What could possibly be better than getting to watch one of your absolute favorite baseball players on their birthday, playing against your most hated enemy team?
Could it be, perhaps, seeing said player get a hit?
And seeing said enemy team lose?
And perhaps, just perhaps, seeing said player get a TWO-RUN HOMERUN to put his team ahead, and wind up as the game hero on his birthday, where his age happens to coincide with his uniform number?
Well, that was tonight for me. I went to the Tokyo Dome for the Yomiuri Giants vs. Chunichi Dragons game, deliberately skipping the Fighters game in Chiba, because tonight was Masahiko "Dragonbutt #31" Morino's 31st birthday, and I've been a Morino fan for several years, even if I haven't gone to that many Dragons games this year due to the still-discombobulated Kanto ouendan situation. Also, I enjoy yelling "Yomiuri taose o!" after every "kattobase". ("Defeat the Giants!", a tradition which only gets yelled after every batter during Giants-Dragons games at the Tokyo Dome.) An entire evening of yelling anti-Giants cheers can really lift the spirits of any devout Giants-hater.
I spent about an hour and a half this afternoon making a "Happy Birthday" sign to hold up at the game, and I was really hoping I wouldn't end up feeling like an idiot for having it. And at first, as Mr. Morino kept swinging for the fences and just hitting pop flies out, it seemed that might be the case, but finally, finally, when it really counted, he came through for us, and I couldn't have been happier.
I was sitting next to an older guy who said he used to be part of the Kanto ouendan, actually, and as such was not allowed to do the Dragons cheers, or wear a jersey or anything, but after he'd had about 5 beers he was helping me hold up my Morino sign and also yelling with everyone else. He had plenty of interesting stories to tell, too.
Anyway, Wei-yin Chen started for Chunichi and Wirfin Obispo started for Yomiuri. Obispo was having huge trouble controlling inside pitches from the start, and just through mostly dumb luck, the Dragons managed to strand 5 runners in the first two innings alone. Whereas Chen retired the first 8 batters he faced, giving up his first hit to, of all people, Obispo.
The Dragons fans sang Happy Birthday to Masahiko Morino before his first at-bat. What surprised most of us was when the Giants fans started singing Happy Birthday to Yoshiyuki Kamei before HIS first at-bat! Apparently Turtlebutt shares a birthday with Dragonbutt, just four years later.
After a sweet throw from Masaaki Koike kept the Giants off the board in the bottom of the 3rd, Koike also put the Dragons ON the board in the top of the 4th with a solo home run that landed in the Giants half of the left-field stands. 1-0. After Morino hit a huge towering shot that was way too high and caught in centerfield, Tony Blanco hit a huge towering shot that actually landed in the stands. 2-0.
The Giants rallied in their half of the 5th to produce 2 runs, tying it at 2-2. They basically loaded the bases after a botched attempt to catch the lead runner at 3rd on a sac bunt, and then Sakamoto drove in two runs with a single to left. They loaded the bases again but then left them there.
Obispo hit Ibata with a pitch for the SECOND time in the top of the 7th, which pissed off a lot of fans, and there was a ton of booing from the Chunichi section, until a few minutes later when Birthday Boy Morino hit a 115-meter line drive out that finally was caught by a Giants fan in the stands instead of a Giants outfielder on the field, scoring Ibata as well. 4-2. You wouldn't believe the chaos that erupted in the Dragons stands at that point, with all the groups of Morino fans out in force tonight as well as just some general joy over taking the lead again. A woman sitting down the row from me who had seen my sign earlier actually ran over to high-five me. Things like that.
The Giants cut that lead in half in the bottom of the 7th when Edgardo Alfonzo pinch-hit for Obispo and hit a home run that was coming almost straight towards me (and infact landed two rows up and about 6 seats over). 4-3. Chen stayed in for a few more batters, getting two outs before giving up a single to Ogasawara's Clean-shaven Doppleganger. To be fair, the "hit" by Ogasawara totally looked foul, and we were surprised Ochiai didn't come out to argue it, but instead came out to switch pitchers to Junichi Kawahara. Kawahara promptly walked Ramirez, and another pitching change brought Nelson Payano out to the mound, who got a groundout out of Kamei to end the inning.
(Take THAT, Giants Birthday Boy.)
Kazuhiro Wada led off the 8th inning with yet another home run to left, which brought the score to 5-3, and that's where it would stay, as Dragons closer Hitoki Iwase pitched a perfect 9th inning to pick up his 29th save of the year. The only sad part was that the Dragons' offense stopped with Araki striking out in the 9th, and Morino on deck -- would have been nice to see him get another birthday at-bat. Or maybe we should just be glad he saved the best for last.
And yes, all of the Dragons' RBIs came in on home runs. I suppose you could say they were giving the Giants a taste of their own medicine.
Morino WAS the game hero, but being as this is the Tokyo Dome and a Giants game, naturally they didn't actually show him on the screen OR even let us hear the press interviewing him afterwards, though we could see them all gathered by the dugout. The security staff started kicking us out a little while after we finished singing some post-game cheers, basically... and since there isn't an official ouendan, the cheers were basically limited to doing the lineup songs, the Ochiai cheer, a round of Moeyo Dragons, and then a second iteration of singing happy birthday to Morino plus his cheer song.
I asked the guy sitting next to me to take a photo of me with my Morino birthday sign, but then saw an even better photo opportunity a few rows down with another group of Morino fans who also had birthday signs for him, and asked if I could jump in for a photo...
It was really a very good day to be a Dragons fan, and more specifically, a Morino fan. Happy birthday, Dragonbutt!