Thursday, May 29, 2008

Catching up: April 30, Fighters @ Marines

I can't believe I never wrote about this game. It was the day I decided I have to break up with Shunsuke Watanabe for his own good, because every time I go to see him pitch, he loses. Seriously. He's 3-3 in 9 games this year so far, and do you want to know those three losses? March 30th against Orix (I was there), April 6th against Softbank (I was there), and then this April 30th game against the Fighters.

I came to this game armed with a tin of Almond Roca for Larry Rocca, and in return, Larry took me around the field before the game to say hi to Bobby and Paul and others again, despite that I was wearing a Fighters t-shirt (he suggested I put on my jacket first). This time he also introduced me to batting coach Frank Ramppen:

Frank Ramppen and Deanna Rubin

And after that OMG he also introduced me to 1st base coach Kenji Morozumi and 3rd base coach Norifumi Nishimura. Morozumi stole the Almond Roca tin and put it on top of the dugout. It was funny. I remember Morozumi as a player, but Nishimura is a bit before my time. I believe he was a pretty darn good player, though.

Kenji Morozumi, Deanna Rubin, Norifumi Nishimura

I also got to meet Larry's boss, Araki-san, who speaks excellent English, and who is kind enough to allow Larry to let me see the inner sanctum of Chiba Marine Stadium. I also owe him many thanks for letting me sit in such fantastic seats, right by the 3rd base dugout :) It's amazing to get to see how much the Chiba stadium has improved in the last year or two, all across the board.

So I hung out chatting with Larry until a few minutes before gametime, and then he left to actually do work. He had invited his friend Yoshi to come hang out with me for the game, but Yoshi couldn't get there until after work, so I just sat down with my scorecard and began watching the game. I was super-excited because it was Darvish for the Fighters, and Shunsuke for the Marines. Does a matchup GET better than that? Especially for someone like me? (Maybe Kenshin-Darvish, but well, we all know how THOSE games went.)

However, unfortunately, this game went a lot like the other Shunsuke starts I saw: unlucky hits, a bunch of runs, and coming out shortly after a big homer.

The Fighters started off with two quick outs from Hichori and Kudoh, but then Kensuke Tanaka singled to right, and Inaba was hit by a pitch. Terrmel Sledge hit a biiiiiiig fly ball out to center which hit the back wall just below the yellow line (yay for Candlestick Park winds in Chiba), but that was good enough to score Kensuke and Inaba. 2-0. Tomoyuki Oda hit a high pop fly to left field and I have no clue what everyone was thinking; it probably should have been Benny's, and Nishioka kind of ran out towards it, but instead of it being an easy third out, it fell in between the triangle of those two guys plus Hayakawa. Yikes. And it was called a double, so when Sledge scored it was also an earned run. 3-0. Naoto Inada struck out after that to end the inning.

Catcher Hashimoto, who Larry was saying is super fantastic (and who has since gone down to injury), hit a homerun into the Marines cheering section in the 2nd inning. 3-1.

Shunsuke got out of the 2nd inning okay, but in the 3rd, Kensuke led off with a single to center, Inaba followed it up with a single into Benny's shins, and Sledge followed it up with another single, and if you know the old Royals Review adage about how "Four Singles Equals One Run, Dammit", you'll note that Kensuke scored on Sledge's single. 4-1. Oda bunted everyone up, but as usual, Naoto and Tsuruoka made quick outs and ended the inning.

Yoshi showed up around that point, and I caught him up on the game by showing him my scorecard. Yoshi is pretty interesting; he's a long-time Fighters fan and works for the Tokyo Sports magazine. So we spent most of the rest of the 3rd and 4th innings just talking about Fighters stuff. His English is about as good as my Japanese, so it was an interesting mix of languages to talk in. And naturally we had to share Fighters battle stories. Yoshi actually went to Hosei University with Atsunori Inaba, so I think he kind of wins.

And infact, just as I was telling Yoshi that I had caught an Inaba home run ball the year before at Seibu, and showed him my picture of it, Inaba went and hit a home run! What crazy timing! 5-1.

Yoshi went off to get food in the bottom of the 5th, and that's also about when the Marines decided they weren't going to just take this Darvish crap anymore. Tsuyoshi Nishioka led off the bottom of the 5th with a single, and Daisuke Hayakawa grounded to second (but Kaneko narrowly missed turning the double play). Kazuya Fukuura then hit a home run into the right-field seats, bringing the game to 5-3. Ohmatsu grounded out. Julio Zuleta grounded to third, and Naoto charged the ball but his throw was awkward and low and bounced, going past first base, so Zuleta was safe. Hashimoto singled, and then Jose Ortiz also singled, to left. Kudoh ran in, got the ball on one bounce, and threw it to home plate. The ball beat Zuleta to the plate when he still had a good 15-20 feet left to go. Zuleta crashed into catcher Shinya Tsuruoka, but Tsuruoka held onto the ball and so Zuleta was the third out.

(Note: Tsuruoka is 5'9, 170 pounds. Zuleta is 6'5, 240 pounds. Just saying.)

Yoshi came back with a teriyaki cheesesteak. "What happened?"

"Fukuura happened."

"Oh. I saw on the TV screen."

We cheered for Kaneko leading off the 6th (me in Japanese, "Makoto, ganbare yo!" and Yoshi in English, "Let's go Mack!"), but he lined out to second. Both of us are pretty worried about his batting, although Yoshi seems to believe it's more about an injury than about any ability issues. Kaneko seems to still be okay at fielding -- he started 3 double plays in the late game -- so who knows.

Oh, right, so somewhere around the 6th inning was also where I yelled "HICHORI!!!!!" really loud as Hichori was coming back to the dugout, but it didn't seem to get his attention. So Yoshi started yelling things about the Morimoto family restaurant instead, like "Hichori, Erika oishii yo!" ("Hey Hichori, the food at Erika is delicious!!!") and whatever, and on the second try Hichori actually looked our way and kind of waved. So Yoshi told me to also yell something about the restaurant, but I just couldn't. Not sure why.

Another really funny thing about where we were sitting is that we had this perfect view of Darvish throwing practice throws towards the end of each inning, before heading back out to the mound. And every time he started throwing, a whole bunch of people would run down and take pictures. It was very Japanese and very surreal. At one point these two women came down and asked the guy sitting in front of us to take their picture with Darvish in the background:

(I did not have my big camera, by the way. In general, there's no use in my bringing it to a night game because I have such cheap slow lenses.)

Nothing much exciting happened in the mid-to-late innings, aside from Larry coming back out to chat with us for a while. Darvish pitched 7, and Hisashi Takeda pitched the 8th. Shunsuke came out after 5, Satoru Komiyama pitched the 6th and a half, Tomohisa Nemoto ("It's not the same as the infielder, the second kanji is different") pitched to the 7 and a half, Katsuyuki Aihara ("Hey, I saw this dude in ni-gun on Sunday") pitched to the 8 and a half, getting one out in the ninth and then walking Takahito Kudoh. Yoshihiro Itoh came in and then also walked Kensuke, and so the stage was set for Inaba to hit a single and drive in yet another run, Kudoh scoring. 6-3. Sledge also walked, but Iiyama struck out and Naoto grounded out.

Micheal came out to close down the game and did so pretty quickly.

I think the real game hero was Yoshi's sempai Atsunori Inaba, going 4-for-4 with two RBIs, that home run, two runs scored, and so on. It was pretty funny watching the press cluster around his feet to listen to his postgame interview, like peasants around a king:

I had forgotten to give Larry back my backstage pass (or Larry forgot to get it back from me, whichever), so Yoshi and I went down to the kankeisha desk to give it back to them. It was really difficult to get there though, there was a huge crowd of people by the security gate, and Yoshi had to explain to the guards what happened so we could get through. We couldn't figure out why there was such a big crowd until freaking DARVISH walked right past us with his entourage, and people started cheering and taking pictures. He's a rock star, I tell you.

Anyway, fun times. I got home from that game around 11:30pm. Then I realized I had pretty much no time to both sleep and prepare for my Sapporo trip, since I had to be at the US Embassy by 8:30am the next morning for a press conference for The Zen of Bobby V, and then catch my flight to Hokkaido immediately after. But it was a completely crazy experience all in itself. I really can't possibly thank Bobby and Larry enough for giving me so many opportunities to learn so much. Hopefully I will get to visit Chiba a few times next week... if it doesn't rain...

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...)

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.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

NPB Roundup: Masaka!

3 Down, 4 to go!

Chunichi's elder statesman, 42-year-old lefty pitcher Masa Yamamoto, has been doing a great job of looking like the same guy who pitched a no-hitter in the fall of 2006. Last year, he was sporting signs of "RETIRE NOW BEFORE IT GETS WORSE" with his 2-10 record and 5.07 ERA. But this year -- which by all indications is a "Good Masa" year -- he is 3-0 with a microscopic 0.45 ERA in 4 games (his first game, he came out after an inning with back pain). Last night the Dragons beat the Eagles 3-1, with Masa getting the win. Now he is up to 196 career wins! Fantastic!

When will Masa get to 200 wins? My bet is it will be around August 11th, his 43rd birthday. Wouldn't that be awesome?

I do want to note that I took a brief look at some stathead stuff for him though. My calculations might be slightly off (I'm using 3 as the constant for FIP, too), but:
              Real ERA   FIP     Real OBA   BABIP
Masa 2006 3.32 3.19 .240 .275
Masa 2007 5.07 4.69 .292 .324
Masa 2008 0.45 2.70 .191 .240

I'm gonna say that phrase that baseball statheads love to say all the time: "He's due for a regression to the mean", which basically means he was a little unlucky last year, and has been a little lucky so far this year. But, people aren't hitting homeruns off him so far, although that might change when he faces a lineup that isn't Rakuten, Hiroshima, or Yakult.

Please, Masa -- stay strong, win (at least) four more games, and make us all proud of you.

And then there were two

Orix Buffaloes manager Terry Collins finally realized exactly how futile it is trying to manage the Buffaloes and resigned as Orix manager after Wednesday's game, where the Buffaloes split a subway series with the Kansai kitties, claiming that he no longer has enough fire and passion for the game to continue leading club. The rest of the foreign coaches (Debus and Brown) also left with him. There's a bit of ongoing discussion here on My personal feeling on the matter is that it's a surprising and sudden event to me, but overall I am not surprised that it happened.

Either way, it gives a new meaning to the Lotte-Hiroshima matchup this coming weekend, as those are the only two teams in Japan that still have foreign managers.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

Uniforms are SUCH A FRIGHT!

These are the ugliest interleague uniforms I have ever seen in my entire life.

Seriously. I think they've officially gone into "weirder than Lotte" territory with these...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 20th

Hip hip hooray! The 20th of May! Lots of things about today!

First, birthdays:
Hawks manager (and living legend) Sadaharu Oh turns 68 today.
Marines catcher Tomoya Satozaki (who is sadly having some arm trouble) turns 32 today.
Chunichi outfielder Atsushi Fujii (who got called up in the wake of Morino's injury) turns 27 today. He is 0-for-15 on the season so far.
Seibu relief pitcher Atsushi Okamoto (who got called up last weekend) turns 27 today.
Fighters AWESOME SECOND BASEMAN Kensuke Tanaka turns 27 today. !
Giants' number one college draft pick from last year Tooru Murata turns 23 today.

Second, interleague!
Today starts the interleague season across Japan. It'll go for the next month or so and end on approximately June 22nd. I say approximately because June is tsuyu, the rainy season, in most of Japan, and I would be surprised if a few of those empty days left for makeup games are not used as such.

Of course, naturally, it is raining right now in Kanto and Tohoku, which means there's a chance the Eagles-Dragons game and the Marines-Giants games might get rained out. (Hawks-Carp, Buffaloes-Tigers, and Fighters-Baystars are all in domes.)

It'd be a real shame to see the RAKUTEN-CHUNICHI SHOWDOWN get rained out:

(From Rakuten's site: Boxing match of Doala, Iwase and Araki vs. Clutch, Takeshi Yamasaki and Ma-kun.)

(Also from Rakuten's site: And now we see their secret plan for how they're going to win... seriously, I would bet on the Big Man to win any such fight :)

Read full interview here. It's pretty funny from what I went through so far. After all, Yamasaki is from Nagoya, played for Aikodai Meiden (same HS as Ichiro), was drafted by Chunichi before Ma-kun was even born, and won his first Best Nine in 1996 as an outfielder with Chunichi who hit a bazillion home runs. And now he's almost 40 and kicking butt again, which is neat.

Naturally, Rakuten-Chunichi is also a fun showdown because the two managers, Nomura and Ochiai, are two of the best hitters in Japanese baseball history, and are also two of the craziest men to ever grace the game over here. かかってこい!

Shukan Baseball put out a rather nice Official Program for interleague. I've been too lazy/cheap to buy it, but it's quite nice, actually, has a lot of interesting breakdowns of numbers and whatnot.

Third: Shinjo
This isn't really today, this is actually Sunday, but I was too busy watching college kids play baseball on Sunday to catch this one as it was happening.

So, before the Hawks-Fighters game on Sunday (you know what's really sad? A few weeks ago I had actually considered going down to Fukuoka this weekend for this very game! Fukuoka is the only city I haven't seen a home game in), as a promotion for bringing the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016. Being Shinjo, he couldn't just go out in normal clothes and throw a ceremonial first pitch. No, he had to go out there WEARING A FULL FUKUOKA HAWKS UNIFORM and actually throw an entire CEREMONIAL FIRST AT-BAT to his protege Hichori Morimoto. And his pitches were clocked at 90mph!

He got Hichori to ground out to short on a 2-2 pitch -- and really, that last pitch was high and outside and if this was a real game I would be pretty annoyed that Hichori isn't laying off those :)

Before you ask, what number did he wear? Why, he wore Number Shinjo:

(From Sankei Sports.)

This is, of course, a little bit like the last time he did a stunt around interleague time in 2006 and ran around Koshien before the game wearing his old Hanshin Tigers uniform with "Shinjo #5" on it, despite that it was Hamanaka's number at the time. The difference is that Hanshin was Shinjo's first team -- aside from growing up in Fukuoka, he doesn't have any affiliation with the Hawks.

But I think everyone enjoyed the performance as it were -- after the at-bat he throws a ball from the mound into the outfield stands, then after running off the mound, he high-fives all the Fighters, high-fives and/or hugs most of the Hawks, throws his Golden Glove -- which he brought to wear for the at-bat -- into the crowd, bows to Oh-kantoku, and leaves. I know a lot of people get angry at Shinjo for his stunts, but I believe now as always that he really just wants to entertain people and make baseball more exciting, and I'm pretty sure this helped to do that.

(Also something somewhat frightening is that with his hair in this style, and being so tall and skinny, at first he actually reminded me a lot of what Kazumi Saitoh looked like back in 2006. Sigh.)

I guess this means his new career as the forgotten 6th member of SMAP isn't working out, though...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Game Report: Waseda vs. Meiji -- Oishi-kunai!

Until Saturday, Waseda University's baseball team was undefeated for the Spring 2008 season. Seriously. In their opening weekend they walloped Todai for a combined 39-0 in two games. Things calmed down after that -- their second weekend they beat Hosei in two one-run games, 3-2 and 1-0, and after that they went back to pounding Rikkio by a combiend 15-1 in two games.

Meiji University, however, also has had a strong season; before facing Waseda, they were 5-1 with two ties. Ace pitcher Iwata has put up some pretty strong games to take over where Kume and Yoshikawa left off. These are basically the top two teams in the Tokyo Big 6 league this season, so I figured it'd be fun to see them face off.

To make things even MORE interesting, Meiji actually handed Waseda their first loss of the season on Saturday, with a dramatic come-from-behind win in the 9th inning, scoring three runs off of Waseda's Kenta Matsushita in the bottom of the 9th to turn a 3-1 loss into a 4-3 win.

I went to the Sunday afternoon game on May 18th. I was too lazy to wake up in time for the 11am game, so I arrived at the stadium around 1:30pm. The Waseda-Meiji game was the second game of the day; the start time for the second game is basically "1:30pm or 20 minutes after the first game ends". So I walk into Jingu and go look for a place to buy food and literally end up walking past the entire Meiji baseball team, who are making their way to the dugouts. A few players look at me curiously; I'm fairly sure American women are rare at these games.

I arrived at the end of the Keio-Hosei game, which Keio won 4-0. The Keio pitcher for the 9th inning was a tall sidearm/submariner named Yuuki Murayama, a third-year student from Akita, who quickly dispatched of the Hosei team to end the game. Everyone bowed to their opponents and to the umpires, and cleared the field so the Waseda and Meiji players could start practice. Even the most famous college player in the country, sophomore ace pitcher Yuki "Handkerchief Prince" Saito, was out there for practice. What was he doing, you ask? He was holding a box of baseballs and handing them to manager Tatsuya Yoshinami, who was hitting grounders to third and short. I guess he's a star pitcher and a star ball boy!

They announced the starting batteries -- pitcher Yuki Egarashi and catcher Taichi Nakano for Meiji, and pitcher Kota Suda and catcher Takeshi Hosoyamada for Waseda. Learn those names, because I'd be shocked if neither of Suda and Hosoyamada get drafted this year. The other Waseda guys to remember are second baseman Hiroki Uemoto and outfielder Keijiro Matsumoto.

The game got underway with the Meiji players making a quick 1-2-3 inning. I wrote down balls and strikes, and of 12 pitches in that inning, 4 were balls, 6 were called strikes, one was a ground out, and one was a pop out. I get the distinct feeling Waseda batters are either really patient, or expect to get a lot of balls, because they don't swing at ANYTHING!

Uemoto grounded out to start off Waseda's attack, but then the aforementioned Hosoyamada hit a long fly ball out to left that bounced off the back wall for a double. The aforementioned Matsumoto took 8 pitches -- 5 fouls -- before ultimately grounding out to second, moving Hosoyamada to third. Sophomore Hironobu Hara singled to left field, scoring Hosoyamada, and setting off the Waseda ouendan even louder than before. 1-0. Udaka lined out after that to end the inning.

I have to stop a moment to say that I still think the Waseda oendan are the most impressive out of the Tokyo Big 6 league. All of the schools have pretty good groups, but the Waseda ones seem to be the most complex and have the liveliest cheering, at least from the times I've been at Jingu. (I will note that the University of Tokyo has the best quality musicians, though, which is probably to compliment having the absolute worst baseball players in the college circuit.) Plus, the fact is, the last time I saw Waseda was at Soukeisen in October, and I *still* remembered a large number of their cheer songs from that time, including "Konpeki no Sora" (The Deep Blue Sky), which will now be going through my head for weeks (it's the one that goes 早稲田, 早稲田, 覇者 覇者 早稲田 -- I'm pretty sure it and the Tyrone Woods "T!" are the most annoying possible ouenka I can sing around my friend Pau.)

(Totally unrelated, but speaking of Pau and of college ball, he showed me this fantastic Hiroshima-yaki place the other day, run by a Carp fanatic who loves college ball. It was full of photos and signatures from college teams around here. We sat under a picture of the Komazawa team from a few years back, and signature boards from Ryota Arai and Yuuki Kume, and we watched the Carp beat the Giants on TV. Before leaving, he told me to go look at some player photos up on the opposite wall, and they had one of this really familiar-looking Meiji pitcher on the mound. It took me a few seconds to realize it was Kenshin! Awesome!)

Meiji threatened Suda a little bit in the top of the 2nd; after Daisuke Sasaki struck out, Takayuki Chida singled on a line drive to left. Sophomore shortstop Fumiya Araki (my brain goes, "Why is an Araki batting left-handed, wearing #6, and playing shortstop? Shouldn't he be an Ibata at least?") almost grounded into a double play to short at that point, but beat out the throw at first base. Araki stole second in the midst of catcher Nakano's at-bat, and Nakano walked on four straight pitchers. Pitcher Egarashi, batting 8th in the order, struck out to end the inning and the threat.

The game stayed at 1-0 for a long, long time. Meiji didn't threaten again until the top of the 6th, when outfielder Tatsuya Ikeda almost hit a two-out home run; the ball bounced on the top of the centerfield wall and fell back onto the field, and he ended up with a triple instead. Sasaki walked after a full count, and at that point they took out Suda and replaced him with sophomore fireballer Tatsuya Oishi. (Maybe it should be "Ooishi" or "Ouishi" because it's actually the long O, 大石, but... I think those look weird, and Ohishi is right out due to the possibility of being pronounced oh-hi-shi.) I remembered him from Soukeisen because at that time the little kid behind us kept saying things like "Oishi wa oishikunai!" But what I didn't remember was how FAST this kid could throw. His first pitch to Chida was a called strike at 148km/h -- about 92 mph -- and the second pitch was grounded weakly to short for the third out, keeping the game at 1-0.

To his credit, Egarashi held the Waseda batters down well after that first inning; aside from walking Takanori Izumi in the 5th, he didn't allow another base runner for the entirety of the 6 innings he pitched. Although the bottom of the 6th inning was a bit crazy -- Uemoto led off by grounding to third, where third baseman Chida had to jump up to snag the ball (really a pretty great grab), and then landed, planted, and made a throw to first which was also a little high and first baseman Sasaki also had to jump to get it, and so Uemoto was safe and the play was called an error. Hosoyamada attempted to sac bunt Uemoto over, but instead his bunt attempt went up in the air and was caught by catcher Nakano. Matsumoto hit a long fly ball to centerfield for an out. With two outs, Hara was at the plate. After another toss to first to try to hold Uemoto, Hara swung at the first pitch, and then the second pitch was a pitchout, and Nakano NAILED Uemoto at second on the throw.

In the top of the 7th, Meiji shortstop Araki (heh) led off with a double to left -- another high fly ball that landed in the gap between the leftfielder and centerfielder. Nakano promptly bunted him over to third. So, one out and a runner at third, and what does Oishi do? Well, let's put it this way -- I saw him throw maybe one or two pitches under 144km/h, including a pretty nasty change-up at 125km/h that had pinch-hitter Komachi looking pretty silly. The rest were all in the upper 140's, and he topped out at 152 (95mph), and just overpowered Komachi and another pinch-hitter, Fusabayashi, striking them both out swinging. He got a little too much movement on his pitches, maybe, throwing 6 balls and 8 strikes that inning, but wow, what power. And he's just a sophomore!

Anyway, the NEXT exciting thing to happen was... they had pinch-hit for Egarashi in the 7th, so Meiji had to bring in a new pitcher for the bottom of the 7th, and guess who it was? Yusuke freaking Nomura! WOW!

(Backstory -- Summer Koshien 2007 was won by Saga Kita HS, but Koryo HS -- a REALLY strong baseball school from Hiroshima -- pretty much stomped their way to the finals, mostly on the arm of Yusuke Nomura, a really strong kid with a lot of poise and a damn good slider. And if he hadn't pretty much just tired out after the normal 3 or 4 days straight of pitching 200 pitches a day in the dead heat of summer for the tournament, I'm fairly sure Koryo would have won overall -- but then in the 8th inning of that final game between Koryo and Saga Kita, he broke down and a 4-0 lead turned into a 5-4 loss on a homerun by Soejima, and the rest is history. Anyway, I had wondered what happened to him -- neither of the Saga ace pitchers, nor Nomura, or any of the heroes of that final Koshien game, got drafted in the fall 2007 draft. And so now I know -- he's pitching for Meiji! Awesome!)

ANYWAY, so Nomura comes out and suddenly the Waseda players actually start swinging at pitches, which is pretty impressive. Hara strikes out swinging on a 2-2 pitch. Udaka walks, but Kojima hits a weak pop-up to second, and then Matsunaga also strikes out swinging on a 2-2 pitch. Good stuff. But then Nomura ran into some problems in the bottom of the 8th. Izumi led off by walking, and then Saito Yuki, who was in the game by then (I'll come back to that in a second) bunted Izumi over. Uemoto singled to left, moving Izumi to third. Uemoto stole second during Hosoyamada's at-bat, and Hosoyamada pulled off a squeeze bunt, scoring Izumi and moving Uemoto to third. 2-0. Matsumoto hit a solid single to right, scoring Uemoto. 3-0. Nomura came out of the game and Kenta Kondoh came in.

Matsumoto stole second on the first pitch to a pinch-hitting Shiraishi, and made it all the way to third on an errant throw by Nakano. Shiraishi ultimately walked. But then to make up for it, pitcher Kondoh picked Shiraishi off first to end the inning.

Now, I might have mentioned that Saito Yuki was in the game -- which was kind of a surprise to me. I figured I wasn't going to get to see him pitch at all this year, given that he usually starts the games on Saturday; in theory Waseda can win without him on Sunday, and then they don't play Monday. (But if they did, he'd be the starter.) But, well, that tasty fireballer Oishi ran into some trouble in the top of the 8th, as a messy fielding decision between the third baseman and shortstop allowed Komichi a single, and he was bunted over to second. So with one out, Waseda switched pitchers again... and just like last time, the people around me all started saying "Maybe it'll be Saito! Maybe it'll be Saito!" Except this time, it actually WAS Saito. Oooooooooooh.

Saito comes out throwing that 148 km/h slider of his, and gets out of the inning without any runs scoring (pop out, walk, groundout to first).

The top of the 9th happens, and Araki leads off with a single to right. And then Nakano follows it up with another single to right! And everyone's wondering what's happened to his Highness, and why he's suddenly become vulnerable. I guess he was wondering the same thing, as he proceeded to strike out a pinch-hitting Ryota Yasuda after that. Okay, fine, one out, runners at first and second. Yuuya Fukudani pinch-hits, and on the second pitch to him, Nakano is a LITTLE too far off first and Hosoyamada fires the ball to first base and picks him off! Yikes! Araki steals third on the next pitch, but it's just too late. Fukudani swings at the fourth pitch -- and I thought he fouled it, and maybe he did, but either way, he starts running, and Hosoyamada gets the ball and throws it to first, and it's a strikeout and the game is over, Waseda winning 3-0.

The players all run to the line between the mound and home plate and line up. The two teams and the umpires bow to each other once again, and the players leave the field. The cheering groups sing their school songs in turn and also salute each other. This is why I think watching college ball is really a fantastic way to observe the rituals of Japanese baseball, while still getting to see a pretty high-quality game in a high-quality stadium.

It's also pretty neat to wonder which of these Meiji guys is the next Kenshin, or the next Takashi Ogasawara, or the next Kume, or Kizuka, or Ichiba... or which Waseda guy is the next Aoki, or Toritani, or Hiroyasu Tanaka, or Tsuyoshi Wada... just very exciting stuff.

(Postscript: I may have mentioned being dumbfounded at having Handkerchief Prince pitching two days in a row, and sure enough, he was the starter in Monday's tiebreaker game, and Waseda lost to Meiji 2-0, with a better-rested Iwata pitching 7 shutout innings and Egarashi coming back to nail down the game and the series. I think it was pretty smart of Meiji to save Iwata for Monday -- and I'm still glad I got to see Yusuke Nomura, so it's really a big win all around.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Foto -- Cranes for Morino

Alright, so the update on Morino is that he is expected to be out until July. The injury seems to be called a left calf muscle strain, and he was taken back to a hospital in Nagoya to recover, and they're expecting him to be out of action for a while to heal, and then he'll have to do some rehab and then work out on the farm team for a bit before returning to action on the top team.

It's sad also because this injury comes on the heels of an article saying how he was spending his off-day running (on May 12) and working out because he was worried something is wrong, he was having a slight slump lately.

(Naturally, another question is whether he'll still get to play in the Olympics... but I don't know if anyone even wants to think that far ahead now.)

Oddly, I'm not actually sure I'll see the Dragons while Morino is out. Due to interleague and Fighters games taking first priority and a concert and only being able to attend games on Sunday/Monday, the next time I'd be able to see them without having to make an extra effort (like taking a day off, or going to Nagoya) won't be until 6/29, by which point maybe he'll be almost back up, with any luck.

Anyway, I do some crazy things when I feel like I need to bring good luck to a baseball player but there's nothing I can do in particular. (See last fall when I made a Fighters omamori.) Morino happens to be the poster boy for May on the Dragons calendar I have on my wall at work, and I was thinking about the story of folding 1000 origami cranes to bring wishes and health to someone...

So I went out and got some origami paper and spent most of my free time between teaching classes today folding origami cranes and putting them around the calendar.

I suppose I am approximately 986 cranes short, though.

I only had time to fold 14 cranes, though. But I figure that... well... he got injured on May 14th, and it's the May calendar page.

Wait a minute. Kenshin Kawakami was the April calendar poster boy and then he got BLASTED in April, that day that the Giants hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off him, and was out of the rotation for like a month. And Morino is May and now he got injured. OH MY GOD THE CALENDAR IS CURSED

Ibata is June... oh crap.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Morino injures left leg; Deanna freaks out; film at 11.

Tonight at Jingu stadium, Masa Yamamoto got his 195th career win as the Dragons beat the Swallows 4-1, making him 2-0 on the year so far. It seems we're in for another year of Good Masa, which is fantastic news.

But due to other things, I couldn't care less about that right now.

In the 3rd inning of the game, possibly due to wet ground, Masahiko "Dragonbutt" Morino, who is pretty much my favorite baseball player in Japan, fell down while fielding a hit to centerfield, and injured his left leg, and WAS CARRIED OFF THE FIELD ON A STRETCHER.

You have to understand, I got home pretty late and barely caught the sports news at all. I knew he'd been taken out of the game, but I didn't know why, so suddenly turning on the TV and seeing Morino on a stretcher had me in a mild state of shock for a minute or two.

(Edit: Found a game highlights clip on Youtube, being as it was Masa's 195th career win. Morino's injury is about 1:30 in. Good news is he didn't actually collide with anything... bad news is, it's actually kind of unclear how he injured himself exactly! Argh!)

There's a picture of him on the stretcher down towards the bottom of this article on Sanspo.

If I understand Ochiai's comment properly -- 「144試合同じ先発でいきたかったが、悩むことはない。(代わりの)メンバーはいる」, which I think means "Well, I wanted to have the same starting lineup for 144 games, but don't worry -- we have substitute players..." I think that isn't quite true. Yeah, I'm hugely biased, but I don't think Morino is that easily replaceable. First off, he IS actually the best hitter on the team, at least for the season so far, in terms of OPS and most other standards (and is one of the best hitters in the Central League period, actually) and was even called Chunichi's "key man" in the Interleague official program put out by Shube. And all this while he's STILL being shuffled between centerfield and third base all the time -- AND he hasn't made a single error at either position yet.

Anyway, while searching to see if someone posted tonight's sports news with a clip of the injury, instead, I found some other Morino-related clips that cheered me up a little, so I'm going to share those instead:

1995 Spring Koshien clips of Morino, then in his second year at Tokaidai Sagami high school. AWWWW! It's kind of funny that these clips are of Sagami beating the crap out of Gifu (being as Gifu is so close to Nagoya, and I even went there two weeks ago to watch the Dragons).

Scenes of Morino & Doala, a short music video which is ridiculously adorable if you are a huge fan of Morino and of Doala, which, naturally, I am.

Doala! which was tagged as Morino and Doala, but doesn't really involve Morino, but it's so cute I want to share it. Basically a Doala video set to "Sunny Day Sunday" by Sentimental Bus, one of my favorite not-exactly-baseball-related-but-close-enough songs ever.

Sigh. I hope I'm overreacting. It's just that last time I saw an outfielder getting carried off the field on a stretcher it was Hitoshi Tamura, and he's gonna be out for like two months.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bobby Valentine!

Today is the birthday of one Bobby V,
Who starred in a film that you all ought to see.
It airs at 9 Eastern, on ESPN,
And it has a good dose of some pure Bobby Zen.

The filmmakers took on a fresh attitude;
tried biking and subways and every town's food;
To learn about yakyuu -- that was the main plan --
But also to bring home a slice of Japan.

The camera followed through cold days and warm;
adventures on Fuji in darkness and storm;
They saw highschool baseball, and sumo as well,
and tried karaoke and gave Bobby hell.

Of baseball, the passion's what really appealed --
The true dedication both on- and off-field.
They filmed from the dugout, the rooftop, the stands,
And captured the spirit of players and fans.

To Bobby: we thank you for being so vocal
on improving the game AND on keeping it local.
So for all that you've done and for all that you do --
Have another great year! Happy birthday to you!!

(Photo taken by Larry Rocca, and presented without explanation, because it's funnier this way, I think.)

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.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

One of the major differences I noticed between Fighters fans in Sapporo and Fighters fans in Tokyo is that Sapporo fans tend to really get decked out in unique ways to support the team. The Tokyo crowd mostly has standard jerseys -- name/number, the letters in English, and the "unique" people are the ones wandering around wearing the 1993-2003 jerseys with things like "Tanaka #6" or "Nishizaki #21" or "Iwamoto #18" or even some crazy ones like "Hirose #1" or "Nishiura #66". Some brave souls even still wear the bright orange pre-1993 jerseys as well.

Now in Sapporo, you don't see the oldskool jerseys much at all, but you see some really special stuff nonetheless. There's a few major themes I've noticed to the jerseys:

1) Using kanji for player names instead of English letters (ie, "稲葉篤紀 41")
2) Using the player's first name or nickname instead of last name (ie, "Mack 8", "Naoto 5")
3) Adding various phrases to the jersey in Japanese (I'll show a few below)
4) Adding various COLORS to represent each different player (ie, Hichori jerseys have black letters with green borders, Kensuke's have pink borders, Kaneko's have blue, etc)
5) Adding shiny/glittery stuff around the letters (particularly pink shiny Kensuke letters)
6) Adding various other things (My favorite was a girl with a "Konta #52" jersey with the word "LOVE" added underneath it in purple, with little pink hearts all over it)

Kensuke and Hichori jerseys. I thought I wanted to do one like these, maybe.

Really huge Naoto Inada fan who perhaps had one of the most elaborate and beautiful jerseys I saw there -- I really appreciated the amount of effort she put into this thing. She explained that she fell in love with him for his fighting spirit after the Naoto vs. The Cameraman episode during the Japan Series, and I don't blame her one bit for that.

This is Makoto Kaneko's cheer song. On a jersey. How awesome is that?

So the thing is, I have a couple of Fighters replica jerseys -- a current home one with Ogasawara #2 on the back, which I rarely wear; a current away one with no number, and an old Tokyo Fighters away jersey with no number that I bought like 6 years ago. I was originally thinking I'd get a new jersey when I went to Sapporo -- I really wanted one of the beautiful blue Hokkaido ones, but they aren't sold anymore. And then I couldn't decide on a player to get a standard jersey for (I think if they'd actually sold Tadano #16 I would have gone ahead and gotten one, but they didn't), plus I realized -- why get a new jersey when I can just get numbers/letters added to one of the ones I have already?

The Sapporo Dome shop sells iron-on letters in the Fighters uniform font so you can make your own jersey, but it's like 400 yen per letter and 900 yen per number, so when I realized getting "Kensuke 3" or "Hichori 1" would cost like 3700 yen, I decided to think about it for a day or two. And then after seeing all of the crazy awesome unique jerseys around the stadium for the weekend, I decided: if I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do something really special and different.

When I came back to Tokyo, I stopped by Sports Authority and picked up a uniform catalog, and it seems pretty likely I can get them to do a jersey for me. Now the only question is, WHAT to do?

I think I might get a "Tanaka #6" added to the old jersey, because I really do want something commemorating Yukio Tanaka. Another idea was getting "田中幸雄 #2000 5.15.07" on the newer jersey, or maybe "TANAKA" and then under it "賢介 3 幸雄 6" or something like that.

(An alternate Kensuke Tanaka idea -- since a LOT of women have Kensuke jerseys now, especially with pink borders or shiny borders and with his name in kanji -- was to do his cheer song - どこまでも飛ばせ 賢介 ガッツだゴーゴーゴー 僕らは待つよ 輝く瞬間 - like that Makoto jersey the other lady had, only putting the name Kensuke in huge pink letters. Though I also fear it might be costly to get quite so many letters made.)

Another idea was getting a green-bordered set of letters that says "Piccolo #1" in honor of Hichori's costume at the all-star game in 2006, but I don't know if people would get it.

I also thought about simply getting a weird player that nobody else has. "Imanari #62" came to mind. But who knows if he'll ever make it to ichi-gun, really.

So after thinking about it for the last week, what I really, really, really think I want is a non-player-related one. Namely, I want to get one like this:

Oi, oi, Hokkaido! Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!

The question is, is there anything really wrong with doing something like that? I'm basically stealing someone else's idea, and if they ever see me in such a jersey, maybe they'd get mad. Or maybe they'd be flattered? On the other hand, maybe they stole the idea from someone else to begin with. Who knows.

I really like this one, because it isn't tied to a specific player, so whether or not someone succeeds or fails or LEAVES THE TEAM AND GOES TO THE GIANTS or whatever doesn't really affect the jersey still being cool.

I suppose some Japanese people might think it was pretty strange seeing a foreigner walking around in a jersey full of Japanese writing, but whatever, they think it's pretty strange seeing me walk around no matter what I do. Of course, it might be even WEIRDER to wear it around in America someday, but that's not my concern right now.

Anyway, as soon as I decipher the order form, I'll probably go ahead and get the Oi Oi Hokkaido jersey made, unless I come up with something better in the meantime.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Game Report: Swallows vs. Baystars @ Yokohama - Tic Tac Takuro

May 7th is my birthday, but May 6th is the last day of Golden Week, so technically you could say the game I went to in Yokohama on Tuesday was my birthday game. I mean, the 7th was Darvish vs. Wakui at the Seibu Dump, and would have been a perfect birthday game, except I had to work all evening. And Nashida left Darvish in too long and the Fighters lost anyway. On the bright side, about 150 miles from here, the Chunichi Dragons won their game, and on an even brighter side, Masa Yamamoto started and got the win. So now he only needs 6 more to go for 200 career wins! GO OLD MAN GO! YOU CAN DO IT!

(On a less bright side, about 150 miles away from here in the ocean, there was just a series of earthquakes that measured between 5.1 and 6.8 on the Richter scale, and my apartment was shaking on and off for a good hour between tremors. That was SCARY. Thanks for the birthday quake, Japan, but you really shouldn't have. Honest.)

Anyway, on Tuesday, I was lucky enough to get to go to a Baystars vs. Yakult game with Michael Westbay (of fame) and his son. Westbay doesn't do the whole cheering thing, but his son is totally into banging cheersticks and yelling a lot, so I had a sidekick to yell with :) Plus his son is a big fan of Tatsuhiko Kinjoh (who batted 3rd), and I am a big fan of Takuro Ishii (who batted 7th), so we had pretty good yelling coverage of the lineup.

But, first, I had to go spy on the Yakult Swallows during their fielding practice; since it was a gorgeous sunny day out, I brought my camera and went around stealing souls for a bit:

This is Kyohei Muranaka, a 20-year-old lefty who had a no-hitter going for 8.1 innings against the Giants the other day only to lose the game 5-0 in the 9th.

Shinya "Captain Japan" Miyamoto goes flying through the air with the greatest of ease!

Shingo Kawabata just LOVES fielding practice!

See more pictures here.

The pre-game was most of the usual stuff -- the Yokohama dancing cheer girl team, which is called diana, but is pronounced the same as "Deanna", has a new t-shirt they're selling now and some new pregame dances, with the loudspeaker playing "Go! Go! Diana!" as part of it. So I come back from the concourse, and Westbay's like "Go! Go! Deanna!"

The starters for the game were both non-Japanese -- Mike Wood for the Baystars, and Daniel Rios for the Swallows. Rios is an incredibly intriguing pitcher to me -- he was born in Spain, grew up in the US, pitched in the minors and majors over here, then went all over the damn place in independent leagues and Mexico, before spending a couple of years in Korea. Last year he had what was one of the most amazing years ever by a pitcher in the KBO, going something like 22-5 with a 2.07 ERA for the Doosan Bears, so naturally the next step up was coming to Japan. Or something. So far he is now 1-4 with a 5.09 ERA for Yakult, though, making him one of the weaker starters on the team, oddly. It was still exciting to see him pitch though, and he went pretty deep into this game.

Yakult starter Danny Rios.

Baystars starter Mike Wood.

I'm going to list the lineups a second, because they were kind of wacky to me for various reasons:

Yakult Yokohama
------ --------
Keizo 3B Ohnishi LF
Fukuchi CF Fujita "2B"
Beavis 2B Kinjoh CF
Guiel RF Murata 3B
Miyamoto SS Uchikawa 1B
Yuichi 1B Yoshimura RF
Iihara LF Takuro SS
Yoneno C Tsuruoka C
Rios P Wood P

Wacky #1: No Aoki! Turns out he has a mild injury, but we didn't know that at the time.
Wacky #2: Yuichi Matsumoto at first base instead of Adam Riggs?
Wacky #3: Uhh... Yoneno?
Wacky #4: No Nishi? And Takuro Ishii batting 7th?

Also, we saw Shingo Nonaka out there playing catch with Yoshimura between innings, and I was all like "LOOK! IT'S NONAKA!!!!!" and everyone's like "So what?"

We were sitting in Field A seats, which means we were actually pretty close to the field, but the way Yokohama Stadium works, that area isn't really slanted much at all, so your view of home plate will often be worse than your view of most other parts of the field, if just one tall person is sitting in your way. Which, of course, always inevitably happens to me. But Westbay's son was also having trouble seeing -- he kept standing up and looking around like "I can see... kind of... through that LITTLE BITTY HOLE there!"

Thus I ended up making my photography goal for the day to get a good shot of someone getting tagged on a pickoff to first, since I had a clear shot of first. And naturally, every time there was a pickoff throw, someone was in my way -- a beer girl, a random kid standing up, etc. It was pretty amazing.

So here's about the best I could do:

Yuichi Matsumoto looks like he's going to backhand Takuro Ishii upside the head or butt or something.

One of the better ones to come out, of Yasushi Iihara diving back into first.

Fukuchi almost looks like he's doing pushups here.

And the funny part is, the Baystars put guys on base a LOT, so I should have had plenty of pickoff photo fodder. (They also LEFT a lot of guys on base, but that's another story.) They loaded the bases in the 2nd inning on consecutive singles by Takuro Ishii and Kazunari Tsuruoka, and then pitcher Mike Wood actually WALKED, but then Hiroaki Ohnishi grounded out.

In the bottom of the 4th, they put on plenty of runners again -- Uchikawa led off with a single, Yoshimura followed it with another single, and then Takuro sac bunted the guys over to second and third. Fine. With Tsuruoka at bat, and one out, I watched as Yakult's second baseman Hiroyasu Tanaka pretty much looked at the pitcher, looked at the plate and took about five steps to his right. Five seconds later, Tsuruoka grounded the ball RIGHT TO HIROYASU, who fired it home to catch Uchikawa in plenty of time. Sheesh.

"Hey," said Westbay, "What on earth was that second baseman doing in perfect position to make that play?"

"Oh," I said, "He was totally waiting for it. You know, when that Hiroyasu Tanaka kid got the Best Nine award at second base last year, and most people were like 'Who!?', I do think he might have actually deserved it..."

In the top of the 5th, Shinya "Captain Japan" Miyamoto hit the ball deep to right field, where it momentarily seemed like Yuuki Yoshimura made the catch, but he couldn't hold onto the ball, and it dropped for a double.

"They called that a HIT?!" said Westbay in disbelief.

"Well, it WAS kind of a tough play...? I mean, I like Yuuki a lot but to be honest, I'm amazed he even touched the ball before it hit the ground. He's not exactly the fastest guy out there."

"He got a late start on it though."

So Yuichi Matsumoto sac bunted Miyamoto over to third, and then Iihara walked, so with runners at the corners and one out it wasn't too difficult even for Yoneno to pull off a squeeze bunt. Baystars 2B Kazuya Fujita, whom Westbay had been commenting all game on the lack of fielding ability thereof, or at least his range compared to Nishi, was late covering first and almost didn't make the play at all. Yikes. So, Miyamoto scored, and that made it 1-0, and the umbrellas came out in full force in the leftfield bleachers.

Keizo Kawashima led off the top of the 6th with another double, Fukuchi sac bunting him over to third as well. "Great," I said, "Here comes another run." But Hiroyasu grounded out, as did Guiel. The guys sitting to my left, who had been yelling random silly crap all game, decided that Hiroyasu's chant reminded them of Shinnosuke Abe's for some reason, and they started cheering "Shinnosuke!!!" for him, which was just... plain... weird.

In the realm of Players Doing Things I Want To Punch Them For, Seiichi Uchikawa slid headfirst into first base on a groundout, which never fails to annoy me for some reason. But then Yoshimura walked and stole second! Scoring position with Takuro Ishii at bat!

"TAKUROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" I yelled, having been holding up my Ishii towel during all of his atbats and doing my Takuro Ishii's Biggest Fan act. "TANOMU YO!" (Which is about the equivalent of "Come on, we're begging/asking/counting on you!!") The guy to my left laughed and also yelled "TAKURO!! TANOMU YO!" Anyway, Takuro also walked. Exciting! Kind of! Time for chance music! Time for Tsuruoka to come to bat! Time for Tsuruoka to ground into a fielder's choice and end the inning! How totally anticlimactic.

"Our nice white uniforms are very very dirty," says Takuro Ishii, "And we still don't have any freaking runs scored to show for it."

In the top of the 7th, for the THIRD INNING IN A ROW, the Swallows led off with a double and sac bunted the runner over to third, this time the perpetrators being Miyamoto and Yuichi yet again. Difference this time is that Fujita pulled a Hiroyasu and actually pegged Miyamoto at the plate, so another run did NOT score. Whew.

The Lucky 7 inning came and went. Matt Wood came out of the game and Travis Hughes came in for Yokohama to pitch the top of the 8th. Hughes proceeded to strike out two guys, walk one, and strike out another. Cute.

Tatsuhiko Kinjoh led off the bottom of the 8th by promptly hitting a liner straight into Hiroyasu Tanaka's glove ("Why is that pesky second baseman ALWAYS there to make the play?" said Westbay), and Shuuichi Murata, The Man, hit a biiiiiiiig towering fly ball that landed in now-centerfielder Keizo Kawashima's glove. So with two outs in the bottom of the 8th it seemed like things were pretty futile.

But then Uchikawa hit a sharp liner out towards right center that looked like it might end up as a homer. Might... might... not quite, but it bounced high on the wall and fell in for a double. And then Yuuki Yoshimura walked, and here was Takuro Ishii up to bat again with runners at first and second. Time for lots of yelling! And this time, Takuro hit a nice clean single to left! Uchikawa ran all the way around from second, beat the throw, and SCORED! 1-1 tie game!

First Yokohama run of the game scores!

And then, pinch-hitting in the 8 spot, was none other than another one of my favorite old dudes on Yokohama, Takahiro Saeki. More chance music! Utte utte Saeki, utte utte Saeki, kattobase Saeki! Utte utte Saeki, utte-- WAIT WTF JUST HAPPENED? Everyone's running! Where's the ball! What the heck?

It seems that Rios faked a pickoff throw to first -- or made some sort of weird motion -- and then actually threw to first, but stumpy first baseman Shinichi Takeuchi wasn't expecting that either, and so the ball flew wild towards the dugout. Yuuki Yoshimura ran home from third and scored easily. 2-1. And in the confusion trying to actually recover the ball and stop the damage, Takuro Ishii made it all the way around to third base. Saeki ultimately ended up walking, and that's when Daniel Rios came out of the game.

Former Fighters pitcher Takahiko Oshimoto came in for Yakult, and got Tatsuya Ozeki to ground out to end the inning, but that was still a pretty good amount of excitement. Westbay's son said, "They call it Lucky 7 but today it was really Lucky 8!"

What was also awesome about the entire turn of events was that I got to see Hayato Terahara in his new role as Yokohama's closer. I think this is actually a role that totally suits him. Terahara was known for setting a speed record at Koshien back in high school, and he's still quite capable of rearing back and throwing 97 mph. The problem is, as a starter, he can't go out there and throw like that every pitch. But as a closer, he can just let loose for one inning and just go for pure power, and everyone's all like "Ooooh, 155!!" as they watch the scoreboard. He dealt with Guiel, Miyamoto, and Takeuchi in pretty quick order and then the game was over! Yay! The Baystars ACTUALLY WIN ONE!

Game heroes were Takuro and Terahara. I stood up on my chair, cheered, and took pictures:

"Were you trying to do something really big when you came to bat in the 8th inning, Takuro?"
"Not really."


The Baystars players all threw their hats into the crowd after the game, and then after the hero interview, Takuro and Terahara went out and threw a bunch of signed baseballs into the crowd. I stood up on my chair and held up my Ishii towel and yelled "TAKUROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" It didn't result in anything getting thrown my way, though, sadly.

The guys two rows in front of me were like "Hey look at her with her Takuro towel," and the one guy's like "I have Nishi, see?" and waves his Toshihisa Nishi towel, and then the other dude holds up a Kimiyasu Kudoh towel and I just crack up like "Oyaji?" Because, after all, Kudoh's 45th birthday was on Monday.

We pack up our stuff to leave the stadium. It's a pretty exciting day -- nice weather, fun game, big dramatic comeback win out of nowhere, and then I realize something kind of stupid.

"This win was nice and all," I said, "but the Baystars still haven't reached double digits in wins yet, have they?"

"I don't think so," said Westbay.

"Wow." I pause. "They're REALLY sucking it up this year."

(For the record, they still haven't gotten to 10, having dropped their next two games after this one. I'd say I should go back and cheer for them more, since they won both times I cheered for them this year, but I think the next time I plan to head to Yokohama is when the Fighters play there on June 8/9...)