Friday, August 28, 2009

Game Report: Marines vs. Hawks - 2nd Annual JBC Day in Chiba

(Would you believe, I never actually finished/posted my entry about last year's meetup at Chiba? I think I'm going to basically do that, backdate and all, and add a link here.)

Anyway, last year in mid-September, six of us took over a picnic table at Chiba Marine for an exciting long nailbiting Hawks-Marines game where the Hawks managed to tie the game in the later innings and then the Marines managed to squeak ahead 8-7 in the bottom of the 9th. It was Satoru Komiyama's birthday and he almost got a 4-pitch win. Alas.

This year, four of us took over a row in the upper deck and hung out for a similar Hawks-Marines game, only this time Naruse was awesome but the Marines couldn't score enough runs for him and the Hawks ended up tying the game 2-2 in the 9th and it stayed that way until the bitter end. We seem destined to have these long Hawks-Marines games for the JBC days for whatever reason.

Before the game, Michael Westbay (aka the Commish) showed up pretty early and was talking to players and hanging out on the field. I showed up at 5, around the same time as Steve from We Love Marines. We went into the stadium backstage as a gaijin brigade. I saw Jose Ortiz and said hello and told him I saw him hit the two home runs in Fukuoka. No, I didn't mention that I was in the Fighters cheering section.

Speaking of the gaijin brigade, by the way, when I woke up this morning and looked at Yahoo Sports, the big breaking news was that Jeff Williams has left Japan and the Tigers. I mention this only because one of my favorite moments at Chiba ever was getting to talk to Jeff last summer during interleague -- he's just an all-around nice guy who had a really good career here in Japan for a while. I wish the best of luck to him in whatever happens next, at any rate.

Back to the game at hand, half of the point of us being at Chiba for this game was for Westbay to get a last chance to chat with the Chiba crew like Paul Pupo and Frank Ramppen, and of course, with Bobby. He hadn't seen Bobby yet, so I suggested we just barge into Bobby's office, which worked wonderfully; we arrived at about the same time as one of his staff members who was carrying a ton of baseballs for Bobby to sign, so he had time to chat with us while signing the baseballs. One amusing thing that came out of the conversation was that apparently every time Westbay sees Tadahito Iguchi play, he's hitting doubles and RBIs, but Bobby knows the ACTUAL splits on Iguchi and gave Westbay some stats homework to do.

For the record, my question of the day for Bobby was: "It's my boyfriend Shunsuke Watanabe's birthday today, why isn't he starting?" (The answer, effectively: "I have a rotation, you know.")

We went back towards the dugout a bit, where we ran into Larry Rocca, and so Larry took Steve onto the field to say hi to people and whatnot. Westbay and I hung back in the hallway talking to a few people before heading to the upper deck, where Simon had already arrived and was saving seats for us. I kept an eye out for Shunsuke to wish him a happy birthday, but alas. I thought about taking a few photos of warmups, but then Takumi Kohbe stared right at me and I froze. Some things never change, I guess.

Oh, two notable things happened on my way up to the upper deck:

1) The Lotteria was out of Bobby Burgers. I was worried that they had simply stopped selling them, which would be a royal WTF, but the girls at the counter assured me that they had simply run out of pineapples for the day or something to that effect.

2) I saw this monument to the day the Marines scored 15 runs in one inning against the Carp, an NPB record:

It has the information about the game and the inning and bats from every guy who scored. What a cool way to remember a totally crazy game.

Anyway, we got to the upper deck, and Simon had saved us a really good row of seats, about 4 rows from the edge of the deck, behind first base:

I haven't watched a game from the upper deck in Chiba since sometime in late 2007, but this was a perfectly fine one to start with. The weather was fantastic and the stands weren't crowded at all, so it was possible to just stretch out and enjoy the game. Westbay and Steve had their big cameras with zoom lenses, and for once I didn't; I just had my Marines towel and flag and Bobby 2010 t-shirt and was prepared to yell for the Marines. (It's a lot easier when they're playing Softbank instead of the Fighters, you know.) I spent a while catching up with Simon and sharing travel stories.

In the meantime, Yoshihisa Naruse started for the Marines, and Shota Ohba started for the Hawks. Naruse's been remarkably good recently, while Ohba's been somewhat inconsistent, so it seemed promising enough.

The Marines were victims of some ridiculously good fielding by the Hawks -- a liner into Kokubo's stomach, an impossible basket catch by Nakanishi, a running catch by Hasegawa, a diving snag of a liner by Honda. The last one particularly was painful for me since it robbed Takumi Kohbe, getting a rare ichi-gun start, of what should have been a single to right but turned into a double play instead. And even worse, Ohmatsu got himself caught napping off second base and was nailed on a pickoff by Hawks catcher Hidenori Tanoue.

But the Marines finally put some runs on the board in the 4th inning, with a double to left by Ohmatsu and then -- of all people -- a double to right by Tadahito Iguchi, thus proving that Iguchi hits doubles and drives in runs when Westbay is watching. That made it 1-0, and Iguchi advanced on a groundout by Hashimoto, scoring on a sac fly by Kazuya Fukuura. 2-0.

Naruse REALLY stepped up for a few innings there -- he struck out 7 batters between the 2nd and 5th innings, and the Marines went into the Fireworks Fifth with a 2-run lead.

(They look so much better from the upper deck than from anywhere in the stadium, I swear.)

Naruse had 6 shutout innings going, but in the "Lucky 7th", Hitoshi Tamura, always a power threat when not injured, slammed a home run that was so far gone that left fielder Ohmatsu didn't even bother turning around or running at all -- he just sort of watched it sail over the fence, where it landed about 20 rows back. 2-1.

Nobuhiko Matsunaka made a pinch-hit appearance in the 8th inning -- we'd seen him taking practice swings before the game -- and he grounded out to third. As he ran past first base he took a weird stretch out and hit the bag at a weird angle, and ended up limping down the right-field line, eventually being walked off the field partway by the first base coach. I guess his knees are still having trouble.

With Naruse's total strikeout count for the day at 9, he stayed out there to pitch the 9th inning -- and the first batter Kokubo got a pretty solid single to left, so Bobby pulled Naruse and put in Sikorski. Steve was remarking that Sikorski was the only Lotte bullpen member to pitch in the last few games -- and as he was saying that, Tamura grounded out to short, pinch-runner Kidokoro forced out at second, but the relay wasn't on for a double play.

I said, "I have a bad feeling about this." Keep in mind that the last two or three times I've seen Sikorski pitch in person, he's blown a save, though the rest of the time he's been fantastic.

Brian then walked Yuya Hasegawa.

I started trying to basically not watch the game, was looking through my meikan for information about the various players, trying to remember where Akashi went to high school since I knew he was born in Hokkaido, things like that. I figured if I watched, I'd be a jinx.

And naturally, Akashi chose that moment to hit the ball to right field, into the corner, and as Takumi Kohbe chased it into the right field corner, I realized there was no way in heck that at least one run wasn't coming in, maybe two. Fortunately, it was only one as Hasegawa held up at third. 2-2. Brian struck out Tanoue (4th K of the day, ouch) and Kosai after that, but the damage was done.

Tadashi Settsu pitched the bottom of the 9th and aside from Iguchi singling by a weird bounce off the mound that went deep to short, the other three batters struck out. So at 9:25pm we went sailing on into extra innings.

Sikorski kept things under control in the top of the 10th, and Settsu was still out there for the bottom of the 10th. Daisuke Hayakawa singled, Kohbe bunted him up to second ("Big man, little bunt!" I laughed, having never seen Kohbe bunt before), and so Settsu intentionally walked Nishioka. Keisuke Hayasaka then hit this bizarre bloop hit that bounced out to shortstop and Munenori Kawasaki simply didn't have a play on it at all, so with no throw, the bases were loaded, and one out. A chance for Lotte! UNFORTUNATELY, Imae grounded out to second, the throw going home to catch Hayakawa from scoring, and then Ohmatsu struck out on a 3-2 pitch -- worse, a 3-2 pitch that looked kind of high and might have been an oshidashi winning run. Ouch.

There's not a lot to say about the last two innings. Tatsuya Uchi struck out 2 guys in the top of the 11th, then Takahiro Mahara came out to pitch for the Hawks and did his typical thing of giving up two hits but also striking out two guys to keep the Marines out in the 11th, and Itoh pitched the top of the 12th flawlessly (Tanoue reached base on his FIFTH strikeout of the day, though it was dropped, only to be erased on a double play a bit later).

Imae singled on a broken-bat awkward angle grounder to short where the throw drew the first baseman off the bag. Takehara pinch-ran and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but that's all there was as Ohmatsu grounded out to short to end the game with the final 2-2 tie.

Amusingly, every inning Heiuchi would come play catch with Kohbe in right field, so as the Marines cheering group was yelling the pitcher's name (ie, "Naruse! Naruse!") I started yelling "HEIUCHI! HEIUCHI!" Sadly, he never entered the game.

It was good to spend the game with Westbay and Steve and Simon, though. We're going to try to do this again sometime next month when Jan Blurr, our crazy German Koshien fan friend, comes to Japan for a few weeks. This time hopefully we can organize a bit better and get the word out more; I shouldn't be travelling halfway across the country, at the very least.

Steve and Simon and I took the bus back to the station and then it was a long journey back to civilization -- I didn't even get home until around 1am. But it was worth it to hang out with everyone again!

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