Tuesday, September 25, 2007

9/16: Swallows @ Yokohama - It's Always Kizuka Time

Bay Stars 8, Swallows 4

Wow, has it already been a week since last weekend? Guess so. I'd write entries about games sooner, but I usually zone out to watch Megami no Sports and other sports shows when I get home from work, and then I'm too tired to write anything. (Aside from the Giants-praising Zero Sports, most recap shows are pretty similar, but I prefer Megaspo just because Norihiro Komada cracks me up.) Besides, almost every day this week I swear I've seen clips of Matsuzaka and Okajima's rookie hazing on every single sports show.

Uh, so anyway, last Sunday I headed down to Yokohama, as I so frequently do, for a Bay Stars vs. Swallows game. I got there at about 1:15pm for a 2pm game, and... the outfield seats on the Baystars side were completely sold out. WTF. I went to buy tickets for an infield seat instead, and all of the F sections on the Baystars side were sold out; I ended up getting a B seat. I go into the stadium, buy some yakisoba and a Coke, and climb all the way up to my seat, and... I notice that the Swallows half of the stadium is nearly empty, whereas the Baystars half is nearly full. Sheesh. I could have gotten a great seat if I'd gone over to the Swallows side, but I really didn't want to be the freak in the wrong uniform/etc, having shown up in my Murata #25 Baystars t-shirt and wearing my Takuro Ishii towel around my neck. (I wasn't actually aware of Ishii's broken wrist at the time either, because I suck.) Plus, something tells me singing the Baystars songs on the Yakult side might have been sort of pointless.

Both of the starters were guys I'm relatively unfamiliar with -- Kenichi Matsuoka for the Swallows, and Naoki Mitsuhashi for the Baystars. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, there was a huge gang of Mitsuhashi fans sitting a few rows behind me, who spent the first half of the game yelling random things to cheer for him.

They had a lot of opportunity to yell pretty early on, too. In the second inning, the Baystars put together some "Two outs? So what?" action after Murata and Saeki both struck out. Yuuki Yoshimura singled, then Taka Suzuki (#51) also singled, making it to second on the throw as Yuuki ran to third. With runners at second and third and the number 8 batter, catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka, at the plate, the obvious strategy was to intentionally walk Tsuruoka to get to the pitcher for the "automatic" out.

Only flaw in the plan was that pitcher Mitsuhashi wasn't having any part of that "automatic out" nonsense, and he singled to right. Yuuki scored, and as the Swallows first baseman fell over trying to get the throw from right field, Suzuki scored, bringing it to 2-0 as Toshihisa Nishi struck out to end the inning.

The Baystars cheerleader women started wandering through the stands during the third inning, handing out "Hamastar" fliers with schedules for the Searex and the Baystars and some other information; so of course that distracted fans from the game, which was a good thing, as the Swallows punched back to tie it up at 2-2 in the top half. I fortunately also finally flagged down a Coca-cola vendor girl around then; it was REALLY HOT OUTSIDE and the fact that I'm not burnt to a crisp is a testament to the amazing powers of sunscreen.

Yakult pitcher Matsuoka managed to bunt into an inning-ending double play in the top of the 4th. You know that's got to be embarrassing; heck, even striking out bunting is a better result than that.

I dunno if it was revenge for Iihara getting hit by a pitch in the 3rd, but the bottom of the 4th started off with Saeki getting plunked. Yuuki Yoshimura singled to left, and Taka Suzuki almost grounded into a 3-4 double play, but Yuuki slid into second just ahead of the throw. Tsuruoka then hit a single out to the gap in right-center; Saeki scored, Yoshimura scored, and Tsuruoka kept running until he got tagged out at third base. Oops. Mitsuhashi struck out after that, but the Baystars were up 4-2 again.

Norichika "McFly" Aoki, who was ultimately 3-for-4 with a walk for the day, led off the 5th with a double, and was driven in by a bunt and a single. There might have been even more damage in the inning if Tatsuhiko Kinjoh hadn't made two spectacular catches out in centerfield. Mitsuhashi came out of the game just shy of pitching 5 innings, and Yokoyama came in to hold the score to 4-3. In the bottom of the 5th, Kinjoh singled with two outs, Murata followed that up with a double, and then with runners at second and third, Saeki singled to right-center... Kinjoh scored, Murata scored, and Saeki got himself thrown out in a brief rundown at second which I wrote down as an 8-2-6-4 play. You might notice that semi-stupid baserunning is a general theme for the Baystars -- they also got thrown out trying to steal second twice.

Yokoyama spent the top of the 6th reminding everyone why he comes out to "Wild Thing" besides the obvious number 99 connection; after a strikeout, he gave up two singles, a wild pitch, and walked Aoki, loading the bases. That was bad. But the good news was that with a situation like that, IT CAN HAS BE KIZUKA TIME! As usual, Atsushi Kizuka came out and was awesome. He threw two pitches and Iihara grounded into a double play. Good times.

Aaron Guiel hit a home run off Matt White in the 7th, and the Baystars punched two runs off of Masao Kida in the 8th, and that's about where things stood when the dust cleared to end the game at 8-4.

The game heroes for Yokohama were Kizuka (!!!) and Tsuruoka (???). Kizuka I can understand -- he came in to pitch at what could have been a major turning point in the game; 6-3 with the bases loaded and one out and the heart of the order coming up next if something big didn't happen, and he got a huge double play. But Tsuruoka? I guess he had the RBI single in the 4th which put the team ahead for good, but he was a dumbass and got himself thrown out running to third on that play. I would have made Yoshimura the hero if I had to choose a hitter; he was 3-for-4, scored 3 runs, including the first and last ones, and knocked in one.

Eh, whatever. I thought it was pretty cool seeing Kizuka as game hero. He was all like "Dude, this is really cool. I don't usually get to be game hero, for obvious reasons, you know, being just some random middle reliever who throws funny. So, uh, awesome! Yeah! Everyone should come tomorrow and watch us pound Hiroshima!"

Kizuka and Tsuruoka signed a whole bunch of baseballs and threw them out into the crowd, which was pretty cool, and I left after that. It turned out there was another "hero interview" outside the stadium, this time with the winning pitcher, Takeharu Katoh.

He also answered interview questions for a few minutes while a huge crowd watched and cheered. Yokohama really does a pretty good job of doing little extras for the fans, I think. I always like seeing a game there; everyone's usually really happy regardless of whether the Stars actually win.

The only downside for me was afterwards, I was walking out of the stadium area and I heard a loud voice in English yelling "LET'S GO BAY STARS [clap clap clap-clap-clap]" in a singsong. I spotted the offender, a tall blonde military-looking guy, and I made my way through the crowd and said "Hey there. Don't tell me, you're from Boston?" and he basically replied something fairly rude, and I replied back something appropriately rude, and kept walking. I'm a little sad, because I had sort of hoped I had escaped most American baseball fan crap by coming here.

But other than that, it was a great day. I went to McDonald's to wait out the rush so I wouldn't have to get on a packed train at Kannai, and I discovered the coolest McDonald's on the face of the planet, or at least the coolest one in Japan. More on that later.

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