Thursday, November 05, 2009

Japan Series Game 4 Report: Fighters vs. Giants @ Tokyo Dome - Our Takahashi Is Better Than Theirs

Wednesday morning, I went to an English speech contest with a few of my students. One of them is a big Giants fan and we talked about the Japan Series on the streetcar over, since she grabbed my cellphone and was looking through all of my Fighters charms and straps dangling from it. When I asked who her favorite player was, she told me she likes Tetsuya Matsumoto. I had to admit that of all the members of the Giants starting lineup, she did pick the only one that I don't have any reason to dislike, aside from that he displaced Takahiro Suzuki, who used to have the honor of being the guy in the Giants lineup that I didn't dislike.

I said I was heading back to the Tokyo Dome for the game in the evening, and that the Fighters were going to win.

She seemed unsure whether trash-talking her English teacher was a good idea or not, but assured me she would be watching on TV and that her beloved Matsumoto-kun was going to kick ass.

Well, she was right. Matsumoto was the only player on either team who reached base all 5 times he came to the plate.

Fortunately, it didn't matter.

The game started out as an epic battle between two lefty starters -- Hisanori Takahashi for the Giants, and Tomoya Yagi for the Fighters. Hisanori started out by striking out the side in the top of the 1st, which was a bit ominous.

But then the Fighters totally beat the crap out of him in the 3rd, which made up for it. Shinji Takahashi came up with the bases loaded and hit a single to left which scored Kensuke and Hichori to make it 2-0 and two batters later Eiichi Koyano hit a triple to center which scored Inaba and Shinji to make it 4-0.

The Giants answered that with one run in the bottom of the 3rd, as Hayato Sakamoto led off with a double and advanced on a wild pitch and then scored on a Matsumoto single to make it 4-1.

Shinji Takahashi hit a solo home run in the 5th to make it 5-1.

Kimura Takuya, who had allowed Hichori to get on base in the 3rd, also got himself picked off first in the 5th, a really embarrassing tagout on the base path.

The Fighters added one more run in the 7th after Kensuke Tanaka hit a triple and Hichori Morimoto squeeze-bunted him in, 6-1, and two more runs in the 8th off of reliever Shota Kimura, who gave up three hits and two runs in three batters before being escorted off the mound, a Shinji single, Sledge double, and Koyano 2-RBI single. 8-1.

I think I need to take a brief break from describing the game action to actually talking about my situation at the ballpark. See, I was sitting in the infield for this game again, about 21 rows up from the field behind the 3rd-base excite seats. This time I was there with a friend of mine from college, Shin, who also hates the Giants. Last year we watched Game 7 of the Japan Series together on his Sony PSP because it was the best option at the time. This year we had a slightly better vantage point.

While it wasn't quite the same as Tuesday, there were a fair number of Fighters fans scattered around the area we were sitting in, so during the scoring frenzy in the 3rd inning, we all kept standing up and singing and yelling. There was a lady sitting a few sits down who had a Shinji sign, so when Shinji got his home run in the 5th, we got up and banged cheersticks together and also got the people in the row behind us. By the 8th, I was actually running up a few steps up the aisle to bang cheersticks with some other small groups of Fighters fans a bit further up.

So the bottom of the 8th started with the Fighters holding a huge lead and me answering an email asking whether I could come up to Sapporo on Saturday for Game 6 (the answer: no), and Takayuki Kanamori taking the mound. Amazingly, Yoshinori Tateyama had come out for an inning with nothing disastrous happening, and Naoki Miyanishi also had a 1-2-3 inning aided by a nice double play.

The first batter Kanamori faced was Hayato Sakamoto, who hit a huge foul ball out to right field, and Atsunori Inaba chased it down and DIVED headfirst into the Excite Seats, but made the catch.

The second batter was Tetsuya Matsumoto, who was 3-for-3 at that point. Matsumoto hit the ball to short, and Yuji Iiyama, a late-inning defensive replacement, dropped the ball, so Matsumoto was safe at first yet again. Ogasawara followed that up with a single, and then Alex Ramirez came up to bat with two guys on, and BLAM, he sent a line drive into the Giants cheering section. Suddenly it was an 8-4 ballgame.

Kanamori walked Kamei after that, and I wrapped my towel around my head. "We survived Tateyama... why is Kanamori doing the honors today?"

Yoshitomo Tani singled, and I said "Okay, they're bringing out Masanori Hayashi next to face Abe." Shin said, "Really?" I said "Yeah. I have no idea how he'll DO, but I can tell you for sure that he's going to be the next pitcher."

And Hayashi was the next pitcher. And he got the next two batters out. Whew.

Despite a 4-run lead not being a save situation, Hisashi Takeda came out to pitch the 9th inning. And he made things interesting by giving up a leadoff hit to Shigeyuki Furuki, though Sakamoto hit a pop fly out after that. Tetsuya Matsumoto grounded to short, Iiyama making a FANTASTIC play to snag the ball and get it to second base in time for the force on Furuki, though there was no chance on a double play against the speedy Matsumoto, who reached base for the 5th time that day.

Michihiro Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger came up to the plate as the only thing standing between the Fighters evening it up at 2 games each and the Giants taking a 3-1 lead. And Ogasawara stared at his former teammate and then proceeded to hit a single to right field...

...and get himself thrown out at second base trying to stretch it into a double. GAME OVER and the Fighters win it 8-4.

Shin kind of raised an interesting question at that point though -- it seemed like Matsumoto had made it home before Ogasawara was thrown out, and it WAS a valid single, so it's curious they didn't count him as scoring. I don't think it really matters either way, as the Fighters still won the game, though it might matter for Hisashi's postseason ERA someday or something like that.

Either way, woohoo!

Shinji Takahashi and Eiichi Koyano were the game heroes for knocking in those 4 runs in the 3rd inning. Shinji was 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs, and Koyano was 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs, accounting for almost all the Fighters runs.

And once the legions of Giants fans cleared out from the section a little, I also made Shin take the following picture:

which is not a very good photo of me because I was too tired to hold a smile at that point, but at least it serves well enough as a "No really, I was at the Japan Series" photo.

After the game we made our way outside, with me running into a whole bunch of people on the way, including some of the English newspaper writers I hadn't seen in a while, and then a whole bunch of Fighters fans I hadn't seen in a while. I ran into my one friend who carries a Fighty stuffed animal with him to all the Fighters games and whose son is named Yukio, and he lent me the Fighty so I could go up and get a photo over the Japan Series sign. Sadly, it didn't really come out, but it was pretty funny at the time:

Anyway, onward to Game 5! Let's hope the Fighters win this one too -- it'll make the weekend that much more interesting!

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