Hooray! I finally got to go to an actual Fighters Japan Series game! How cool is THAT?
Now if only they hadn't LOST, it would have been even better.
Because November 3rd is a Japanese national holiday, Culture Day, the area around the Tokyo Dome was already full of people several hours before game time. This was the crowd outside Gate 22 (where lots of people get their photo because the big Nippon Series sign is up there):
I got inside around 4:15pm, after going through some serious security measures -- metal detector scanners and people ACTUALLY looking through my bags.
Went to try to take some photos of batting practice, only to discover the following things:
1) The Dome lighting sucked even more than usual, and
2) It was already retardedly crowded. There were at least a hundred media-pass-wearing folks on the field, and then several rows deep of fans trying to take photos of the entire thing:
This is the only clear shot I got during BP at all, go figure:
(It's Sho Nakata, if you don't know/recognize him.)
So I gave up and decided to go look for friends instead. Partially because people had tickets for me, and partially just because it had been a full month since my last Fighters game, and almost TWO months since our final Fighters game in Kanto, not counting Kamagaya.
First I went upstairs since I knew a few people would be up there. I found a nice uncrowded shopping stand and got a Japan Series pen and keychain and program (which came with a ticket holder -- convenient!), and then went to hunt down a Giants thing I saw during the playoffs and wanted to take a photo with. Fortunately, just as I found it, I also found a Fighters fan friend of mine who took the photo for me. It might have been a little hard to convince a Giants fan to take this one:
If you tapped the fists with your fists, it said various Giants-supporting messages in Hara's voice. Me, I just wanted to pretend I was going to punch Hara.
I also bought dinner, my new favorite Tokyo Dome bento, the "Hit-and-Lunch" bento. It's a funnier pun in Japanese. Honest.
After that, I snuck into the outfield Fighters cheering section (I had an infield ticket, and technically was not supposed to be there). It was like some crazy reunion, seeing a whole ton of people I hadn't seen in weeks or months. I couldn't even walk more than a few feet without seeing someone else I knew or having someone come up to me like "Hi! Long time no see! How are you? (Do you remember me?)" It was great to find everyone there, though -- people had come from all over the country due to the holiday, I think. Some people had just taken off work this week and come to Tokyo for all 3 games. In addition to pretty much ALL the usual suspects from the Kanto area, I saw folks from every ouendan group, and a lot of fans who live in Hokkaido, and people from the Sendai cheering groups, and the women from Osaka who had reserved our group's dinner at Nakatani, and a friend from Fukuoka, and I even met up with my friend from Nagoya who I hadn't seen in two months.
I also met a few people who read my blog -- I was very surprised, I don't really make a big deal about it around my Japanese friends for the most part. That was really cool!
So I was feeling pretty happy and well-loved by the time I got back to my seat for lineups and the pregame ceremonies. I can't say enough how much the Fighters fans have meant to me, especially this year. In some ways it takes "summer family" to a whole new height.
My seat was really good, and in a pocket of Fighters supporters in the 3rd-base infield, which was great. The people to my right were a couple with a one-year-old daughter who was adorable, and they even recognized me from Kamagaya, so that was nice to have people to talk to.
I tried to take some photos of the opening ceremonies.
Here are the Fighters being introduced...
Yet again, Sho Nakata is the only person my camera seems to have gotten a clear shot of.
This was a kind of weird exchange that happened when the Giants were coming out.
Hichori yelled something and made some gesture at Marc Kroon...
...and Kroon smiled and yelled something back, and this went both ways for a few lines. Both guys were smiling.
(Just the two lineups. Actually, the shot after this, which was blurry, had Konta smack Murata... they were joking around for most of the time on the field.)
Some famous model came out to do the traditional pre-game flower-giving:
(Here's Nashida receiving a big pile of flowers which he is just going to hand to Kensuke Tanaka, who is going to give it to some bat boy, who is going to put it somewhere that nobody will ever remember it exists.)
Then a famous singer sang Kimigayo, and I swear I somehow completely missed who it was. Oops.
THEN the craziest part of the opening ceremonies happened -- and as it turns out, the reason for us to get scanned by metal detectors and so on...
...the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by George W. Bush!
You know, I wonder whether people should be looking at that like "Wow, there's Sadaharu Oh standing behind George Bush" or "Hey, that's George Bush walking by Sadaharu Oh..."
Actually, his first pitch was FAST. It was like, one minute, this white guy is walking out to the mound, and by the time most people in the stadium realized who he was or what he was doing, he had already thrown the ball to home plate and was being rushed off the field.
(I bet some people are already wondering if he'll appear as a First Pitch card for BBM next year, or in the Japan Series card set...)
Since I was in the infield for a change, I took a few photos of the Fighters ouendan during the first inning. (I don't usually get to see what this looks like from the other side.)
Before the game, the "駆け抜けろ王座奪回への道" banner we've had up at most games this year -- roughly, "Running Down The Road To Recapturing the Throne" or something like that. I find translating "kakenukeru" into English difficult for some reason.
Kensuke Tanaka banner.
Atsunori Inaba banner and flags!
Fans aside, the starters for the game were Wilfin Obispo for the Giants, and Keisaku Itokazu for the Fighters. The lineups:
Kensuke 2b Sakamoto ss
Itoi cf Matsumoto cf
Inaba rf Ogasawara's Clean-Shaven Doppleganger 3b
Shinji 1b Rami-chan lf
Sledge lf Kamei rf
Koyano 3b Lee 1b
Nioka ss Abe c
Tsuruoka c Wakiya 2b
Itokazu p Obispo p
(Makoto Kaneko is mildly injured, so Tomohiro Nioka got to make a start in the Tokyo Dome against his former team.)
And for the first half of the game -- literally the first 4 and a half innings -- all the scoring in the game that happened was on home runs. By the end of the top of the 5th, the game was tied 3-3:
1st inning top homerun by Atsunori Inaba: 110 meters to left field, 1-0 Fighters
2nd inning top homerun by Eiichi Koyano: 120 meters to centerfield, 2-0 Fighters
2nd inning bottom homerun by Seung-Yeop Lee: 135 meters to right, 2-1 Fighters
2nd inning bottom homerun by Shinnosuke Abe: 115 meters to left, 2-2 Tie (and these were back-to-back)
3rd inning bottom homerun by Michihiro Ogasawara: 110 meters to right, 3-2 Giants
5th inning top homerun by Kensuke Tanaka: 120 meters to right, 3-3 Tie
(The towel-waving Giants fans, after Ogasawara's home run.)
It was a little strange, to be sure. Not only were all the points on home runs, but on SOLO home runs at that.
Then things changed for the worse.
Itokazu was pitching the bottom of the 5th, and he got two quick outs from the bottom of the order before walking Hayato "Wonderboy" Sakamoto, and then Tetsuya Matsumoto (who I am fairly sure is smaller than several of my 9th-graders) singled to left, moving Sakamoto to second. Michihiro "Clean-Shaven Doppleganger" Ogasawara came up to bat at that point, and, BOOM, he hit a shot to center that wasn't a home run but bounced off the wall for a double, scoring the other two guys. 5-3 Giants.
That was not particularly good.
Ogasawara at bat (note a theme, the only clear pictures are guys I have grudges against?)
Ogasawara back out at 3rd base, bowing to the stands for his 2-RBI double.
Things got even worse a bit later, and I don't mean in terms of strange guys stalking the Giants dancers:
(This was really funny, actually -- the Kroon jersey guy had been yelling to Alex Ramirez every inning asking for a ball until he got one, and then when the Giants dancers came out, he seriously pretty much was just stalking this one dancer girl taking photos of her on his cellphone. Unlike most people who surreptitiously take one or two photos of the cheer girls, he was just ogling her. It would have been freaky if it wasn't so funny. He was clearly pretty drunk even before the game started.)
Anyway, former Giant Masanori Hayashi pitched the bottom of the 6th against his old team. He did okay. And Kazumasa Kikuchi pitched the bottom of the 7th just fine, too. But the Giants were still ahead.
Tetsuya Yamaguchi came out to pitch the top of the 8th, being left-handed and all, same as most of the top of the Fighters lineup. But he started things out by hitting Kensuke Tanaka with a pitch. Then he tried to pick Kensuke off first, but his throw went wild and Kensuke ran to second instead on the error. Following that, a pinch-hitting Hichori hit a grounder to shot, but Sakamoto's throw to first ALSO went wild, and Kensuke was able to run home while Hichori was safe at first on THAT error. 5-4.
Something pretty funny happened at that point: the ouendan finally had the opportunity to do an Inaba Jump, and as I mentioned, I was sitting in an island of Fighters supporters in the middle of a sea of Giants fans. So we all spontaneously got up and jumped too... looked at each other... laughed, and sat down afterwards. Inaba walked, and then what may have been the pivotal play in the game happened -- Shinji Takahashi came up with no outs and runners at the corners, and it seemed he should bunt, but he DIDN'T bunt, and by the time it became clear he wasn't bunting, the Giants fielders got set up to turn a double play. Ugh. Sledge also grounded out after that, and that was pretty much it for the Fighters' chances.
And to make things worse, Kikuchi returned for the bottom of the 8th, and things started to break down. After Matsumoto grounded out, Ogasawara walked on four straight pitches, and then Ramirez hit a scorching grounder to third that Koyano was able to dive and stop but wasn't able to stand up in time to make a throw anywhere. That was it for Kikuchi, and the lefty Naoki Miyanishi came in to face Kamei.
Kamei hit a huge shot to center that Hichori caught in front of the wall, and Matsumoto moved to third. Yoshitomo Tani was announced as a pinch-hitter for Lee.
Miyanishi left the game and Shintaro Ejiri replaced him. The people sitting next to me were apparently friends of Ejiri's, and we were all like "Oh god, please don't let him give up a run here!!" But he walked Tani, and then gave up a single to Shinnosuke Abe, and that brought both Ogasawara and a pinch-running Takahiro Suzuki home, making it 7-4 Giants.
As expected, Marc Kroon came out to pitch the 9th, now with a 3-run lead instead of a 1-run lead...
I swear the new Giants catcher gear makes Shinnosuke Abe look like freaking Batman.
Anyway, Kroon closed out the game. That's really all there is to it. I'm not sure he's ever blown a save when I've been at the stadium watching him pitch. Koyano hit a pop out, Nioka lined out RIGHT to his younger replacement Sakamoto, a pinch-hitting Naoto Inada got on base after Kroon threw over first base on a grounder to the mound... but then the last batter of the game was this guy, pinch-hitting for Ejiri:
And it shouldn't surprise anyone too much, but Kroon struck out Sho Nakata to end the game.
(It's kind of sad that the Tokyo Dome would probly be a decent launching pad for Sho, but he can't field so there's nowhere to really put him into a game in this series.)
So the Giants won it 7-4.
I left pretty soon after the game ended, going out to Gate 25 after that to commisserate with other Fighters fans.
And then I went home -- it was a pretty long day full of way too much baseball, as I also spent the afternoon hanging out with some people at Jingu watching Hosei's underclassmen get beaten by Keio at the Rookie Tournament. And I didn't even get to see Kei Tamura, so I was kind of grumpy about that. (I did, however, get to see a kid named Eiji Egashira from the Saga Kita miracle squad who I remembered seeing in Koshien 2 years ago, so that was kind of neat.)
I am not going to bother bringing my big camera back to the Tokyo Dome for any more of the games, but I will be there for Games 4 and 5 too.