I'm going to start off by saying that Sunday night's game result actually had very little meaning to me either way. I went to this game not really caring who won, as the postseason slots have already been determined (otherwise, I probably would have cheered for Yakult, just in the interest of them ousting Hanshin from 3rd place and upsetting the status quo, but they already took care of that on Friday).
The real reason I was there was for a final chance to see Kazuyoshi Tatsunami have an at-bat in person, as this was likely to be the last game I'll ever attend where he is an active player. (He's retiring effectively at the end of this season, though he'll most likely remain as a batting coach for the Dragons.) I am highly unlikely to be able to get tickets to a Dragons-Giants postseason game should it occur, and all things considered, should the Dragons make it to the Japan Series, which I also find it unlikely I'll be able to get tickets for, I'm not sure Ochiai will be letting Tatsunami pinch-hit anyway.
I even made a sign for the occasion:
And I wasn't the only one...
I think most of the people in the leftfield stands were either wearing Tatsunami #3 shirts/jerseys, or carrying Tatsunami signs, or both.
And to make it even more festive in Jingu, there was a guest appearance by everyone's favorite big blue punching bag, Doala!
Something crazy about this game, actually, was that the outfield stands were completely packed an hour before game time. I showed up around 4:15pm for the 6pm start, and had to wait in line for a while to get in, and staked out a seat early on. The infield stands were fairly empty even into the game itself, but the outfield was completely full, on both sides.
Something even crazier was that we ACTUALLY HAD A CHUNICHI OUENDAN. With trumpets and an official song leader! I can't remember the last time I was at a Dragons game in the Kanto area where we had a cohesive ouendan. It might seriously have been two years ago at this point.
Chunichi put up a fairly standard lineup for this game, though with Hidenori and Nomoto starting in the outfield, and Wei-Yin Chen as the starting pitcher. Yakult, on the other hand, put up a crazy lineup of mostly ni-gun guys, I guess due to injuries and wanting to get some playing time for these guys just in case, and resting the regulars. So the Yakult lineup was:
The people around me were joking "Dare aitsu?" ("Who the hell is that?") starting from Noguchi onwards, pretty much. I at least had seen or heard of almost everybody in the lineup until they got to Ryo Yoshimoto, batting 7th, and then even I was like "Who the fuck is THAT?" I mean, even guys like Shida and Onizaki, I've seen so much at ni-gun that I'm used to them, but Yoshimoto? WTF? Same for pitcher Hitoshi Yamamoto, making his first ichi-gun appearance EVER. It seems Yamamoto, from Sakata Minami HS, was taken in the same high school draft as Yoshinori, but nobody noticed.
So, despite this bizarre cast, the first several innings of the game passed by relatively uneventfully. Chen struck out 6 Swallows batters in a row at one point, but nobody really even noticed that. Kazuki Yoshimi took over on the mound for 3 innings and mostly held things together; he was helped by the fact that the Dragons had gone up 3-0 in the top of the 6th on a Morino RBI single (!!) and a Tony Blanco 2-run homer, so when the Swallows put one on in the bottom of the 6th via a Yuji Onizaki RBI single, it was only 3-1 and not that disastrous.
Where things got screwed up was in the 7th inning.
And I don't just mean when there was a Dragons left-handed pinch-hitter taking practice swings and we could see that his uniform number had a 3 on it (HA HA! IT'S TAKEHIRO DONOUE! FAKED YOU OUT!), but rather the BOTTOM of the 7th, which started jovially enough as the Chunichi fans also sang along "Kutabare Yomiuri!" to the strains of Tokyo Ondo.
Daisuke Yamai replaced Yoshimi on the mound for the 7th, and immediately gave up a single to Kazuki Fukuchi. Fukuchi stole second successfully and then advanced to third on a wild pitch, all before Yoshiyuki Noguchi got on base via a walk. Kazuhiro Hatakeyama then launched a fly ball to right, and Fukuchi had no trouble tagging up to score on it, making it 3-2.
Then Jamie D'Antona came up to bat.
Then this happened:
D'Antona hit a big big big fly ball to the left-field stands, which may or may not have actually been on the proper side of the foul pole to be called a home run, but the umpires decided it was.
From our vantage point in left field, it certainly looked like a foul ball. And the replay shown on the Jingu screen ALSO looked like a foul ball. And then Kazuhiro Wada, the left-fielder, started waving his arms like "WTF, dude, that was a FOUL BALL." And then Ochiai came out to argue, and the entire team came off the field, and there was even a bit of an actual fight with the umpires:
Ochiai spent 17 minutes arguing the home run call. We timed it.
In the meantime, the Chunichi fans in left field spent that time doing a variety of things. First was some booing, yells of Japanese equivalents of things like "Are you SERIOUS?" and "You've GOT to be kidding!" and then were coordinated group-wide shouts of "FOUL! FOUL!" and then "VI-DE-O! VI-DE-O!" Then a couple rounds of cheers for Ochiai -- we actually do have a cheer song for him just like the players -- and some "Ganbare Ochiai!" and "Moero Ochiai!" calls.
I should point out that the funny part about this is that none of those calls or songs were actually led by the "official" ouendan. Fortunately, after two years of the current drama, Kanto-area Chunichi fans no longer NEED an official ouendan to get the entire crowd yelling something, so were perfectly capable of singing it all on our own.
Finally, the umpires came out and said that no, really, Ochiai argued valiantly, but it was a home run dammit and they were standing by their decision. 4-3 and the game continued.
But I think the entire incident kind of took the wind out of the Chunichi sails and the rest of the batters were all retired fairly quickly.
The last batter of the game was, of course, Tatsunami. We'd all been holding up Tatsunami signs for the entire 9th inning. And rather than just singing his ouenka we did a Tatsunami medley, with three separate songs that have been used for him over the years. Sadly, his final at-bat of the year had him hitting a pop fly up to the infield, caught in shallow right field by the second baseman to end the game.
The game was over, and the Chunichi fans were pissed, but then on the big screen we saw the following...
Saying basically, "Good job over the last 22 years, Tatsunami!"
And then Shinya Miyamoto came out and gave Tatsunami a huge bouquet of flowers...
And we all cheered and yelled and held up our signs and yelled a lot of "TATSUNAMI! TATSUNAMI! TATSUNAMI!"
He walked out to the field, put the flowers down on the bullpen bench, and then came out to the outfield and bowed to us.
One guy behind me yelled, "立浪、大好き！" (Tatsunami, I love you!)
Another guy yelled, "俺も！" (Me too!)
And then there were several more people basically echoing those two sentiments, either "Tatsunami, I love you!" or "Me too!"
Tatsunami waved to the outfield, then went to the infield, bowed and waved to them too, and exited the stadium, with all of us still holding up our signs and waving and shouting and clapping for him.
Then the Yakult post-game show started. Their game hero was, of course, Jamie D'Antona, and the minute he appeared on the screen, everyone started booing. Loudly. So loudly, infact, that I didn't even get to hear Jamie's usual "Yeah, I just wanted to win the game / I just wanted to help the team" speech. All I could hear was "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO."
I went to see if there was any more Tatsunami memorial merchandise at the goods stand, but everything was sold out. Doh. I'd kind of waffled on it before the game since I'm not sure I NEED any more stuff. I guess it's probably for the best.
And on my way out, I walked past this set of gatchapon capsule machines:
Yes, you can get Giants and Tigers and Carp capsule goodies at Jingu during Yakult games. Seriously, WTF? Why the hell does Yakult seem dead-set on promoting every other team besides themselves? It makes absolutely no sense. Yes, it's typical for every team to sell some goods from the away team, but full capsule machines as well as having that official Tigers Shop half a block away from Jingu? Sheesh.
After I exited the stadium I went and bought a ticket for Monday night's Giants-Swallows game, so I'll be back at Jingu for a third straight day, sitting in right field and yelling about how much I hate the Giants. Hooray.