Sunday, October 22, 2006

Japan Series, Game 2: Small Ball, Long Ball

Fighters 5, Dragons 2

Today's matchup featured Chunichi's elder lefty Masa Yamamoto, who's had somewhat tough luck in his postseason appearances, against the Fighters' rookie lefty Tomoya Yagi, who's had blessed good luck recently.

It also featured an umpire who apparently was a little bit fuzzy on exactly how wide home plate was, as both pitchers ended up with a lot of full counts on ball threes that they thought were strike threes.

The Fighters drew first blood today as Hichori Morimoto led off with a single and was bunted over by Kensuke Tanaka. Michihiro Ogasawara struck out, but then Fernando Seguignol, who was the first beneficiary of one of those not-a-strike pitches, bounced the ball towards short, and Ibata didn't make a clean stop on the ball and it got past him, bouncing off his glove; by the time he recovered it and threw home, Hichori had beaten it there and was safe. 1-0!

Ibata, undoubtedly unhappy with that result, worked his way into a full count and then hit a line drive into the first row of the left-field seats, tying the game at 1-1.

Things settled down for the next few innings, with both sides' batters trying to work high pitch counts, mostly by fouling off a ton of pitches, an abnormally high number of which resulted in pop foul outs to the catcher.

Kosuke Fukudome got his first hit of the postseason in dramatic fashion, leading off the bottom of the fourth inning by hitting a home run into the rightfield stands, bringing the score to 2-1.

Yagi saved himself another run in the bottom of the fifth with smart fielding; unlike Darvish's play the day before, Yagi fielded Yamamoto's bunt by heading off Inoue at third, rather than getting the easy play at first. There were several smart fielding plays in this game in general; Makoto Kaneko made one in the seventh as well to catch Tanishige at second. Seguignol and Woods both had their moments of fielding excellence, diving to snag hard grounders down the first-base line.

In the top of the seventh inning, Atsunori Inaba reached base on an error as he hit a short chopper that Motonobu Tanishige misplayed, throwing to first and actually hitting Inaba in the process. Shinjo followed that with a single to right, which advanced Inaba to third. Though Shinya Tsuruoka struck out after that, Shinjo "stole" second on strike three, Yamamoto's 100th pitch of the night, with no throw to attempt to get him out. Makoto Kaneko came up to bat with runners on second and third with two outs, and though they probably didn't expect it out of a guy who usually occupies the nine-spot in a lineup, he singled to center, easily scoring Inaba, and then Shinjo also ran home, tumbling around Tanishige blocking the plate and tagging it with his hand to score as well! Masa Yamamoto, who probably thinks he's cursed by now, was pulled from the game at that point with the Fighters holding a 3-2 lead. Masafumi Hirai finished out the inning by striking out a pinch-hitting Shinji Takahashi.

Shinya Okamoto came in to pitch the eighth inning for the Dragons, and just like the first inning, Hichori Morimoto singled and Kensuke Tanaka bunted him over. Tyrone Woods chose this moment to make his stellar play on an Ogasawara liner, and that brought up Seguignol, who quickly got ahead in the count with three balls and no strikes. It seemed likely that he would be walked, but then after he got one strike on him, he hammered the next pitch and watched it fly into the stands in centerfield for a 2-run homer, taking the score to 5-2, and taking Okamoto out of the game.

Hisashi Takeda pitched the 7th and 8th innings for the Fighters, and while he did allow a runner as far as third base in the 7th, he was lights-out in the 8th, striking out Fukudome and Woods in succession. This set the stage for Micheal Nakamura to come in for the ninth inning, where he took 16 pitches to retire Morino, Ochoa, and Inoue to finish the game with the Fighters winning 5-2.

Both of the Dragons runs were scored on solo home runs.

Trey Hillman sounded happy in the post-game interview, very excited that he wouldn't have to head back to Sapporo down two games, and was pleased that the team bounced back from last night's loss.

Makoto Kaneko was the game hero for the Fighters with his timely 2-run RBI single which put them ahead, and his clever glove work at shortstop.

The 1-1 series now moves to Hokkaido, with the next game on Tuesday night at 6pm at the Sapporo Dome. Likely starters are Satoru Kanemura for the Fighters and Kenta Asakura for the Dragons, though in true Central League style, we won't know for sure until about ten minutes before the game actually starts.

(This is a reposting of the game summary I wrote for Original game 2 live-blogging transcript is here.)

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