibu Dome is still getting to me, but these are my last game photos for the year (technically; I still have old photos to sort through over the winter), so here's just a whole bunch of them.
Taketoshi Gotoh, who usually hits a home run for me, but not today.
Hiram Bocachica! I yelled "GOOD LUCK HIRAM! FROM SEATTLE!!" and he turned and waved at me, though I'm not sure he remembered who I was.
Takumi Kuriyama, who would bat in the first run of the game.
Yoshihito Ishii, another Urawa Gakuin guy, joking around.
Nakajima and Hosokawa being silly.
During the game
Giants starter Seth Greisinger.
Yasuyuki Kataoka refuses to be picked off, and infact stole second shortly after this.
Teenage heartthrob Hayato Sakamoto.
One of Kishi's many fans.
Takuya Kimura, who hit the first REAL hit of the game.
Lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi.
Takayuki Kishi, still pitching in the 9th inning.
After the Game
The Lions mascots.
Kishi and Kataoka walk off the field together.
Manager Hisanobu Watanabe gives a manager's victory speech.
Okawari-kun Nakamura: "Yeah, I like in-course pitches. Hitting home runs is fun."
"I'm... I'm just glad I could help the team."
I caption this one "Okawari-kun has balls."
Kishi waves to the crowd after saluting the outfield stands fans.
Anyway, it was really great to see a Japan Series game. Even if it wasn't in Sapporo.
As I finally manage to upload this, the Giants have won game 5, so it's now 3-2 in their favor. I'm kind of hoping Seibu can still win the Series mostly for Pacific League Power and all, plus then the Asia Series will be Lions vs Lions vs Lions vs Wyverns.