Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tokyo Big 6 : First Weekend

I was planning to go to the opening day for the Tokyo Big 6 University League on September 12, and had been looking forward to it for quite some time... until I woke up on that morning with two somewhat annoying discoveries: 1) I had a cold and 2) it was RAINING.

As it is, the cold kept me at home, but the rain just postponed the game starts until 11:45am.

I've been reading up on what happened this weekend since both matchups had slightly crazy results, so I might as well share with all of you what I found.

Hosei University vs. Tokyo University
Sept 12: Hosei 4 - Tokyo 2 (10 innings)
Sept 13: Hosei 8 - Tokyo 3

It is not surprising that Hosei beat Todai in both games of the opening series.

What is more surprising is that the Spring 2009 champions ONLY beat the perennial doormats of the league by such a narrow margin. (Last semester, Waseda pounded Todai in the opening series by a combined score of 24-1 in two games.)

Hosei 3rd-year pitcher Kisho Kagami is back, after having shoulder trouble in the spring semester. Kagami was unbelievable in the fall 2008 semester, doing things like striking out 26 Waseda batters over one weekend -- but at the same time, it's likely he overthrew and injured himself. Hopefully he will keep a reasonable workload this semester and remain healthy for a while -- having Kagami and Futagami in the rotation could very well spell another championship for Hosei.

Game 1: Hosei 4, Tokyo 2 (10 innings)

In Saturday's game, Hosei got out to a quick lead when the first batter of the game, Shuhei Ishikawa, hit a triple, and scored on a sac fly by Shota Waizumi. Ishikawa reached base in the 5th inning when he was hit by a pitch and scored again on a hit by Hiroshi Taki, to get a 2-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Kagami was pitching a no-hitter through 6 innings and a shutout through 8, until two runs came in for Todai in the bottom of the 9th inning, one on a sacrifice fly and one on an error. This tied up the score at 2-2 and the game went into extra innings.

Todai pitcher Koh Ageba, who had gotten out of the 9th inning unscathed, started off the top of the 10th by putting the first four runners he faced on base, 3 walks and a hit batter. (Nakao, pinch-running for Yamaguchi who pinch-hit for Kagami, was caught stealing, hence no run scored in those four.) Todai switched pitchers to Ikuto Nishimura, and a sac fly by Masatoshi Matsumoto immediately scored Shuhei Ishikawa for his third time crossing the plate. Another run came in an on infield hit to bring the score to 4-2.

Todai loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th on two hits and a walk, but Shuhei Iwasaki watched a called third pitch go by to end the game.

Game 2: Hosei 8, Tokyo 3

Sunday's game was a little more straightforward. Ikuto Nishimura started for Todai and ran into a wall in the 3rd inning, where he walked a bunch of Hosei batters and paid for it when Masatoshi Matsumoto hit a bases-clearing double, and a hit from Kyosuke Narita shortly brought the score to 4-0. A Kento Kameda hit in the 6th inning brought in two more walked batters for two more Hosei runs, and two more runs came through in the 8th inning as Hosei beat Todai 8-3.

The crowning achievement for the Todai nine was probably Takashi Kihara's 2-run home run -- keep in mind that the Tokyo University baseball team as a whole hit exactly one home run for the entire Spring 2009 season -- and exactly one home run in the entire year 2008 -- so this is a nice start for them.

Keio University vs. Rikkio University
Sept 12: Keio 9 - Rikkio 4
Sept 13: Keio 1 - Rikkio 3
Sept 14: Keio 2 - Rikkio 3 (10 innings)

I wonder if this is an upset or an indication that Rikkio might finally be clawing its way above 5th place. For the first time since the Fall 2004 season, Rikkio actually managed to take a series from Keio.

Game 1: Keio 9, Rikkio 4

The first game certainly seems like a typical Rikkio game from last year -- Kenji Tomura, Rikkio's "ace" pitcher who is just a big skinny pile of arms and legs when pitching, hit two batters in the first inning, both of whom came around to score, and let up three hits for two runs in the second inning, so by the time Rikkio managed to get themselves on the board in the bottom of the second, it was already 4-1.

Keio got two more runs in the 4th, as the Rikkio team committed two errors, though the runs were earned as the first came in off an Urushibata RBI single to center, the throw from center going wide and putting him on second; he moved to third on a wild pitch during Fuchikami's at-bat and subsequently also scored on a squeeze bunt by Fuchikami. Yamaguchi got on by a fielding error at third, but didn't come around to score.

Rikkio's Toshiaki Teshima led off the bottom of the 4th with a solo home run to left, but it only brought the score to 6-2.

Rikkio sophomore Hayato Saitoh pitched two perfect innings, but freshman Kenya Okabe put on two runners and Kenta Masuda gave up a bases-clearing triple to Tatsuya Yumoto, making it 8-3. Rikkio added a run in the bottom of the 6th and another on a rare Keio error in the 7th.

Masahito Nihira came out for the 9th and allowed another run to Keio, Hayata Itoh scoring for the third time of the day as Kazuya Onodera hit a triple.

Keio's ace lefty Nobuaki Nakabayashi threw 137 pitches for the complete-game 9-4 win.

Game 2: Rikkio 3, Keio 1

Freshman (!) Daisuke Takeuchi started for Keio, and within the first 3 batters was already down 2-0, as he hit Reo Nakayama with a pitch, and then BAM, Daisuke Ikarashi slammed a home run to centerfield.

Sophomore Tatsuya Maruyama started for Rikkio, and pitched a complete-game win on 122 pitches. The only run he gave up was in the first inning -- he walked leadoff batter Tetsuya Urushibata, who stole second, was bunted up by Fuchikami, and then scored on a single by Yamaguchi.

Rikkio scored another run in the 5th inning. They got to two quick outs before Nakayama singled to center, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Daisuke Ikarashi hit a single to center that scored Nakayama, and made it himself to second base. At this point Keio switched pitchers from Takeuchi to Yuki Murayama, my favorite Keio crazy sidearmer, and he got a popout from Okazaki to end the inning.

Keio threatened in every inning from the 6th onward, but never made good on their threats. Urushibata got another hit and advanced to second on an error and third on a steal, but stayed there for the rest of the 6th. In the 7th, two hits put two runners on base, but a few popouts and a groundout ended the inning with them still there. In the 8th, with two outs, Naoki Yamaguchi broke for second, and Rikkio catcher Yusuke Yamada made a bad throw, so Yamaguchi made it all the way to third -- but again would end the inning standing there. In the 9th, yet again, a one-out hit and a bunt single put two runners on base, but a groundout saw a force at third, so another groundout to second ended the game.

Both Keio pitcher Murayama and the pitcher after him, Fukuya, kept Rikkio from scoring any more runs, so the final score was 3-1. The game heroes for Rikkio were Maruyama for his pitching, and Ikarashi for his home run.

(I know, "Maruyama" and "Murayama" can look kind of confusing in English.)

Game 3: Rikkio 3, Keio 2 (10 innings)

This was a straightforward rubber rematch between Nobuaki Nakabayashi and Kenji Tomura to see who was going to fall over first. You could say that perhaps Tomura had a little more at stake here, wanting revenge for Saturday's game.

Keio went up 1-0 in the 3rd when Masahiro Nagasaki reached base on a dropped third strike, was bunted up, advanced on a grounder, and came in on a single. But Rikkio answered that in the bottom of the 4th as Soichiro "Soh-chan" Tanaka and Daisuke Ikarashi both got hits, Ikarashi stole second, and Okazaki singled in Tanaka. Teshima then hit a sac fly that scored Ikarashi, making it 2-1 Rikkio.

In the top of the 6th, Hitoshi Fuchikami walked, was bunted up, and went to third on a grounder. He then scored on a wild pitch during Kazuya Onodera's at-bat to tie the game at 2-2.

Only one more runner would reach base at all through the end of the 9th inning, so the game went into the 10th inning still tied at 2-2, with starters Nakabayashi and Tomura STILL pitching for their respective teams.

In the top of the 10th, Nagasaki hit a one-out single to center, and Nakabayashi bunted him up, but Urushibata grounded out to leave him standing at second.

Kazuki Suetoh led off the bottom of the 10th with a double into the left-center gap, and Masanobu Sekine pinch-ran for him. Yusuke Yamada walked, and then Nakabayashi made a pickoff throw that missed, so Sekine and Yamada both advanced a base. With no outs and a runner at third, it wasn't too hard for Reita Asada to hit a sac fly to left, scoring Sekine for a walkoff 3-2 win by Rikkio.

My impressions

This is going to be a really fun season for the Tokyo Big 6 League, I think -- and it's killing me that I am unlikely to actually make it to any games until the first weekend of October! Who knows, if Rikkio can take a game from Meiji this weekend while I am in Osaka, I might get to see them play on Monday. I am not particularly expecting Todai to take a game from Waseda, given that the last time they did that was in 2005, and they have infact won exactly two games against Waseda in the last DECADE.

Hosei's team is still largely intact from the spring season, and as I said, Kisho Kagami is back, which could be huge if he doesn't blow a gasket. There are also rumors that Hisashi Takeuchi intends to showcase himself in the hopes of getting drafted, and of course Kazuhito Futagami should be solid as ever. If batting leaders Masatoshi Matsumoto and Shingo Kamegai can keep their bats out there, and they get a decent final semester out of Shota Waizumi and Shuhei Ishikawa, and if freshman Hiroshi Taki gets his glove on, it could be a good ride for them. Unless, of course, last semester really was just a lucky fluke for a lot of the aforementioned bats.

Waseda's pitching is likely to still be the usual suspects (Saitoh, Fukui, Matsushita, Ohishi) and fairly strong, so what remains to be seen is whether their offense can drive in enough runs to support that pitching this semester. The interesting thing about their team is that it has very few 4th-year impact players, so even if they fail to win the championship this semester, they should have a good shot at it next year after Hosei's wonder boys graduate.

Meiji... I'm not sure yet. Will have to see what they pull out this weekend. They suffered from a weak offense last semester, but did pretty well on the backs of sophomore pitchers Yusuke Nomura and Gota Nanba.

Todai, I'm still convinced the biggest thing that will make a difference is if lefty ace Yuichi Suzuki, the man who actually won two games in fall 2008, can actually pitch again for his final semester. I have a feeling it isn't possible, though. Amusingly, crazy man Furugaki might be the guy to look out for on offense instead of Iwasaki, but who knows.

Keio's team is about to hit a weird limbo -- see, the guys who were on the Keio HS team that were Best 8 at the Spring Koshien in 2005 -- Nakabayashi, Urushibata, Fuchikami, Takeuchi, Yuasa, Yachi, Shintani, Yamaguchi... well, those guys are all now seniors (one or two are juniors) at Keio University now, and make up a significant part of the team. And they will mostly all graduate this year, in theory paving the way for Keio Koshien Kids: The Next Generation. That is, the team that went to Spring and Summer Koshien in 2008, led by the pitcher tandem of Tamura and Tadano. So the question is, how many of those kids will be good enough to play for real at the college level? And how will the team transition? Will it happen now, or later?

As for Rikkio, they've recently generally had a somewhat mediocre team, but it's never TERRIBLE per se, so it's possible they could randomly happen to string together a lucky season for a bunch of guys and take a few series points. They also have a bunch of freshmen from significant Koshien teams, like Tokoha Kikuchikawa and Yokohama HS and so on, and of course Toho HS catcher Yusuke Yamada, who I became a fan of the instant he led off a Koshien game last summer with a home run. So who knows -- with some fresh blood and some good luck, they may end up being the wild card that rocks the boat this semester.

Or they could continue to suck, and only avoid being in last place by Rule 1 of the Tokyo Big 6: No Matter How Much Your Team Sucks, Tokyo University Sucks More.

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