Thursday night's game in Chiba can probably be summed up in four words: Yoshihisa Naruse, Boy Wonder.
For whatever reason, he seems to have recently transformed back into the same "Boy Who Can't Lose" that we got to know back in 2007. This particular game featured him throwing a complete game win, with the only run coming off a home run by Fighters rookie catcher Shota Ohno. He threw 154 pitches, which is a lot, but struck out 13 batters against 3 walks and 6 hits, to earn the 7-1 win. To be fair, the Marines were up 6-0 by the 3rd inning, off some shaky control by Kazuhito Tadano, but still.
Naruse's last 6 starts:
46.2 innings pitched
8 walks, 1 hit batter
3 home runs
13 earned runs (for a 2.51 ERA)
Yeah. The boy is on FIRE.
I don't have a lot to say about the game action itself -- if you want to know which Marines got a whole lot of hits, go look at the boxscore. There isn't a lot for me to call out in particular, other than Tadano throwing a lot of wild pitches and no eephus pitches. Every Marines player in the starting lineup reached base at least once. Atsunori Inaba took a crazy diving somersault into the "field seats" on the first-base side when chasing down a foul ball, completely going over the wall. Some people were pretty lucky to be sitting where they were!
Hichori Morimoto came back up to the top team after suffering another broken hand, though, and he even made an appearance in this game! Sadly all he did was strike out and play centerfield for two innings.
I basically spent this game sitting behind home plate, because the Marines were nice enough to put me there despite my cheering allegiance, and I wanted to take in one last game of the Fighters vs. the Chiba Bobby Marines, as it were.
Thanks to seeing a few of my friends from the Fighters outfield, and coming down to chat with them, this is the view I had for most of the game:
Advance scouts. I assume they'll be going back to their teams to tell them "If Naruse's starting, we're screwed. The boy is on FIRE."
I was sitting down on the aisle step for a while, and from my left I suddenly hear in real English, "Hey, are you a journalist or something? Why are you keeping a scorecard?" It turned out to be a scout from the Kansas City Royals, a Korean-American guy who actually played baseball in Korea for a while. So, enabled with the rare chance to watch a game here and babble about all of my favorite players in English for a change, I ended up sitting next to him for a while, telling stories and asking questions. (Not questions about scouting per se, but Deanna-style questions like "Is the food any good at stadiums in Korea? Where do the cheering sections sit?")
In the middle of the 8th inning, I moved to the left field bleachers. Not to necessarily cheer for the Fighters per se as it seemed like nothing was going to stop Naruse On Fire, but for something much more important. You see, this was the final scheduled Marines-Fighters game of the 2009 season at Chiba Marine Stadium. And well, it's a tradition during the last game of the year for everyone in the outfield seats to stay behind after the game for an ouenkai of sorts between both teams' cheering groups. Basically, the two teams' cheering groups show respect for each other by yelling to the other side how they did a good job this year and good luck next year and so on, as well as singing each others' cheer songs.
First, of course, we had to wait for the official post-game show to be over, which included Yoshihisa Naruse's hero interview. (No surprise there.)
Then we waited quietly for a bit until the flags raised on the other side, and we heard a call of "Let's go Fighters! [clap clap clapclapclap]" coming from the right field stands. We waited for them to finish, and then began our own chant of "Ganbare ganbare Marines!"
Much to our surprise, after that chant, the Marines trumpets started up a familiar song to us: the Inaba Jump! Both sides of the stadium did the Inaba Jump together, and then we yelled back something to the effect of "Hey Marines! Next year let's also have fun cheering together!"
(Postgame fun Part 1: The "Ganbare Marines", Inaba Jump, and response yell)
So in response to our totally lame yell, they totally owned us by doing OUR Kanto Area Chance Theme, aka Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with "Utte utte Fighters!"
(I didn't get it on video because I had run out of space on my camera temporarily and had to delete a few things.)
We had no idea how to respond, but some people down in the lower half of the section started jumping up and down and singing "Let's Go Benny", so our ouendan trumpet players picked up on it and started playing the melody themselves. They sang and jummped it with us.
We were feeling a little better about throwing that curveball at them... until they hit it right back out of the park by striking up Yukio Tanaka's cheer song, complete with doing the hand motions and the jump! Man, they were PREPARED!
So one of the ouendan leaders yelled out to us, "Hey, who knows Koichi Hori's cheer song? Anyone? Okay, people who know Hori's cheer song, we're doing that now," some drumbeats, a "LET'S GO KOICHI!" and we were off.
(Postgame fun Part 2: Let's Go Benny, Tanaka Yukio cheer, Koichi Hori cheer. A rare chance to see the Nippon Ham Fighters ouendan doing a Benny Agbayani jump song, that's for sure.)
Hori seemed an appropriate relay, being as he's had a somewhat similar career with the Marines as Yukio had with the Fighters. But they took it one further and came back with Tatsuro Hirose's cheer song. ("Hirose, Hirose, moero otoko...") Yikes.
Well, there was only one answer to that: Kiyoshi Hatsushiba's song.
But the Marines ouendan threw us a changeup with our "Kita no Kuni Kara" chance music. Even WE don't do that one in Kanto all that often anymore.
Our next pitch was Tsuyoshi Nishioka's fanfare and song, but that didn't get past them either as they hit it back with Tomochika Tsuboi's fanfare and song. These things escalate, you know.
At that point we degenerated into player cheer songs that even *I* didn't recognize, and I'm actually good for about 10 years back or so. People were yelling various ideas for songs at the leaders. "Morozumi!" someone called. "NISHIMURA!" I yelled.
In the end, our final shot was a home run, at least: we struck them with Iwao Ohmura's theme. This was one of Lotte's best-known ouenka back in the day, apparently -- they play Old McDonald Had a Farm on the trumpet, but rather than a refrain of "E-I-E-I-O", they yell "I-WA-I-WA-O".
This is even funnier because Iwao Ohmura is a batting coach for the Fighters now.
(Postgame fun part 3: Iwao's song, another "Let's Go Fighters" and another "Ganbare Marines")
It was a seriously awesome contest back and forth, and I was really impressed by what the Marines ouendan threw at us. I'd only been at the final Seibu game before, never the final Chiba game, and this totally outdid anything the Seibu ouendan came up with. I have to wonder if this is special this year or not, as it's also the final year with Bobby, and it's possible a lot of the regular Lotte fans might actually stop coming to the stadium next year if they're still unhappy with the front office.
Either way, it was amazing, simply put. If any of the Lotte ouendan leaders are still occasionally stopping in and reading this blog, I just want you to know that I'm beyond impressed -- and so were a lot of the other Fighters fans.
On our side, the ouendan all lined up and bowed to us and thanked us for a good time at Marine Stadium this year.
Me, I am somewhat astonished that we're already starting to wrap up the season like this. Is it really already September? Crap!
Also, on a side note, since a bunch of my friends were talking about it, having gone to Kamagaya in the afternoon before coming to Chiba Marine in the evening, and Gen posted about it too, the Fighters POUNDED the Sea Rex 21-1. Holy CARP. What made this particularly stand out to me is that the Sea Rex starter was Atori Ohta, one of my ni-gun boyfriends. And I had JUST seen Atori pitching last week against the Fighters in Sagamihara, where he was AMAZING and pitched 8 innings of one-run ball.
But this time Atori only managed to record one out before being taken out of the game. It was 5-0 when he came out, and then Takuya Nakashima hit a bases-clearing triple to make it 8-0. Only 7 of the runs were earned, because after a single to center by Kenshi Sugiya -- getting revenge on his sempai for hitting him with a pitch last week -- Sekiguchi made a throwing error and Iiyama came home.
The other fun details were that the Fighters scored 6 runs off former Fighters closer Yukiya Yokoyama, and also that Kazuya Murata didn't have his uniform there as he'd just gotten sent down, so he wore Takahiro Imanami's uniform instead.
Onwards! I'm heading to Sendai on Saturday and Sunday, it seems! Let's rock Rakuten!