It's a little odd that I've been to 5 Fighters games in 4 different prefectures in the last week and yet I feel compelled to braindump about this game before actually posting any of the stuff from the others. But I feel like if I don't get this one "down on paper" before I go to sleep tonight, it'll lose something later on. This game was really truly crazy in so many ways.
So I'm in Hiroshima, on my way to Matsuyama for the Big 6 All-Star Game at Botchan Stadium tomorrow. I really wanted to stop back at the Mazda stadium sometime, and interleague this year didn't work out, so a Friday night Carp vs. Giants game sounded as good as any -- I knew that if nothing else I am a very convincing member of the Anti-Giants clan, which usually works out at CL stadiums even if I don't know the home team's songs.
I got to the stadium around 4pm, but first had to go to the Carp store to make sure I had something acceptable to wear. Ended up getting a Takuro kanji t-shirt and held off on a Yuki Saitoh #21 replica jersey. I changed t-shirts in a bathroom and then went about my way of wandering through the stadium looking for adventure and excitement.
Most of the excitement involved a few statues of Soichiro Amaya in the outfield that they have set up specifically to pose with for pictures; I ended up meeting a couple from Tokyo who had come to cheer for the Giants and we exchanged photo-taking a few times (they'd snap one of me and I'd snap one of the two of them). The adventures mostly involved getting food; I had some delicious cold custard taiyaki from a stand in the outfield, and then ended up getting a Kenta Maeda bento from a stand in the infield. Several elementary-school boys at the stand were trying to do the "Hello hello hello" thing at me, so I just replied in Japanese, and they gasped like "You speak Japanese? I have never heard a gaijin speak Japanese before!" and I'm like "...you've GOT to be kidding." This isn't even anything like the countryside I was wandering through for the last several days.
For the record, the Maeda bento is FANTASTIC. It had this "potato-in-hamburg" thing that was essentially exactly that; a hamburger that was hollowed out and filled with mashed potatoes, and it also came with yakisoba and some sausage and vegetables and rice and some grapefruit for dessert. I've been astounded by how good the bentos are in places that aren't Tokyo, or more like, the amount and quality of food you get for your buck is pretty good.
I went down to behind the dugout to take photos, but only had my small camera. I watched the guys work out; I tried to yell a happy belated birthday to Takuro Ishii (he just turned 40 on Wednesday) but couldn't get his attention. There were a LOT of people yelling encouragement at Takahiro Iwamoto; someone told me that this past week he hit home runs in 3 consecutive games and was making quite a name for himself for smacking the tar out of the ball.
For me, the last time I saw Iwamoto play was Draft Day 2008, at which time it was like "Hey, that kid at bat just got taken in the first round by the Hiroshima Carp. But who cares, THAT catcher crouching behind him just got taken in the first round by the FIGHTERS!!"
A Japanese couple shows up and sits to the left of me about 20 minutes before game time. I'd guess they're slightly younger than I am but not by much. The starting lineups are announced and I get out my scorecard, and the guy, who is sitting next to me, is like "Dude, you keep score?" and so we get to talking; clearly he thought I was just some random white person, but within 5 minutes we're swapping baseball stories and he's telling me how he grew up a Giants fan because his family always watched them, but when he grew up he switched to the Carp despite living in Nara (which is clearly Hanshin territory), and he's a longtime Tomonori Maeda fan. Me, I joke that I cheer for "the Fighters, and whoever is playing against the Giants", but that I'm familiar with a bunch of Carp players, especially since so many went to college in Tokyo, and I mention having seen Komatsu and Takeuchi and Iwamoto and all. The girl in the couple is clearly just along for the ride, but is decked out in very cutesy Carp clothing and says she thinks Kurihara is really hot. The end result of this is that rather than just sitting there on the end of the row by myself, I have people to cheer with and to high-five after stuff, and to talk to about the game, which I wasn't expecting.
So, the game starts. I've been to Mazda Stadium before, last year, but never sat on the first-base side for a game, and it strikes me as being vaguely reminiscent of Safeco Field in that you can see mountains in the distance and there are train tracks literally running along the side of the left-field wall. The main difference is that in Seattle, you HEAR the trains going by all the time, and in Hiroshima, you SEE them go by. Coming into Hiroshima by shinkansen from the north, you get a fantastic view of the field for about 40 seconds.
Ren Nakata started for Hiroshima; like Iwamoto, he's a 2nd-year player, drafted in fall 2008; like Iwamoto, he was a Hiroshima-area high school star; but unlike Iwamoto, he was drafted out of high school, not college, so Nakata just turned 20 last month. Dicky Gonzalez started for the Giants.
To be fair, the main thing I recall from the first 8 innings of the game are:
1) I got "shaved ice" in the 3rd inning from a vendor who came by, which is basically grape-flavored ice in a plastic bag. The bag started coming apart before I finished "eating" all of it. It's a nice enough idea in the heat but not recommended.
2) There are very few cola vendors. I got a cola before the game that was flat, and then gave up waiting for another and went up to get one in the 5th inning, only to see a kid with some bottles of Coke walk by a bit later. (But I'm betting his were even warmer and flatter than what I got. And 300 yen for a bottle of coke?!)
3) I was telling the guy next to me how I hate Ogasawara, he was recounting the Johnny-Damonness of it to his girlfriend, and then Ogasawara launched a homer, in that first inning. Edgar Gonzalez followed that with another homer in the 2nd inning that bounced in the left-field walkway and then bounced out of the stadium.
4) But the Carp came back in the 3rd inning on a Soyogi double and Akamatsu single to tie it up, and a Kurihara single put them ahead 3-2.
4a) This is relevant because they do this thing on the screen where they search with the camera like "If we choose you, and if we win, YOU GET TO COME UP TO TAKE A PHOTO WITH THE GAME HERO!!!". So lots of people wave their arms and dance and try to get chosen, including the people sitting next to me... well, someone only 3 rows ahead of us got chosen, a kid with a Kurihara sign! So at this point we're like "Lucky kid, maybe he'll get his photo with Kurihara!"
5) Naturally Ramirez had to hit a 2-run homer that actually went out of the stadium with NO bounce, in the 5th, and put the Giants up 4-3.
5a) Vinnie Chulk took over in the 6th to pitch for Hiroshima and gave up another run on a Wonder Boy Sakamoto double, making it 5-3.
6) Rather than doing "YMCA", they do this bizarre "C-A-R-P" dance, not to the tune of YMCA or anything, but very similar feeling. It's quite odd.
7) TAKURO ISHII GOT TO PINCH-HIT!!!! It was just in the bottom of the 7th and he basically literally grounded the ball straight to first base, but you know what rocks? Hiroshima uses the same cheer song for him that Yokohama did! I literally haven't seen Takuro at bat in person in two years, so when they started playing his song I sang along. It was weird, I almost felt like I wanted to cry; I miss cheering for him in Yokohama.
As an aside, cheering for the Carp is easy, you don't need to know any of the words; after the first round of any player's song, you and whoever are sitting next to you just alternate standing up and yelling the player's name. "Soyogi! SOYOGI! Soyogi! SOYOGI! Soyogiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-- SOYOGIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-- [clap, clap, clapclapclap], kattobase, Soyogi!"
8) An awful lot of people deserted the stadium in the 8th and 9th innings. They are idiots. I understand that many of them are Giants fans and don't actually expect to ever lose, and I'm sure some are Carp fans who wanted to beat the traffic; unlike in Tokyo, they actually have parking lots here and there are undoubtedly lots of people who drive to the game.
So those people missed the excitement of the 9th inning. Sucks to be them.
9) the Carp came up at 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th with Marc Kroon on the mound (who is explained as "He throws really fast but sometimes he has control issues. Hopefully our guys won't swing at everything.") But Shigenobu Shima manages to lead off with a single. Jun Hirose swings at everything and strikes out. Takahiro Iwamoto, who I had mentioned several times earlier in the game and in the post, comes up to bat, and
and takes a big swing and
OH MY GOD THAT BALL IS OUTTA HERE!
No, I mean, I dropped my scorecard, I stood up so fast, and just watched that thing sail out to the right-field stands. The entire stadium went crazy. All the people around me were jumping and yelling and cheering, I high-fived a ton of people, it was great. The game was tied at 5-5!
Aizawa popped out after that but a pinch-hitting Kura doubled to center-left! And Soyogi walked!
I may have mentioned that the crazy guy next to me, who stood for the entire inning after that, was also a huge Tomonori Maeda fan. And I'm like "Someone's pinch-hitting -- dude, I think it's going to be your Maeda," and he's like "No way, this is an infielder's slot," and no, sure enough, it was the 39-year-old veteran Maeda. Who struck out unceremoniously.
10) So, extra innings. Ryuji Yokoyama dealt with the Giants for the top of the 10th, and their Yasunari Takagi (WTF?) dealt with the Carp for the bottom of the 10th. It was, by this time, getting on towards 10pm, and drums and trumpets had to stop playing in the stands. Onward at 5-5. What sucked is mostly that Amaya led off with a walk in the 10th and then Kurihara, Shima, and Hirose struck out in succession, leaving Iwamoto in the on-deck circle. And what REALLY sucked is that Kurihara's strikeout, the third strike was DROPPED. Amaya ran to second, Kurihara didn't try to run to first at either, which was lame, he seriously might have made it.
But I remember thinking that maybe Iwamoto would come up and hit a walk-off home urn in the 11th, then...
11) Except that SHIGEYUKI FREAKING FURUKI, former Fighter, came up and HE hit a 2-run homer off Yokoyama in th top of the 11th. What sucked about that was mostly that Wakiya got on base with a REALLY close safe call, it really did look like a double play and should have ended the inning, but it didn't, so that was sad, and then the run, making it 7-5.
So Takahiko Nomaguchi takes the mound for the Giants to close out the game in the 11th.
AND TAKAIHRO IWAMOTO LEADS OFF WITH ANOTHER HOME RUN TO THE EXACT SAME PLACE!
No, really! That was nuts, he just comes up there and BLAM. Hara challenged the homer and thought it was a ground rule double, so the umpires went back to look at the video, and they come out like "No, dude, that was a homerun." Woohoo! But sadly it was just 7-6, not a 6-5 walkoff. And Tetsuya Kokubo grounds out after that.
But Kura walks, and Soyogi ALSO walks. The pitcher's slot is next and I think Ishihara was literally the only guy left at ALL to pinch-hit, so he does, and he strikes out on 3 straight pitches. 2 outs, bottom of the 11th, one-run game...
Soichiro Amaya comes up. He has been sucking lately and thus was dropped from the starting lineup, apparently. With his whopping .217 average and 5 home runs it does not seem hopeful.
A ball. Another ball. A fouled-off pitch. Another ball. It's a 3-1 count and if he walks, the bases will be loaded for Kurihara... who hasn't really succeeded in doing much tonight anyway.
The next pitch comes in, Amaya swings, and
You could actually tell that one was a homer right off the bat; I think it went into the cushion seats in deep centerfield. I'm not really sure because again the 6-7 of us cheering like crazy all bolted to stand up and watch it, I dropped my scorecard again, and as that ball fell, everyone went CRAZY yet again.
3-run homer. Carp win 9-7.
The people sitting ahead of us who were picked for a photo with the game hero disappeared a while back. I thought they went home, and mused about that to the people next to me, but he's like "Nah, I bet anything that at the 9th inning they went to wait for the Game Hero photo. Watch," and sure enough that little boy with his Kurihara sign comes out to take a photo with the game hero, who is Soichiro Amaya. Which was a bit odd. But I bet the kid was beside himself with joy anyway.
I was a little ticked that Amaya was the only game hero and they didn't honor Iwamoto, without whom they don't win the game too -- that 2-run homer in the 9th was HUGE. HUGE, in so many ways. And very exciting. But whatever, Japan is weird.
After a little bit of postgame cheering I say goodbye to the people around me and tell them to enjoy the rest of the weekend series and may the Giants burn in hell and all that sort of stuff, and they tell me to enjoy the rest of my trip.
21) I go buy that Yuki Saitoh jersey. I figure that even if I don't get to wear it in Japan, it'll be pretty funny to wear to games in the US of teams that wear white and red uniforms. Plus, I've joked about being a "Lefty Red Handkerchief Prince" fan for ages, and I really do like the kid. Though I have to admit I seriously considered an Iwamoto jersey instead. Eh.
What a game.
It was kind of fun to get back to the hotel and see a bunch of Giants fans sitting in the lobby looking a lot more subdued than they did this afternoon. Very satisfying, really.
And now I am off to Matsuyama! I'll add pictures to this post later, maybe.