Because seriously, who else in the world but Hara would put Johjima batting fourth, make Hiroyuki Nakajima bunt, and get away with it?
I watched the nail-biting, helmet-splitting final game of the WBC from the Shinjuku Minami-guchi Hub, with Simon and Pau, and Simon's other friend named Simon (but pronounced differently). The game was scheduled to start at 6pm Pacific Time, which if you're doing the math properly, is 10am Japan Time. I had some things to take care of first, so I arrived at the bar around 10:45am, which turned out to still be during the first inning thanks to a long opening ceremony. People had me try to guess the lineup, and I mostly figured by their incredulous looks that a still-jetlagged Kenta Kurihara had to be DHing. Things like that.
The bar was packed with people, smoke, and alcohol. As far as I could tell, despite it being well before noon, most of the people in there were already at least one drink down by the time I arrived. Pau was wearing his Fujikawa jersey, so I put on my Fighters Ogasawara jersey. There were a scattered few other people in jerseys -- a guy in a Team Japan Ichiro jersey, a dude at the table next to us in a Hawks Kokubo t-shirt. One couple nearer the door, the guy had an oldskool Daiei Hawks jersey and the woman had a Kintetsu Buffaloes jersey. With "Nakamura #5" on the back. I think she wins.
I ordered some fish'n'chips and a pint of beer, and was already on my way to being pretty buzzed well before noon. Which was just as well, because this game turned out to be pretty high-tension. The atmosphere at the pub was great, though -- wild applause when Japan got on base or scored a run or struck out a Korean batter... and grumbling when the Korean team started to catch up. Shin-soo Choo's home run in the 5th had the entire place pretty silent.
Nakajima bunting had us annoyed; Inaba bunting had us confused, but Ichiro getting a bunt single was just a thing of beauty. And Uchikawa's play from left field to totally nail Young Min Ko at second was fantastic. The split helmet at second was also pretty dramatic.
When they were showing Darvish and Fujikawa warming up in the bullpen, we were trying to guess which one would come out, and we were right. There was a terrible, terrible feeling of dread in the bar as Darvish walked those two batters, and then the game was tied at 3-3. I think I got either my second or third drink at that point, I've already forgotten. All I knew was that no matter what Darvish did at that point, I'd be hearing about it for weeks, if not years. If he lost, it'd all be on his head; even if he didn't, I felt like the chances of winning in extra innings was slim. Korea had several guys who could win the game in one swing of the bat, but I didn't think anyone in Japan was really capable of it that day.
And when Ichiro got that single to put Japan ahead 5-3, the entire place erupted -- people stood up and were cheering and yelling and high-fiving everyone in sight, and spontaneously started a chant of "I-CHI-RO! I-CHI-RO!" We also had a chant of "ato hitori!" ("one more batter!") and "ato ikkyu!" ("one more pitch!") when it came down to the last batter. Simon has a bizarre video up that kind of captures the atmosphere. I took a few photos...
I do always refer to this place as being an "Engrish Pub".
And I wasn't the only one taking photos, see.
More celebrations and photos.
We were all AMAZED that Iwakuma didn't get the MVP award. Heck, even Matsuzaka himself said Iwakuma deserved it.
I thought it was a super-nice touch that they had Sadaharu Oh come in for the team photo.
I just wish I'd gotten a screenshot of when Uchikawa took Murata's jersey and put it over the trophy as well. That was a really nice gesture for his teammate.
Another amusing thing was how, at about noon, a whole bunch of guys in suits kind of strolled into the bar and watched the game for an hour... or maybe a little bit over an hour. I was thinking how after the game ended at 2:30 or whenever, an entire NATION would be sneaking back into their offices!
Well, anyway, now half of the country's going to think Hara's a total genius, while the rest of us are going to have nightmares of Nakajima trying to bunt. But that's okay. Japan won the East Sea of Japan Double Play Classic for real, and maybe one of these years it'll make sense to people when I say I honestly find yakyuu a bazillion times more interesting and compelling than the MLB.