Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Game Report: Dragons vs. Giants @ Tokyo Dome -- Morino's Birthday Blast

What could possibly be better than getting to watch one of your absolute favorite baseball players on their birthday, playing against your most hated enemy team?

Could it be, perhaps, seeing said player get a hit?

And seeing said enemy team lose?

And perhaps, just perhaps, seeing said player get a TWO-RUN HOMERUN to put his team ahead, and wind up as the game hero on his birthday, where his age happens to coincide with his uniform number?

Well, that was tonight for me. I went to the Tokyo Dome for the Yomiuri Giants vs. Chunichi Dragons game, deliberately skipping the Fighters game in Chiba, because tonight was Masahiko "Dragonbutt #31" Morino's 31st birthday, and I've been a Morino fan for several years, even if I haven't gone to that many Dragons games this year due to the still-discombobulated Kanto ouendan situation. Also, I enjoy yelling "Yomiuri taose o!" after every "kattobase". ("Defeat the Giants!", a tradition which only gets yelled after every batter during Giants-Dragons games at the Tokyo Dome.) An entire evening of yelling anti-Giants cheers can really lift the spirits of any devout Giants-hater.

I spent about an hour and a half this afternoon making a "Happy Birthday" sign to hold up at the game, and I was really hoping I wouldn't end up feeling like an idiot for having it. And at first, as Mr. Morino kept swinging for the fences and just hitting pop flies out, it seemed that might be the case, but finally, finally, when it really counted, he came through for us, and I couldn't have been happier.

I was sitting next to an older guy who said he used to be part of the Kanto ouendan, actually, and as such was not allowed to do the Dragons cheers, or wear a jersey or anything, but after he'd had about 5 beers he was helping me hold up my Morino sign and also yelling with everyone else. He had plenty of interesting stories to tell, too.

Anyway, Wei-yin Chen started for Chunichi and Wirfin Obispo started for Yomiuri. Obispo was having huge trouble controlling inside pitches from the start, and just through mostly dumb luck, the Dragons managed to strand 5 runners in the first two innings alone. Whereas Chen retired the first 8 batters he faced, giving up his first hit to, of all people, Obispo.

The Dragons fans sang Happy Birthday to Masahiko Morino before his first at-bat. What surprised most of us was when the Giants fans started singing Happy Birthday to Yoshiyuki Kamei before HIS first at-bat! Apparently Turtlebutt shares a birthday with Dragonbutt, just four years later.

After a sweet throw from Masaaki Koike kept the Giants off the board in the bottom of the 3rd, Koike also put the Dragons ON the board in the top of the 4th with a solo home run that landed in the Giants half of the left-field stands. 1-0. After Morino hit a huge towering shot that was way too high and caught in centerfield, Tony Blanco hit a huge towering shot that actually landed in the stands. 2-0.

The Giants rallied in their half of the 5th to produce 2 runs, tying it at 2-2. They basically loaded the bases after a botched attempt to catch the lead runner at 3rd on a sac bunt, and then Sakamoto drove in two runs with a single to left. They loaded the bases again but then left them there.

Obispo hit Ibata with a pitch for the SECOND time in the top of the 7th, which pissed off a lot of fans, and there was a ton of booing from the Chunichi section, until a few minutes later when Birthday Boy Morino hit a 115-meter line drive out that finally was caught by a Giants fan in the stands instead of a Giants outfielder on the field, scoring Ibata as well. 4-2. You wouldn't believe the chaos that erupted in the Dragons stands at that point, with all the groups of Morino fans out in force tonight as well as just some general joy over taking the lead again. A woman sitting down the row from me who had seen my sign earlier actually ran over to high-five me. Things like that.

The Giants cut that lead in half in the bottom of the 7th when Edgardo Alfonzo pinch-hit for Obispo and hit a home run that was coming almost straight towards me (and infact landed two rows up and about 6 seats over). 4-3. Chen stayed in for a few more batters, getting two outs before giving up a single to Ogasawara's Clean-shaven Doppleganger. To be fair, the "hit" by Ogasawara totally looked foul, and we were surprised Ochiai didn't come out to argue it, but instead came out to switch pitchers to Junichi Kawahara. Kawahara promptly walked Ramirez, and another pitching change brought Nelson Payano out to the mound, who got a groundout out of Kamei to end the inning.

(Take THAT, Giants Birthday Boy.)

Kazuhiro Wada led off the 8th inning with yet another home run to left, which brought the score to 5-3, and that's where it would stay, as Dragons closer Hitoki Iwase pitched a perfect 9th inning to pick up his 29th save of the year. The only sad part was that the Dragons' offense stopped with Araki striking out in the 9th, and Morino on deck -- would have been nice to see him get another birthday at-bat. Or maybe we should just be glad he saved the best for last.

And yes, all of the Dragons' RBIs came in on home runs. I suppose you could say they were giving the Giants a taste of their own medicine.

Morino WAS the game hero, but being as this is the Tokyo Dome and a Giants game, naturally they didn't actually show him on the screen OR even let us hear the press interviewing him afterwards, though we could see them all gathered by the dugout. The security staff started kicking us out a little while after we finished singing some post-game cheers, basically... and since there isn't an official ouendan, the cheers were basically limited to doing the lineup songs, the Ochiai cheer, a round of Moeyo Dragons, and then a second iteration of singing happy birthday to Morino plus his cheer song.

I asked the guy sitting next to me to take a photo of me with my Morino birthday sign, but then saw an even better photo opportunity a few rows down with another group of Morino fans who also had birthday signs for him, and asked if I could jump in for a photo...

It was really a very good day to be a Dragons fan, and more specifically, a Morino fan. Happy birthday, Dragonbutt!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

High School Game Report: Seibo vs. Urawa Gakuin @ Omiya

In theory, I've been an Urawa Gakuin High School baseball fan for a while. I moved to Japan a few days before the 2007 Koshien tournament started, and lived in Saitama. There were signs up all over the place saying to support Saitama's representative, Urawa Gakuin High School. So I did. And they lost their first game to Maebashi. The Uragaku pitcher from that game, Kazuyuki Akasaka, was drafted by Chunichi that fall.

The next year, the same exact thing happened. I was teaching a class in the early evening as the Uragaku vs. Yokohama HS game waned on, and all of my students lived in Urawa, so we actually periodically checked the score together during our class, only to see Uragaku fall 6-5 to Yokohama. The Yokohama pitcher from that game, Kenji Tsuchiya, was drafted by the Fighters that fall. He started the Fresh All-Star Game yesterday, infact.

By complete dumb luck, thanks to the Kamagaya Fan Festival in March 2008, my favorite Fighters ni-gun player ended up being Ryota Imanari... who also went to Urawa Gakuin. Around the same time I also became friends with a few people who went to Uragaku, including a guy who even played at Koshien with the 1996 team (which of course also lost in their first game of the tournament, but three guys from that team went on to become pros; Yoshihito Ishii, Masatoshi Ogawa, and Taka Miura). My favorite Baystars player, crazy wacko sidearmer Atsushi Kizuka, is also an Uragaku alum. I even managed to complete my set of getting my photo with all of the Fighters Uragaku alumni (Sunaga, Sakamoto, and I got Imanari last year).

This year, Uragaku swept the Saitama spring regional tournament and the Kanto spring regional tournament. Their first three games in the Saitama Koshien qualifying tournament were all called games, with scores like 25-1, 8-0, 9-0.

So you can imagine how psyched I was to actually finally go to see them play in person on Wednesday, June 22. The fact that it was a matchup against Seibo Gakuen, another reasonably strong school, was just icing on the cake.

I showed up at Omiya Prefectural Stadium at almost exactly 10am, which is when the schedule said the match would start, but at that point, the stadium hadn't even opened yet and there were long lines waiting at the ticket windows. We could hear the players warming up inside the stadium, and if you ducked down just right you could peek through the gates and see them all either running around or hauling wheelbarrows onto the field.

It had been raining off and on all morning until around 9:30am, see, so there was important work to be done to make that field playable. When I finally got into the stadium at 10:15am or so, this is the scene I was greeted by:

There are actual groundskeepers, sure, but for the most part the work was being done by the players and coaches of the respective baseball teams.

My first hour at the park was spent wandering around a little bit, acquiring a program book, getting stared at by a ton of people, taking a few pictures, and generally just sitting there watching the action on the field, which is to say the warmups and the legions of kids pouring sand into puddles and eventually combing down and chalking the ground.

After all that, there was official batting and fielding practice for both teams. If I had brought my actual camera, it would have been a fine time to take photos despite the cloudiness, but all I had was my point-and-shoot, so I just hung out watching for the most part, trying to spot the kids in the real lineup and get an idea what they would be like. I walked up to the field for a little while, but it was just too dark.

Shimazu and Kubo warming up.

The Urawa Gakuin marching band tunes up.

Seibo's marching band, which was rainbow-colored, and has some reserve players wearing "Holy Hopes" jerseys.

The game finally starts at 11:27am!

For the record, the rain never fell at all during the game itself, though the field was still plenty muddy for most of the game, and the players got themselves quite covered in mud as they slid and dived around the field.

Here's my scorecard from the game, but it doesn't quite tell the whole story...

Seibo Gakuen 4 - 3 Urawa Gakuin
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Seibo Gakuen 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 8 0
Urawa Gakuin 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 3 10 2

Seibo Gakuen AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Sasaki, rf 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 HP F7 .. S9 .. .. G6 L4 ..
Honjo, cf 3 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 BB .. BB G4 .. .. F7 .. S8
Koyasu, 2b 2 1 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 E2 .. S7 .. f5 .. BB .. b3
Kido, lf-1b 2 1 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 s8 .. HP .. KS .. G6 .. BB
Nishimura, ss 4 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 KS .. b5 .. G5 .. .. F8 F8
Kojima, 3b 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 G6 .. E5 .. .. S7 .. F7 G5
C.Yamasaki, 1b 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. G5 KS .. .. .. .. .. ..
Kawasaki, ph 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. s1 .. .. ..
Kataoka, lf 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. BB ..
Kawai, c 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. S5 .. G5 .. F8 .. S7 ..
Satoh, p 3 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .. b1 .. S7 .. G4 .. S5 ..

Urawa Gakuin AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Ishida, 3b 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 G6 .. G6 .. BB .. G4 .. BB
Yamasaki, ss 4 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 0 G4 .. S7 .. S4 .. H7 .. b1
Ishikawa, cf-lf-cf 4 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 S9 .. HP .. KS .. S6 .. G3
Shimazu, 1b 5 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 G4 .. S6 .. S3 .. G4 .. F8
Kubo, c 4 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .. G4 .. S7 F9 .. .. S9 ..
Hagiwara, lf-rf-p 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. HP .. G3 .. G3 .. S9 ..
Hoshi, rf 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. KC .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Mashima, p 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. G4 .. KC .. .. ..
Tanabe, ph-lf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. G3 ..
Hanegura, p-cf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. G6 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Takeuchi, ph-lf-rf 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. L1 .. F4 .. G4 ..
Suzuki, 2b 4 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 .. .. KC .. G4 .. KC G3 ..

Seibo Gakuen IP BF NP H HR K BBH RA ER
Satoh (win) 9 40 134 10 1 5 4 3 3

Urawa Gakuin IP BF NP H HR K BBH RA ER
Hanegura (loss) 2.1 13 48 2 0 1 4 4 0
Mashima 5.2 24 71 5 0 2 2 0 0
Hagiwara 1 5 15 1 0 0 1 0 0

However, if you are wondering, offhand: yes, you ARE reading that right: none of the runs against Uragaku's Hanegura were actually earned, as far as I can tell. The Seibo runners certainly got on base due to the pitcher walking them or hitting them with pitches, but the actual scoring plays were almost all on errors.

I mean, 4 pitches into the game, Hanegura hit Seibo's leadoff batter Sasaki on the foot with a pitch, and 4 pitches later had walked Honjo, mostly on unsuccessful pitchouts. Koyasu sac bunted, and Uragaku catcher Kubo astutely realized that he could throw Sasaki out at third... unfortunately, Kubo's ACTUAL throw went about 5 feet LEFT of the third baseman, so not only was Sasaki safe sliding into third but he was able to get up and run home as well. 1-0, with runners at 1st and 2nd and no outs. A wild pitch during Kido's at-bat moved the runners to second and third, setting the stage for a popout by Kido turning into a sac fly, scoring Honjo. 2-0. Nishimura struck out and Kojima grounded out after that, but it was quite a bad beginning.

(Two unearned runs, because Kido's popout wouldn't be a sac fly if there wasn't that error.)

The same luck struck Hanegura in the top of the 3rd inning. Honjo led off walking on 4 straight pitches, and then Koyasu hit an actual genuine hit! Well, kind of. It went through the third baseman into left field, but the leftfielder had run in for the play and was thus able to throw out Honjo, who was trying to move to third from first. One out. But then Hanegura hit Kido in the leg with a pitch, putting runners on at 1st and 2nd again, and this time the Uragaku manager came out to make a switch, putting the left-handed Hanegura in centerfield and bringing in a right-handed kid named Mashima to pitch. The first pitch Mashima threw was bunted to move the runners to second and third, so two outs. Naturally, again, at this point an error involving the third baseman occurred -- this time, Kojima grounded to third, Uragaku third baseman Ishida scooped the ball up in his glove, and threw it WAAAAAAAY over the first baseman's head! Koyasu scored. Kido scored. 4-0. It was NOT looking good for the Uragaku nine, even though Chikara Yamasaki struck out after that.

(Two more unearned runs, because the play at third base would have been the third out without that error.)

Uragaku ran themselves out of the 3rd inning when, with runners at first and second, Shimazu hit a line drive grounder to short that the shortstop couldn't pick up in time to make the play at first, so it should have loaded the bases, only the runner at second overran third base and got tagged on his way back. Seriously.

Uragaku pitcher Mashima was able to hold Seibo scoreless for the next several innings, but the batters never got their offense going against Seibo starter Yuugo Satoh. In the bottom of the 5th, finally, Ishida walked with one out and then Yamasaki hit a hard ball to second, which Koyasu snagged, fell down, flipped to the shortstop but not in time for the play at second, and the relay wasn't in time for the play at first either. Ishikawa struck out, and with two on and two out, captain Shimazu hit a grounder to first, which the first baseman couldn't quite field, took an awkward swipe at, and ended up knocking the ball foul. Ishida scored on the play and Yamasaki got to third base. 4-1. Unfortunately Kubo hit a pop fly out to right at that point.

The next Uragaku run came in the 7th inning when Yamasaki hit a home run over the left-field wall, making it 4-2. Just to make sure you didn't forget this was high school baseball, Ishikawa followed it up with a headfirst slide into first base for an infield single.

Satoh was already up to 106 pitches by the end of the 7th, but he was still out there in the 8th. Kubo led off with a single and Hagiwara followed it up with another single. Shogo Tanabe pinch-hit for pitcher Mashima, and grounded out to first, getting tagged out on the way there, but moving the runners to second and third, and Kubo scored on a groundout by Shogo Takeuchi. 4-3. Hagiwara was standing there at third, but rather than becoming the tying run, he was left standing there as Suzuki hit a weak grounder to first.

Seibo's pitcher Satoh.

Urawa Gakuin's outfielder/pitcher Hagiwara.

Hagiwara, who had been playing the outfield for most of the game, took the mound for Uragaku in the top of the 9th. In high school team it makes sense for your backup pitchers to play outfield, or for your outfielders to have good enough arms to come in as backup pitchers. It wasn't looking too good as Seibo quickly got up to two on and one out, but then a pop fly and a groundout did end the inning.

The bottom of the 9th game with Uragaku down one run still, and Yuugo Satoh still on the mound for Seibo. He started things off by walking leadoff batter Ishida, and then Yamasaki bunted Ishida to second. Ishikawa grounded to first, moving Ishida to third base with captain Shimazu at the plate. Satoh was already up to around 130 pitches and visibly tiring, and he quickly got out to a 3-0 count on Shimazu. The people around me were saying that shortly Uragaku would tie the game and then they'd have a good chance to go ahead, and the 3-0 pitch came across the plate for a strike.

The band was still playing and the boys were still yelling as Shimazu hit a pop fly to shallow center. As it was caught, the Seibo team went crazy and the Urawa Gakuin team just kind of stood there looking vaguely stunned.

Urawa Gakuin team reserves make up the core ouendan.

Seibo's team celebrates for a few seconds on the field.

The final game score.

Later on I read an article in the Tokyo Shinbun where Shimazu said, "It's the first time since I came here that we're not going to Koshien... but I can't cry, the tears won't come out." He said that he thought he was going to walk on the 3-0 pitch, then the next one was down the middle and he realized Satoh was going to challenge him, and there went the dream for four straight Koshien berths.

That said, I think the Uragaku player I was most impressed by was outfielder Ishikawa, who seemed to have really good range and speed and a good jump on the ball; he made several impressive plays, to me anyway, and had a pretty strong arm to boot.

Not sure who impressed me the most on Seibo. Probably either Satoh-kun for sticking it out the entire game and still bringing it to the end, or possibly Koyasu, the second baseman.

I can definitely say that both marching bands impressed me, at any rate. Seibo tended to play more normal songs that I've heard lots of other bands play, though, and Urawa Gakuin's band had a lot of school-specific ouenka, which were neat to hear.

The folks sitting next to me who kept being astounded that I could write kanji were actually at the game to cheer for the next school, Shiritsu Kawagoe, because a boy who lived down the street from them played on that team. I wished them good luck and hauled my sunburnt back out of the stadium. (The sun came out for a bit towards the end of the game, just long enough to burn me, but not long enough for me to think of putting on sunscreen.)

The huge tournament board that was up outside -- dead tree technology at its best.

The Saitama tournament sign outside Omiya stadium.

So in the meantime, since that game:
Kawagoe did infact win that day, but were later beaten by Kasukabe Higashi, who are slated to play against Seibo in the semi-finals on Tuesday. The other side of the Saitama bracket has Saitama Sakae facing off against Kawaguchi Seiryo (who have never appeared at Koshien) in their semi-finals, and the Saitama final will be held on Wednesday the 29th. I might go... if Teikyo doesn't make it to the East Tokyo finals.

It's interesting seeing the Koshien brackets shape up as I start making my plans to go to the actual summer tournament. I won't be able to follow Urawa Gakuin there, but hopefully I'll be able to follow SOME school that I have an attachment to (Teikyo, maybe?).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Game Report: Giants @ Yakult - Kutabare Yomiuri, Part 2!

The stars and planets aligned yet again on Wednesday for several events to occur:
- Simon is back from Okinawa
- He got the Tsubamegun guys, namely Christopher, to save us seats at the top of Section D
- Christopher hooked me up with the coolest t-shirt on earth
- Shohei Tateyama was the Swallows starter, just like last time I'd gone to Jingu and cheered against the Giants with these guys
- The Swallows beat the Giants! Hooray!

No, seriously, the Swallows have played 10 games against the Giants this year. They have won 3 of those games. I have attended 2 of those 3 winning games. My hatred of the Giants must really provide some good luck for Yakult!

Anyway, there really isn't a reason for me to summarize the game action when you can read the fine recap on Tsubamegun. I'm just going to add a few observations/thoughts.

First, Fukuchi was really close to hitting for the cycle. He hit a homer in the first, a single in the third and a triple in the fourth... but then just like the rest of the team's crazy offense, he also slowed down at that point and didn't get another hit for the rest of the game.

As I was keeping a scorecard, the people around me kept asking if every Yakult batter had gotten a hit yet -- and more importantly, had they all gotten RBIs? After Shohei Tateyama drove in a run in the 4th, we tallied it and noted that D'Antona didn't have a hit yet (he got one in the 5th) and Miyamoto and Beavis didn't have RBIs (they never got any). The team did eventually tally a total of 20 hits, making 33 in the game between both teams, for the second 30-hit game that Simon and I had sat through.

The scary thing about this monster win was that they could have had even MORE points if they hadn't done boneheaded things like grounding into double plays when bunting when they shouldn't have been bunting in the first place. Once was in the 2nd inning with Aikawa on second and Keizo at first, and Tateyama bunted... back to the mound, for a double play to get Aikawa at third. The next time was in the 3rd inning, with Aikawa on third and Keizo on first... Tateyama tried to pull off a squeeze bunt, but struck out instead and Aikawa was caught between 3rd and home for another double play. Imagine a 20-run game instead of just a 13-run game!

And Aoki wasn't even in the starting lineup, which was the kicker. In the 5th inning they did their typical gig where they ask some people in the stands, "who is your favorite player? Can you say a cheering message for them?" and they get this group of three people and the first two say "my favorite player is Aoki... Aoki, ganbatte! Get a hit for me today!" and we're all like "Dude, he's not out there!"

Ogasawara's clean-shaven doppleganger hit two home runs for the Giants, for 5 RBIs of their 7 runs. Grr.

Also, the Giants did something "cute" when Shota Kimura was pitching and they pinch-hit for him with Takuya Kimura.

I had a lot of fun cheering with everyone, and I picked up more of the Swallows ouenka, which are actually somewhat similar in style to the Fighters' ones in general. A funny story: before the game started, a Yakult ouendan leader guy went around saying "Hey guys, we've been told to keep it clean, so please don't sing Kutabare Yomiuri at the start of Tokyo Ondo, okay?" Naturally, though, three batters into the bottom of the first, Fukuchi hit a 2-run home run, everyone high-fived around, opened their umbrellas, looked at each other, and started bellowing "KUTABARE YOMIURI..."

I still haven't figured out a new favorite Swallows player since Miyade was traded. I'm vaguely thinking of going with Yasushi Iihara, though who knows. I was also thinking of Keizo Kawashima, but since he's an ex-Fighter it's a little too weird. You'd think this isn't an important decision, but it's extremely important in Japanese baseball, for female fans, to have an answer to the question "だれのファンですか?" because it's what people ask all the freaking time.

Oh, I give you your Game Heroes:

Fukuchi and Beavis, who were both great with the bat and the glove.

Two outs in the 9th. See, Jingu sucks at showing the score after the game ends, so this is the best I could do.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Game Report: Japan vs. USA College Tournament Game 2

I went to the second game of the Japan-US Collegiate Baseball Tournament on Monday night at the Tokyo Dome. The Japan team won 7-5, mostly on a rally in the 3rd inning where the Japan lineup batted around the order and did typically Japanese things like infield singles and headslides and stealing bases and whatnot for 6 runs, all of which were unearned.

What was striking about this tournament for me, no pun intended, was the differences in the play style and, for lack of a better way to put it, the body types of the two teams.

Japanese players are, with the exception of some like Ryoji Nakata or Okawari-kun Nakamura, not usually huge guys. They don't usually have tree trunks for arms and shoulders a mile wide, and most of them can take off their baseball uniforms, put on some typical Japanese male clothes (by which I mean what they call fashion here), and completely slip into the background and for the most part nobody will even suspect there's anything special about them. Whereas the stereotype for the American baseball player is that he's at least 6 feet tall, and has these huge shoulders and arms and so on and so forth, and, well... looks like a baseball player, or an army recruit.

So when the American players started lining up, the guys behind me were saying things like "Wow! Look at them all, they all look like Major Leaguers!"

And I was thinking... huh, they really do. That's weird. And they're just freshmen or sophomores in college for the most part. Have I just forgotten what the MLB is like, or does the body stereotype start that early?

It's not uncommon in Japan to hear players talking about how "I worked on building leg muscles this winter in order to hit more home runs", or to see players who put their entire body into a throw from the outfield, using momentum and torque for the force on a throw as much as their own arm strength. But I noticed that the USA players tended to throw more just from the arm, rather than with an entire body motion.

I wonder if that difference is part of what caused FOUR Japanese baserunners to be caught stealing. Maybe they just weren't anticipating the catcher being able to nail them at second given his mechanics.

Also, one other major difference was that there was no ouendan at this game, and BOY did it seem quiet.

Anyway, I went to this game with Gen. He was kind enough to get there early and save seats about 15 rows back from the USA dugout, so we had a pretty good view, but as usual the Tokyo Dome sucks for taking photos, even when you're that close. You can see Gen's photos on his site though.

We were also lucky, or rather, I was also lucky, that the lady sitting in front of us happened to be a bigger college baseball dork than I am. We kind of both outed ourselves when Tatsuya Ohishi came out to the mound in the 6th -- I was like "OH MY GOD IT'S OHISHI!!!!" and got really excited and started bouncing up and down in my seat. The lady turns around and asks (in Japanese) "are you a fan?" and I'm like "I'm a HUGE fan! He's my absolute favorite college baseball player in Japan!" and it became clear that both of us had seen him play enough to recognize him warming up by his big yellow glove more than anything. As other guys came into the game we were both geeking out about them, especially the Tohto and Big 6 players. ("It's Soh-chan!" for Rikkio's Tanaka, and such.) We talked about the Koryo HS kids -- when Shohei Habu entered the game, she told me about how former Waseda 2B Hiroki Uemoto has a younger brother going to Meiji now who was also from Koryo. She also had stories about Tomoyuki Sugano, who pitched the last 1.2 innings and is apparently Tatsunori Hara's nephew.

I really didn't know who anybody was on the USA team, but most of the Japan team is pretty familiar to me. I realize it's partially because I go to college games here a lot, but at the same time I'm pretty sure I wouldn't know the USA college players even if I still lived in the US.

Anyway, some kid named Drew Pomerantz started for team USA, and some kid named Yuki Saito started for team Japan. Saito is probably the most famous college pitcher in the country right now, ever since he pitched Waseda Jitsugyo HS to a Koshien championship in 2006. Which is why the Tokyo Dome was fairly full -- they originally allotted only half the infield for seating, but ended up opening up the entire area as the Saito fans kept coming in.

It looked for a bit as if the Saito fans were going to be disappointed as the USA went out to a quick lead in the first inning. Christian Colon got on base via a fielder's choice and stole second, and Matt Newman singled him in. 1-0. Newman advanced when Michael Choice was hit on the shoulder by a pitch, and then Andy Wilkins singled to bring Newman home, 2-0. After every run, the entire USA team emptied the dugout and piled onto the field to congratulate the scoring runner, which was a bit odd as USA settled out to the lead.

But Team Japan rallied off of USA starter Drew Pomeranz in the 3rd inning. While poor Ryo Hayashizaki led off with a strikeout -- he would eventually cause 2 of the 3 outs in the inning -- Shingo Kamegai was safe on a deep infield hit to second, and then Shota Ishimine grounded to the mound. Pomeranz tried to throw to second to get the lead runner but an errant throw allowed Kamegai to reach second safely and Ishimine to be safe at first. Takahiro Araki then took a pitch in his arm to load the bases for Japan's Biggest College Baseball Player, Ryoji Nakata, who swung his mighty bat and promptly struck out.

With bases loaded and two outs, Keiji Nakahara hit a single through to center, scoring Kamegai and Ishimine. 2-2. Masayoshi Katoh followed that with another single, this time to right, and the throw in from the outfield came home but Araki somersaulted past the USA catcher and slapped home plate with his hand on the way through, avoiding a tag. 3-2. Keigo Hagiwara grounded to first, and Andy Wilkins fell over while getting the ball, and thus Hagiwara was safe as Wilkins relayed the ball to Pomeranz covering first. Nakahara scored in the meantime, 4-2, and that was when the USA manager came out to make a pitching change, replacing Pomeranz with TJ Walz.

But Japan wasn't finished. Katoh and Hagiwara pulled off a double steal of second and third off new pitcher Walz, and Takanori Satoh doubled to right anyway, scoring both of the runners. 6-2. Hayashizaki then grounded out to end the inning, having the dubious honor of leading off and ending the inning with outs. Poor kid.

In a sequence of "WTF were you thinking?", the top of the 4th basically went as the following:
Kamegai managed a bunt single, fielded by the third baseman.
During Ishimine's at-bat, Kamegai was caught stealing second.
Ishimine singled to center.
During Araki's at-bat, Ishimine was caught stealing second.
Araki struck out.

Japan was caught stealing 4 times. I actually thought it was 5, but it turned out that in the 5th, what really happened is that Hagiwara struck out, and catcher Grandal fired the ball to second to catch Katoh anyway, but it was irrelevant.

Japan added another run in the 6th when Walz walked the bases loaded, Araki struck out but the third pitch got away from the catcher, so Satoh was able to score and the other runners advanced in the meantime. 7-2.

Tatsuya Ohishi had pitched a pretty good 6th inning, striking out two and giving up a walk, but then team USA started hitting him in the 7th. Yasmani Grandal led off with a line-drive single to center. Tyler Holt struck out, but a pinch-hitting Bryce Brentz ended up hitting another single to left, which advanced Grandal, and then there was a really odd "hit by pitch" call on Chrstian Colon -- from our view it looked like maaaaaybe the ball grazed his arm, but either way, the bases were loaded. Japan pulled Ohishi and put in Toyodai's lefty Masahiro Inui, who promptly gave up a bases-clearing double to Matt Newman. 7-5. Inui then hit Mike Choice in the foot with a pitch, before settling down and striking out Wilkins and Forsythe.

Similarly, Inui loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th before being pulled for reliever Tomoyuki Sugano, the aforementioned nephew of Tatsunori Hara, and had to watch another pitcher handle his charges. Fortunately, Sugano handled it better than Inui had, and struck out Colon and Newman to end the threat. Sugano also handled the USA batters in the 9th pretty quickly and the game ended at 7-5.

It was a very odd finish. The USA players and Japan players lined up and high-fived each other, and that was about it. I felt like there needed to be a bunch of guys in black uniforms waving flags yelling "FURE FURE USA" and "FURE FURE NIHON" and so on, but there wasn't. No ouendan and no singing makes baseball something something.

As of my finally writing this up, the USA and Japan collegiate teams have tied the series at 2-2 and are playing the final game tonight at Meiji Jingu stadium.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Photopost: Shonan Sea Rex @ Lotte Urawa Marines - It Really Ain't Easy Being Glynn

On Saturday, July 11th, I had a rare choice of which ni-gun game to ride my bicycle to -- Fighters vs. Swallows at Yakult Toda, or Shonan Sea Rex (Yokohama's farm team) vs. Marines at Lotte Urawa. Although it seems obvious that as a Fighters fan I should have gone to Toda, I ended up choosing Lotte Urawa for a few reasons: first, there are more seats there. Toda stadium basically has a tiny set of bleacher benches behind home plate and that's it. Second, I had calculated the Searex rotation and figured out that former Fighters pitcher Ryan Glynn was really likely to start for them. I hadn't seen the Searex yet this year -- heck, I haven't been to a Baystars game since the preseason -- and was also kind of hoping to see Takahiro Matsuka, as well as my ni-gun boyfriend Yuki Takamori. It's funny, I have a favorite ni-gun player for Yokohama, but not a favorite ichi-gun player since Takuro left. Maybe Atsushi Kizuka, though it's been forever since I've seen him play.

I rode my bicycle up there -- it's about 6 miles away and took me a little less than an hour -- and got to Lotte Urawa Stadium around 12pm for a 1pm game. Managed to get a front row seat on the first base side, next to a tall Japanese guy who also had a scorecard and a camera. Bet anything he's also a blogger.

This game was just another case of tough luck for Ryan Glynn, really. He was the Sea Rex starter, and for the second straight Saturday in a row, I was watching Yuta Ohmine start for the ni-gun Marines...

And well, it was just not fated to be a good game for Glynn. It's not really his fault, it's mostly the fault of everyone else out there in the field. Glynn threw 8 innings on 114 pitches, walked 1, struck out 6 guys and gave up 1 home run. Well, and he gave up 11 hits, about half of which I have marked as "through a diving 2B" or "past a lunging SS" and so on.

The Marines took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd off a few of those very "past a diving infielder" singles, as Kanazawa singled, Muniz singled and moved Kanazawa to third, and then Aomatsu singled him in. (Okada hit into a fielder's choice and then stole second, but when Nemoto struck out the inning ended with Okada and Muniz on second and third.)

The Searex might have tied up the game in the 3rd if they didn't run themselves out of it. Toshio Saitoh hit a nice single to lead off and then for whatever reason took off stealing on the first pitch to Noriharu Yamazaki, and was out by a mile.

So then of course, Yamazaki hit a single off of Yuta Ohmine's leg, or glove, I'm not sure which, but there was no throw.

Instead, Ohmine decided he was determined to pick Yamazaki off first base.

But it didn't work and ultimately he walked Kajitani instead. Naturally, that was followed up by Hiroaki Ohnishi grounding into a double play. How many ways can you run yourself out of an inning, seriously?

Well, the Marines grounded into a double play to end their half of the 3rd too, so then in the 4th the Searex finally did something. Keijiro "Waseda's Finest" Matsumoto led off with a double, and Yuta Naitoh struck out. Yuki Takamori (!) singled to right, and Matsumoto ran to third -- I had my camera trained on the plate waiting to see Matsumoto score, but he didn't, and I don't know why he held up at third. Toshiyuki Kitagawa also singled to left, and Matsumoto actually DID finally score. 1-1. Atsushi Kita grounded to Nemoto, who threw to short for the force at second, but fortunately the relay to first was not in time for the double play, so Takamori went to third... but with runners at the corners, Toshio Saitoh grounded out for real. All of those runners and only one run.

The real turning point of the game was in the bottom of the 4th. Juan Muniz led off with a simple single to center, and Hiroshi Miyamoto followed it up with another simple single to center. Except, unfortunately, for Keijiro Matsumoto out there in center field, it was apparently not that simple a single to center, and when he went to retrieve it, whoops! Suddenly the ball was not in front of him, OR in his glove, but was infact past him and going back and he had to go run after it and retrieve it out by the wall. Poor, poor Keijiro! In the meantime, Muniz scored, and even Miyamoto was able to score by the time the ball came in.

(Shown above: Miyamoto is sliding into home plate as Muniz and Aomatsu wave him in. Saitoh is Not Amused.)

So that made it 3-1 on a pretty big blunder. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I don't have a shot of Glynn while this comedy of errors was going on. The next two batters were retired on infield grounders, and then Nemoto hit a pop fly to shallow centerfield. People were joking from the stands, "Don't drop it, Keijiro!" but then Noriharu Yamazaki ran back and made the catch anyway. Thanks, Nori.

I dunno, though, that play kind of took the steam out of both teams for a while. The next few innings went by blindingly fast -- the most exciting thing that happened was at one point between innings Shingo Nonaka came out to throw with Yuta Naitoh in right, only Nonaka somehow lost control of the baseballs he was carrying (misthrow?) and had to go chase them down towards the bullpen, and so Yuta Sekiguchi threw with Naitoh instead... everyone in the stands was laughing at Nonaka, and even Sekiguchi yelled out, "Hey Shingo, can you gimme those baseballs so I can take 'em back?"

Kei Hosoya hit a home run over the left-field wall in the 8th inning, which made it 4-1, which is where the game ended. Glynn threw a complete game; Ohmine threw 7 innings with Taiki Nakagoh and Kentaro Hashimoto picking up the 8th and 9th.

Box score here in Japanese.

On the way back from the bullpen, Glynn was walking with his translator, and his translator noticed me and kind of nodded/smiled at me, so I smiled and said, "Tough game, huh Ryan?"

Glynn looked up, kinda smiled back, and nodded. "Yeah."

I think if it hadn't been such a ridiculous series of events, I might have tried to talk to him more, but I didn't really want to be a pain in the butt after such a game.

We've talked about it before on Michael Westbay's site how Glynn is the unluckiest pitcher in Japan, and no matter how well he throws, he always seems to be doomed to lose. It's kind of sad that it's continued with the Searex -- a complete game with 2 runs that were actually his fault, and the team simply can't score any runs, or at least keep themselves out of double plays and getting caught stealing?

Anyway, since this is a photopost, here are some more photos that I took that didn't really fit into the story...

Masato Watanabe working out at first base before the game. (He didn't actually make an appearance in the game, though.)

Keijiro Matsumoto, walking to first.


Yuki Takamori and Takeshi Kanazawa at first, #62 - #62.

Keiyo Aomatsu high-fiving first-base coach Takenori Daita after hitting his RBI single to put the Marines ahead in the 2nd inning.

Yuji Hata warming up in the bullpen.

Shingo Nonaka running out to play catch or to chase baseballs or something.

Takayuki Kajitani hitting into a 3-6-3 double play and being out at first.

Kajitani, out and further out.

Yuta Naitoh.

Keijiro Matsumoto standing in front of the scoreboard in the bottom of the 8th.

Okay, so this is Takahiro Matsuka, the smartest guy in baseball... no, just kidding. But Matsuka is the 4th man in the history of the NPB to have graduated from Tokyo University and to also play at ichi-gun. It is unclear whether this is more because Tokyo University does not attract students with baseball talent, or because anyone who graduates from Todai probably has better long-term career choices than "pro baseball player", and are unlikely to be unsucky enough to get drafted anyway. Either way, he is special. I wish I could have worked up the nerve to say something to him (since he was looking at me funny). Maybe next time.

(I know that you have to have fairly good English comprehension to actually get IN to Todai, though whether anyone keeps up with it AFTER passing the entrance exams is another story, of course.)

How the mighty have fallen. Yukiya Yokoyama #99 and Michiomi Yoshihara #45. Yokoyama used to be the Fighters' closer before Micheal. He wasn't particularly good. He spent the rest of his career with Yokohama, sometimes being good, sometimes not being particularly good. Actually, I think he's a fine pitcher, just never when I'm watching.

(I meant to try to write this entry while watching today's Fighters-Marines game, but I got way too distracted. Brian had a decent start, and Shota Ohno hit a grand slam!!! and Makoto Kaneko hit TWO home runs! And Hiroki Ueno pitched and I finally got to see him and was really happy! But then Hisashi "World's Smallest Closer" Takeda gave up 3 runs to tie it at 6-6 in the top of the 9th and so the game went on until 6pm. And just when all hope seemed to be lost, and it was 2 outs in the bottom of the 12th with runners at the corners, and 2 strikes on Tomohiro Nioka, he managed to hit a single to the right-center gap which scored a pinch-running Kazuya Murata. Whew. 7-6. Anyway, that's why it didn't get finished until Sunday evening.

Not that it really matters, although today on 7/12, the Searex managed to beat Lotte 11-7. Go figure.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

One Freaking Hit

Seriously. Kazuhito Tadano just nearly pitched a no-hitter against the Chiba Lotte Marines at the Sapporo Dome. He was perfect through 3 innings, walked 4 guys across the next few innings, and got to the top of the 9th with 2 outs with no hits, when Shoitsu Ohmatsu singled to right. The Fighters won the game 4-0.

And to think, I just saw him last Saturday at Kamagaya pitching a semi-shaky start against the minor-league Marines.

This is why I'm a Tadano fan -- the craziest things happen when he's around!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Game Report: Fighters @ Lions - Who the *%&! is Tatsuyuki Uemoto Anyway

The thing that truly makes Seibu somewhat terrifying as a team is that they ALWAYS seem to have a huge reserve of random talented players, hiding in the wings, waiting to be unleashed upon the rest of the world at any given time. Seriously. I don't know how they manage to keep these guys hidden so well, aside from the fact that Tokorozawa is so damn far away that they always have trouble filling the stadium no matter how good the ichi-gun team is, and nobody bothers schlepping out there for ni-gun games either.

(Last weekend, reported attendance for Fighters ni-gun games at Kamagaya: 1557; 1813. Reported attendance for Lions ni-gun games at Seibu 2nd Stadium: 325; 618. Perhaps Seibu makes sure not to have real seats at their stadium in a deliberate attempt to keep anyone from actually learning about their farm team. Hmm.)

I guess it's a good way to keep the regulars on their toes, though, knowing that there are people waiting in the wings in ni-gun to take their jobs should they falter.

Anyway, this game was really frustrating as a Fighters fan, because we sort of go into Darvish starts expecting to win -- he is, after all, currently leading the PL in ERA, wins, and strikeouts -- so when Seibu went ahead 1-0 early on a Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura home run, it was not a good sign, and two innings later the Lions made it 2-0 with a string of hits and an RBI single from Yoshihito Ishii.

One of my friends asked me how you say "Okawari-kun" in English. I was like "Well, for drinks it's refills, but for food we don't really have one word. Some people call him 'Mr. Second Helpings', if that makes any sense." The Lions fans even have a special cheer for him, yelling "Okawari okawari mou ippon!", essentially asking for another plate of homerun.

I was cheering for Makoto Kaneko with some friends in the front row -- we were calling it "Makoto Festival, #8 for the 8th", and he hit a home run in the 5th inning, which was exciting, and then Terrmel Sledge hit a 2-run home run in the 6th which made it 3-2.

However, in the bottom of the 7th, out of nowhere, this Uemoto kid pinch-hits for that Ginjiro kid, and hits a 2-run homer just to the right of centerfield, caught on the fly by a kid with a glove. And the game was 4-3, and I had a sinking feeling that was where it was going to end, and it did. The ending sucked, too, Chikara Onodera has apparently moved back into the closer role this year and is doing an okay job of it -- Tsuboi was pinch-hitting with one out in the top of the 9th, and Kazuya Murata was the runner at first, and Tsuboi hit a liner to second. It was supposed to be a hit-and-run I think, and Murata was already practically at second base by the time the ball smacked into Yasuyuki Kataoka's glove, and he tagged Murata out, and that was the end of the game.

I seriously don't really want to talk about this game because it made me really grumpy. I didn't even stick around for the hero interview (they were announcing it was Uemoto as I was leaving the stadium), I just kind of ran outside and started walking towards the train station as they were asking him "How did it feel to hit a home run off of Yu Darvish?" and such. Grumble.

I was, infact, so pissed off, that I took an axe and cut off manager Hisanobu Watanabe's head:

No, just kidding. It was part of the Lions Classic display, but when are you pissed off and running towards the station and suddenly see a headless Seibu guy standing there, it is a little freaky. From the front it actually looked like this:

Whatever. I didn't go back to the Seibu Dump on Thursday because I had to stay late at my school helping students by doing mock interviews for an English speaking test they have to take this weekend. Good thing, too, because I would not have been happy watching the Fighters get swept by Seibu. Softbank took 2 of 3 from Orix and now they are in sole possession of 1st place instead of us, too.

On a brighter note, however, when I got home from the Seibu Dump that evening, I was so annoyed about the game that I impulsively decided to go buy tickets for two Fighters games in Hokkaido, so that I would finally be committed to actually going up there, dammit. So, I'll be flying up to Hokkaido on July 30th, and I'll be sitting in the left field stands at the Sapporo Dome for the games against Softbank on July 31st and August 1st. I'm hoping to do a Dome tour on the 30th and hit up Hillman's Hangout and such again.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Game Report: Fighters @ Lions - Tanabata Festival

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- no matter how nice you renovate the Seibu Dump to be, it's still going to have the issue of being in a location that is really inconvenient for not only most of the greater Tokyo area to attend a game, but even for most people in Saitama. Usually on weekends you need to show up pretty early to snag a prime piece of outfield turf seating. This is not a problem on weekdays; you can spread out as much as you want and it's rarely crowded, but you still have to actually schlep out there. For me, even running from train to train and making the quickest connections possible, the earliest I could arrive at the station was 6:09, for a 6pm game.

So by the time I got out there, get a ticket, get a sandwich, and get into the stadium, it was already towards the end of the first inning and the score was 2-2. The bad part is that I missed seeing Shinji Takahashi hit a home run off of Lions starter Takayuki Kishi. The good part is that I didn't see Itokazu walk two and hit one of the first three batters, loading the bases for Seibu (Yoshihito Ishii doubled to drive in those two runs).

As previously mentioned (but I deleted the post in favor of this one), Fighters starter Keisaku Itokazu forgot his uniform and borrowed one from Brian Sweeney...

(photo from Sankei Sports)

And unfortunately, I think the jersey carried Sweeney's bad luck at the Seibu Dome with it. I sat with some of my friends in the back for the first few innings, and one of them (Akki) is a huge Sweeney fan, so when everyone was yelling "Ganbare ganbare Itokazu!" he was yelling "Ganbare ganbare Sweeney!"

Anyway, the Fighters got out to another lead fairly quickly in the 2nd inning. Yoshihiro Satoh, in his very first ichi-gun at-bat of the year, hit a home run to right field. I was surprised enough to see him out there because I'd just watched him all weekend at Kamagaya, but Jason Botts was sent down and Satoh was sent up. Crazy. 3-2.

In the top of the third, Itoi walked, and Inaba singled to right, pretty much a hit-and-run since Itoi was at second base by the time the ball left the infield. Shinji Takahashi hit a pop fly to left, and despite Ozaki charging and throwing in, Itoi was faster and scored. 4-2.

However, the Lions quickly closed that gap in the bottom of the 4th. Yoshihito Ishii was hit on the leg by a pitch, and then GG Satoh hit a long fly ball to right field which looked like a home run, but instead it hit the wall along with Inaba, for a double. Ozaki walked, so the bases were loaded with no outs yet again. Itokazu momentarily got lucky when Taka Miura lined back to the mound (one out) and Itokazu threw to third base to double off Ishii, who had started to run and didn't get back in time (two outs). However, Ginjiro Sumitani singled to center after that, scoring GG Satoh, and in the meantime Itoi's throw back home was relayed OVER the plate, so in the meantime Ozaki scored as well and Ginjiro made it all the way to third. 4-4.

I went down to the front to cheer for the 5th inning, but in the bottom half, Hiroyuki Nakajima singled and then Okawari-kun Nakamura hit a home run to left field, making it 6-4. Itokazu came out of the game at that point and Ken Miyamoto replaced him.

Miyamoto, Ejiri, and Miyanishi kept the Lions from scoring for the rest of the game, but Takayuki Kishi ALSO kept the Fighters from scoring for the rest of the game and ended up with a complete game win, and was the game hero as well. I actually don't have much to say about the rest of the game; I spent most of it talking to people about when they are travelling to various cities, since I'm trying to figure out when to go to Hokkaido and Sendai and so on.

It was a quick game. We were out of the stadium a few minutes before 9pm, so I went around for a few minutes looking at all the Tanabata stuff I'd been too much in a hurry to look at before the game. (Tanabata is a summer festival of sorts, held on July 7th.)

One of the things people do is write wishes on pieces of paper and then tie them to branches, making colorful decorations. They had papers at the Dome, so I even wrote one (I couldn't think of anything to wish for though, so I wrote "いい天気がほしい", which means "I wish for good weather"). Most people wrote baseball-related ones. One of my friends who loves outfielder Tomochika Tsuboi had written one of "I hope Tsuboi plays in tonight's game and does well". He pinch-hit a single in the 9th inning, so I guess she got her wish, sort of.

Some of the tanabata papers.

An older guy attaches his paper to the tree.

Seibu players all wrote tanabata wish papers.

Here's Hiram Bocachica's paper.

Paper lanterns strung above the walkway going towards the Seibu Dome.

In the middle of the 5th or 6th inning, they also told us that the starting pitchers for Wednesday's game would be Darvish and Nishiguchi, so it's back to the Seibu Dump tonight for me!