Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Japan Series Preview, Part 2: Matching it all up

Sigh. I swear I started writing this post on Friday night before the Series started, but I just got too sidetracked with everything else. At this point I could either post it, or delete all of it, and I'd rather just throw it out there even if it's coming with the series at 2-1 Dragons right now. Besides, I really don't feel like writing about Game 3, being as 1) I didn't see any of it since I was at work and 2) the Fighters got whomped 9-1 with a "patented big first inning" by the Dragons. I really didn't just make that up for humor value, see? Exploding ham.

Also, dear Kansas City fans: just because you're getting our manager next year doesn't make the Fighters "your" team. Although if you wanted to send us Mark Teahen, I certainly wouldn't object.

(I need to stop reading sites from the other side of the Pacific this time of year. The offseason just makes me want to cry.)

Fighters: Hichori Morimoto, Atsunori Inaba, Takahito Kudoh and Tomochika Tsuboi
Dragons: Byung-Gyu Lee, Masahiko Morino, Hidenori Kuramoto, Kazuki Inoue

Defense: Fighters.
Hichori gets a lot of flak for having to take over Shinjo's role on the Fighters, but he really is a genuinely good center fielder, with great speed and a decent arm and great instincts. Inaba is also a lot better than most people give him credit for; I don't consider him a liability in the field at all. (I think since he's a 35-year-old left-handed outfielder, people assume he's become just like Yokohama's Saeki or Chunichi's Inoue. They're wrong.) Kudoh and Tsuboi are about the same from all the times I've seen them play, which is to say, they're definitely at least competent.

On the other hand, Lee is no Fukudome, and Morino gets moved around so much that it's hard to really call him any particular position; he's decent in the outfield but no superstar at defense (though all things considered, he's really flexible; how many LF/3B/2B/SS types do YOU know?). And Kazuki is slow as rocks. Hidenori's not bad, but not particularly amazing either.

Offense: Neither.
I know that sounds insane, but in all honesty, there's no clear winner to me. Inaba more than cancels out Morino, see, and nobody else is particularly great.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Tsuboi and Kudoh rock the high socks and both have cute smiles. Tsuboi's even a former member of the "Hanshin pretty-boy outfield" with Shinjo. Inaba's really handsome when he smiles, and even if Hichori looks like an alien, his personality gives him inherent cuteness.

I love Morino (Dragonbutt!!), even if several Dragons fans and players and reporters think he looks like the Chunichi mascot Doala. (I also love Doala.) Hidenori's really good-looking -- when he lets his hair grow long, at least. But that's about it. Kazuki sucks.

Middle Infield
Fighters: Makoto Kaneko, Kensuke Tanaka
Dragons: Hirokazu Ibata, Masahiro Araki

Defense: Dragons.
Kensuke and Kaneko are fantastic, don't get me wrong. They're a great middle infield. But they can't compete with the Two-Headed Double Play monster that is Arakibata (or sometimes Ibataraki). I would actually say that it's possible Kensuke is as good as Araki, but Ibata is just the best shortstop in Japan, hands down. He's amazing and intelligent and agile and... just watch him play, you'll see what I mean. He's so good at playing each batter that he makes it look easy, because he's always already where he needs to be to make each play. Two-thirds of the field is covered by artificial turf and the other third is covered by Ibata. (Yeah, I stole the Garry Maddox quote. It's so accurate here.)

Offense: Dragons.
This isn't even a difficult one to talk about. Remember, Kaneko bats 9th and Kensuke's best known for being the King of Bunts.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Ibata's kinda cute, but Araki is REALLY astoundingly freakish-looking. Seriously, it's a good thing he's a baseball player because otherwise he could have a nice career frightening children for Halloween. The Fighters, on the other hand, have the adorable Kaneko, who has a fantastic smile and nice eyes and is just plain good-looking. Kensuke is pretty cute too, like an adorable little teddy bear.

Fighters: Eiichi Koyano, Naoto Inada
Dragons: Tyrone Woods, Norihiro Nakamura

Defense: Fighters.
Nori's not a horrible third baseman but he's really not that great either. I've seen him boot way too many plays and miss too many close grounders to really trust him. Tyrone Woods is basically a homerun-pounding DH stuck in a Central League team. I make fun of Tyrone's defense a lot more than I should, but "T is for Tree" isn't entirely inaccurate. Whereas Koyano and Inada are both pretty reasonable at defense. Naoto is a little worse, which is why he ends up at first more often and Koyano at third, but people will be talking about Naoto vs. The Cameraman for quite a while, I'm sure.

Offense: Dragons.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Tyrone Woods is actually a really good-looking guy, which I didn't realize until I saw him close up in Yokohama a few weeks ago. He has a really nice smile and surprisingly friendly demeanor. But, Norihiro? Ugh, he's always looked kind of like a troll to me. Whereas, I'm not going to say that either Inada or Koyano completely flattens me with good looks, but they're both cute in their own way. Inada always smiles, and is apparently becoming part of the Hichori "mood maker" faction, and his line about "running like a wild boar thinking the ball was my food" was pretty priceless.

Fighters: Fernando Seguignol
Dragons: Kazuyoshi Tatsunami

Offense: Fighters.
Tatsunami is one of the best hitters ever in Japan, but he's also getting old and has mostly been limited to pinch-hitting this year, and I'm really not worried about his bat all that much. Seguignol, on the other hand, can hit the ball a fairly long distance. And so far in the postseason he's been doing exactly that, quite often.

Cuteness factor: Neither.
In my honest opinion, both guys are what I'd call "classically handsome", and thus disqualify from the cuteness factor.

Fighters: Shinji Takahashi, Shinya Tsuruoka
Dragons: Motonobu Tanishige, some scrubs

Defense: Dragons.
Tanishige is freaking awesome. I have no idea how he manages to go out there every single day and be as awesome as he is, given that he's like 37 and literally plays in EVERY Dragons game and has done so for like 3 years. I think he's secretly a robot. The Fighters' catchers aren't bad, certainly, but they're no Tanishige.

Offense: Fighters.
Tsuruoka sucked this year, but Shinji made up for it. Tanishige, on the other hand, bats like an old man. I think his OBP is aided partially by the fact that he's usually batting before the pitcher and thus gets a lot of intentional walks.

Cuteness factor: Fighters.
Tanishige is another one for the "classically handsome" club. I think he's incredibly good-looking, but not "cute" per se. Shinji, on the other hand, is freaking adorable. Tsuruoka is not so adorable but he also plays not so often, so it's okay.

Fighters: Yu Darvish, Masaru Takeda, Ryan Glynn, Brian Sweeney
Dragons: Kenshin Kawakami, Kenichi Nakata, Kenta Asakura, Daisuke Yamai

Pitching: Dragons.
I won't say the Fighters starters are bad, because they're not. They are, infact, rather good, and in most cases their win totals are skewed by their team's inability to score runs, so a lot of bullpen guys often pick up the wins. And yes, we have the Sawamura-award-winning Darvish on our side, as well as the best pitcher in the Central League, Ryan Glynn. But, aside from Darvish, all of them have weaknesses. Masaru gives up over one home run per game. Sweeney walks nearly 3 guys per game.

The one big thing that all of the Chunichi starters can really do is stay in there for a good long time and be effective, or at least long enough for their team to score them some runs. The only question is whether or not Ochiai will leave them in for too long, I think. Firearm's always complaining about Nakata blowing games in the 8th inning, but my modern-baseball-brainwashing says that it should be the manager's fault, not his. One thing to note about Asakura and Nakata, also, is that they barely ever lose games at the Nagoya Dome (Asakura was 6-1, 2.11 there in 10 games this year and Nakata was 8-1, 3.20 there in 13 games).

The Chunichi guys do tend to walk slightly more batters per game, although I think that number is being skewed slightly by being in the Central League, which does a lot more intentional walks. In Nakata's case, he's just crazy (and I swear he gets more full counts than any other pitcher in the world). Nakata also led the Central league in wild pitches this year, for that matter.

I should have posted this somewhere else, but what the hell, here are the Saber-numbers on these guys:


Yu Darvish 0.83 2.13 4.29 9.12 0.39 2.64 1.82
Ryan Glynn 1.05 1.92 3.36 6.45 0.93 3.86 2.21
Masaru Takeda 0.87 1.03 5.94 6.10 1.09 3.88 2.54
Brian Sweeney 1.33 2.97 1.56 4.62 0.91 4.53 3.70

Kenta Asakura 1.30 2.63 2.10 5.52 0.47 3.60 3.36
Kenichi Nakata 1.41 4.29 2.19 9.37 0.74 3.72 3.59
Kenshin Kawakami 1.18 1.24 6.30 7.81 0.97 3.39 3.55
Takashi Ogasawara 1.19 2.47 2.94 7.27 0.75 3.59 2.99
Daisuke Yamai 1.29 3.47 1.75 6.07 0.65 3.98 3.36

You know, there's got to be a league equalizer somewhere, but either way, despite the awesome control and reputation of the Fighters pitchers, I still think the Chunichi rotation is better.

Cuteness factor: Fighters (but it's close).
Darvish is really adorable, Glynn and Sweeney aren't bad, and while I think Hisashi is the cuter of the Takeda tandem, Masaru's kind of cute too.

Nakata's really adorable and Kenshin's sort of a stoic samurai type, but the jury's out on the rest of these guys.

Dragons: Hitoki Iwase, Shinya Okamoto, Yuuichi Hisamoto
Fighters: Micheal Nakamura, Hisashi Takeda, Mitsuo Yoshikawa

Pitching: Dragons.
I hate to say it, but right now I'd rather have Iwase in the 9th than Micheal. Hopefully I'll end up being proven wrong about that. As for the rest of the bullpen, they're both good, but neither one is as good as it was last year.

Cuteness factor: Neither.
I'm just rushing to finish this post and lamenting the fact that Shintaro Ejiri got injured, because he was really adorable, I liked the Ejiri-Hisashi-Micheal tandem we were carrying in the late games. Alas.

I was going to try to justify a cute-off between Keizo Kawashima and Ryota Arai, but it seems kind of pointless now.

Either way, the Fighters completely win on cuteness if nothing else! Whether that can get them to another Japan Series victory is another story, though.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

And the 2007 Sawamura Award Winner is...

...exactly who it should be: Yu Darvish, of course.

I already said everything I had to say on the matter a few weeks ago. I still vaguely believe that if Naruse had won the final game of the PL playoffs instead of Darvish, there's a chance he'd have gotten the award instead. But after Darvish's playoff MVP award and his record-tying 13 strikeouts in Game 1 of the Series, there's no question in anyone's mind about whether he deserves it.

The articles don't seem to mention it, but Darvish is actually the first Sawamura award winner in the history of the Fighters/Flyers franchise.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Japan Series, Game 2: Yakiniku Erika

Dragons 8, Fighters 1

Glynn had a disastrous 4th inning, getting a lot of questionable ball-strike calls, and then Nori Nakamura doubled in a few runs, and then Yoshikawa walked in a run, and... we were hurt by the lefty batters on Chunichi, with both Morino and Lee getting home runs, and all the Fighters really did about it was another Seguignol home run. Kenichi Nakata did a pretty good job out there, although I had expected him to get more strikeouts than he did.

I'm going to be honest and tell you that I don't really remember about half of last night's game. But, on the other hand, I watched it in Fighters heaven, eating and drinking way too much with a bunch of other Fighters fans.

I went to Yakiniku Erika, which is the restaurant owned and operated by Fighters centerfielder Hichori Morimoto's parents. Basically, Hichori's old fanfare went: "焼き肉エリカ 日暮里駅前 歩いて5分の一等地", which essentially means "Yakiniku Erika, a five-minute walk from Nippori Station, the best place in town". I finally hunted it down last weekend, and this weekend actually went there to eat dinner and watch the Series game. My friend Pau came with me; I was really nervous about going there alone.

(Actually, Pau took me to the Keio-Waseda Soukeisen big rivalry college baseball game earlier in the afternoon, but that's a completely different story. Keio's Mikinori Katoh won in 12 innings, and yes, I saw Saitoh Yuki pitch, among other things.)

We arrived around 5:30 and it was pretty empty. We were greeted by Hichori's father -- I recognized him immediately -- and were told that yeah, we could watch the game there, but the first few tables were reserved. And then I looked around and OH MY GOD the place was just FILLED with Fighters stuff and it was SO AWESOME you have NO IDEA! I asked Morimoto-san if I could go around and take pictures, and he just laughed like "Of course you can!", so I did. There's only about 8 tables there, it's pretty small:

The "Hichori #1" seats are where Hichori's parents sit to watch the games.

I had to try really hard not to be bitter about the Ogasawara poster.

During the game.

I should probably clarify right now that the only times I was speaking in English was when I was talking to Pau (who is fluent in Spanish, English, Japanese, and some other languages); all other conversations were in Japanese. I really do speak Baseball Japanese a lot better than I speak normal Japanese. Funny how that works.

Another guy showed up shortly after us and had to sit at the table behind us. Turns out he was from Sapporo, in Tokyo on a business trip, so he brought the Sapporo sports dailies for the Morimoto family. And then ANOTHER guy showed up from Sapporo and also sat at the table behind us -- he had brought a Hichori inflatable microphone from the Sapporo dome for them. And a woman showed up who was ALSO from Sapporo! And then two more younger women showed up who we also later discovered were from Sapporo! It was crazy! None of them actually knew each other beforehand, either, which was probably the craziest part.

I wore my old Fighters jersey from when they played in Tokyo, which resulted in the Sapporo crowd all calling me "Sempai", which totally cracked up Pau. I had a picture of me with the old Fighters mascot from several years ago on my cellphone, so when we were all getting out our cellphones and showing pictures -- like, one guy had an Inaba signed ball, and so I showed him my picture of catching an Inaba home run ball, and someone else had all these awesome pictures of the Sapporo Dome, and of BB, and various stuff, so I was like "Uhh... well... here's me with Fighty?" and they all said "WOW!!!" They all became Fighters fans since the team moved to Sapporo, so they never saw them in Tokyo. But I said that I'd never been to Sapporo, so I was very jealous of them! The one guy had been to about 50 Fighters games in the Sapporo Dome this year! How awesome is that?

A few innings into the game, when the Fighters were down about 3-0, Hichori's mother came to every table and gave us each a bottle of Jinro, which is some sort of Korean liquor, about 25% alcohol. I'm not sure whether it was for the "if we're drunk the game won't be as depressing" factor or the "let's drink and cheer for the Fighters!!" factor:

Honestly, this stuff tasted terrible, but it was REALLY potent.

It had the latter effect, anyway... somewhere in the midst of the 4th or 5th inning, our gang in the back of the restaurant all started singing all of the Fighters ouenka. It was great. I think it had to be the 4th because it started with us doing a rousing "Oi, Oi, Hokkaido" and a Banzai after Seguignol's home run... and since the Sapporo woman's favorite player was Shinji Takahashi, I started singing his ouenka, and it just exploded from there, I guess.

In the 6th, Hichori led off with a single, and was moved to second, and so Hichori's mother, who had gotten up a bit before to say "You guys are amazing!" while we were all doing the Hichori ouenka, also got up to make sure we weren't going to do the Inaba jump, since the restaurant is on the second floor of the building :)

Oh, incidentally, I finally got the story on that. The Inaba Jump is ONLY done in Sapporo, apparently, which is why I had never, never, ever EVER seen it. I knew there was a jump for Naoto Inada, so I had thought people were just confusing Inaba and Inada, which happens often, but no, the Inaba Jump is a Sapporo oendan thing. See, this is why I have to go to Sapporo for a game someday so I can learn all of the current customs there.

Anyway, the Fighters were down by a whole lot of runs and we were all getting pretty drunk off the Jinro, so I think I spent the last 3-4 innings of the game mostly chatting with the Sapporo people, and trading some baseball cards with them and with Pau (whose idea it was to bring cards in the first place), and taking pictures of all of us being silly. I had been saying how I used to love Ogasawara, he was my favorite player, then he went to the Giants and I hate him now, and the woman from Sapporo was like "ME TOO!! I FEEL THE SAME WAY!!!" and I said "Yeah, that's why I really, really, really hate the Giants!" and she said "YEAH! ANTI-GIANTS PEOPLE UNITE!!!" and so we all took a picture together, and then switched around, and... yeah.

Me with the Sapporo gang.

We hate the Giants!!!!!

This guy went to 50 Fighters games this year. He was really funny.

I had to remember not to sing Dragons cheers. That was pretty funny, though I kept saying "T!" at Pau just to annoy him, since he's a Hanshin fan and Tyrone Woods really killed the Tigers this year. But since the ones like Morino and Ibata and all are deeply ingrained in my head, I'd just start humming and be like "Wait, no, Dragons bad, not today." And then Morino got a 2-run homer and I'm thinking "MORINOOOOOOO!" but outwardly saying "Dammit!"

I also spent some time investigating the pictures on the walls, which were just amazing, things like a picture of Hichori with the other Fighters draftees from his year, or pictures of various fans with Hichori, or Hichori in various games and stuff, and even a plaque from when he went to Koshien with Teikyo HS. And there were pictures of other Fighters players, and just all of this crazy awesome stuff. It was like Fighters heaven, seriously.

Even the bathroom at this place is decorated with Fighters stuff. They had a whole ton of stickers of team logos of every team EXCEPT THE GIANTS. It was just too funny.

The Fighters did manage to load the bases in the 9th inning -- and Yukio Tanaka even pinch-hit! YUKIO!!! WHEEEE! We did the Yukio cheer, and then after when Shinji Takahashi got a double, we did the Shinji song several times too. And we sang the chance music too, and were still singing it when a pinch-hitting Tsuruoka grounded out to end the game a few at-bats later.

We settled up our bills and left the restaurant. I asked if I could get a picture with the Morimotos, but Hichori's mother said "I don't like being in pictures, but I'll take your picture together!" So, I have a picture of me with Hichori Senior :)

Thanks so much, Morimoto-san!

He gave us his business card and said "Next time you come here, call in advance and make a reservation," so maybe I will go there to watch some Fighters games next year too! The food was really good and the place was really friendly and you can't beat being surrounded by Fighters stuff. It's not a sports bar by any means, but still pretty awesome. I was worried that it'd be packed and that they wouldn't want random people coming there during the Series, but I guess I was completely wrong on both counts. So, yay!

Nippori is only a few stops away from me on the Keihin-Tohoku line, so it didn't even take me that long to get home. It wasn't until I tried to ride my bike home from the station that I realized how much alcohol I'd had, though; I couldn't actually ride in a straight line, so I took side streets home to minimize the chances of getting hit by a car. I watched the sports shows that evening to see the highlights, and I swear I didn't even remember half of the game. I mean, I sort of remembered that the Fighters lost, but that's about as far as it went. Good times.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Japan Series, Game 1: Exploding Ham

[The scene: Sapporo Dome, Saturday Oct 27th, afternoon. Chunichi Dragons players are taking batting/fielding practice. Masahiko Morino walks up to Hiromitsu Ochiai by the third-base bag.]

Morino: Uh, hey, Ochiai-kantoku, I was wondering...
Ochiai: Hmmm?
Morino: You know, this Japan Series thing. We're gonna win this time, right?
Ochiai: I really like tofu.
Morino: I'm serious. The Dragons haven't won a series since you were born.
Ochiai: I fail to see your point.
Morino: You're old.

(I took this on October 7th in Yokohama. It begged a caption.)

Ochiai: I'm just going to throw Ogasawara into the lions' den and everything will work out okay.
Morino: Actually, boss, it was the Giants' den...
Ochiai: They'll be expecting Kenshin and boy will they be surprised!
Morino: ...and you did it last week.
Ochiai: It'll nullify all of their big lefty bats.
Morino: This is the Fighters we're playing this week. They don't have any big lefty bats. I'm not actually sure they HAVE any bats.
Ochiai: That could be a problem. What about righty bats?
Morino: No, I mean, I don't think they own bats. I think they go out there and hit the ball with sausages. Isn't that why they're called Nippon Ham?
Ochiai: I'm not worried. I'll just play Kenshin. They'll be expecting Ogasawara and boy will they be surprised!
Morino: Uh-huh.

[They look around the stadium for a minute. Kawakami's doing long tosses with Tanishige over by the foul line.]

Morino: Kenshin vs. Darvish for the first game of the Japan Series? I feel like I've seen this somewhere before.
Ochiai: If there's another rerun on Japan Series tonight, maybe we can all go get some crab cakes instead of watching it? Find a good izakaya?
Morino: No, I think this one is a new episode, actually.
Ochiai: Apparently Masa's already down in Susukino drinking his sorrows away.
Morino: Anyway, I had this great idea for what we should do in the game tonight.
Ochiai: And there's this one sushi restaurant with the most astoundingly tasty sashimi, you'd have to taste it to believe it.
Morino: You know how we always have these patented "big first innings?" Where we score a whole bunch of runs in the first inning and the other team can never catch up?
Ochiai: The northern parts of Japan can be really boring, but damn the food is good.
Morino: I think we need to do that. Explode on the Fighters in the first inning and then just rely on Kenshin to keep it scoreless the rest of the time. It's worked for us many times this season.
Ochiai: Hmm... exploding ham...
Morino: Are you listening to me?
Ochiai: Big first inning and then a scoreless game? Yeah, I like that idea.
Morino: I'll hit a 3-run homer if you can just get Arakibata on base.
Ochiai: And then we can go drinking?
Morino: Sure thing, boss.

[The game starts.]

Morino: Hmm, Araki struck out.
Morino: Hmm, Ibata grounded out.
Morino: I can't hit a 3-run home run. Curses! [strikes out]
Ochiai: This plan of yours is not working so well.

Hillman: Okay, so I got ahold of Chunichi's secret plan to win the game! Seggy, can I talk to you a second?
Seguignol: Ok. How'd you get it?
Hillman: Some sushi chef gave it to me. Said it was foolproof.
Hichori: [walks]
Kensuke: [bunts]
Inaba: [walks]
Hillman: Heh, heh, heh. Now that Hichorinaba is on base...
Seguignol: Here I go! Watch this!
Darvish: I'm watching, I'm watching.
Ball: Wheeeeeee! I didn't like being inside the park anyway. [lands in stands]
Fighters fans: Woohoo! 3-0!
Ochiai: This plan worked really well!
Ochiai: Wait a minute, my team isn't at bat.
Morino: Ummm...
Ochiai: Exploding ham?
Morino: No, bananas.

Kawakami: If I can retire every other batter for the rest of the night, can you guys scrape up a few runs to help me out here?
Dragons: No.
Araki: Maybe.
Morino: We got one. Is that good enough?
Kawakami: [facepalm]

Darvish: Strikeout! Strikeout! Strikeout!
Tatsunami: Uh, could you please stop doing that?
Darvish: No. Strikeout! Strikeout!
Woods: Dammit!
Darvish: Strikeout! Strikeout!
Norihiro: Arrrrgh!!
Darvish: Strikeout! Strikeout!
Morino: I'm beginning to feel like I'm in one of those bug spray commercials, and we're the bugs.
Kawakami: May I remind you that my batting average in the postseason is better than yours?
Morino: May I remind you that I have a bat today and you don't?
Kawakami: Dude, we even put Arakibata on base for you in the 6th and all you could do was deliver a sac fly. I don't want to hear it.
Ochiai: Delivery? Maybe I can get some pizza.
Morino: I tried, didn't you see? If it'd had a little less top spin that would have been a 3-run homer.
Ochiai: Toppings? How about exploding ham?
Morino: You keep saying that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.

[Kawakami and Darvish continue to face off against each other until the bitter end. The ninth inning starts and Darvish is still on the mound!]

Morino: Argh! [grounds out]
Woods: Crap! [strikes out]
Tatsunami: Finally. [walks]
Hillman: Uhoh. [goes to mound]
Norihiro: A chance? Maybe?
Darvish: No. [strikes him out]
Norihiro: I really don't like that kid.

[The Fighters win the first game of the Series, 3-1!]

Deanna: Hey, I actually inhaled the data section of Shube last night.
Deanna: Did you know that Darvish's 13 strikeouts tied a Japan Series record?
Deanna: It was set by Kimiyasu Kudoh in 1999. Ironically, it was also the first game of the Japan Series, and he beat the Chunichi Dragons 3-0 in doing so.
Deanna: There was also a Hiroshima Carp pitcher named Yoshiro Sotokoba who won the Sawamura Award in 1975, who struck out 13 in the 4th game of the 1975 Japan Series. But, it was a 13-inning tie game. He only struck out 10 in the first 9 innings.
Fans: Uh, Deanna? We really don't care. Darvish is cool. Huh huh.
Deanna: Err... right. Exploding ham?
Ochiai: Exploding ham!
Morino: This must be why she calls me Dragonbutt.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Japan Series Preview, Part 1: Numbers

Well, the rosters are out for the Nippon Series, on the NPB official site: Fighters / Dragons. Nothing too out of the ordinary, except one wonders why Kosuke Fukudome is on the Dragons roster given that he hasn't actually played baseball since mid-July. In reality, most of the people on these rosters aren't going to see THAT much playing time in the Series, though you never know. Ochiai and Hillman were both trying to get enough playing time for various "dare aitsu?" types in the last month.

This week's Shukan Baseball has a gigantic breakdown of their previews and predictions and stats for the Japan Series, so I'm trying to go through my own thoughts and numbers about the entire thing, sort of like what I did last year.

Position Players, Fighters

Starting Lineup, without DH (in this case you platoon Inada and Koyano at 3B batting 7th; with Seguignol as DH, you just have both Koyano and Inada in there playing the corners and batting 7th and 8th, I think. To be honest, since most of Chunichi's starters are righties, and the lefty-hitting Naoto made that fantastic play in CLCS2, I'm betting he's going to get a lot more playing time than one might expect otherwise.)

1. R Hichori Morimoto #1, CF (.300/.355/.372, 31 SB, 91 RS)
2. L Kensuke Tanaka #3, 2B (.255/.321/.344, 27 SB, 58 sacrifices)
3. L Atsunori Inaba #41, RF (.334/.387/.505, 17 HR, 39 2B, 87 RBI)
4. S Fernando Seguignol #5, 1B (.249/.350/.428, 21 HR)
5. R Shinji Takahashi #30, C (.255/.306/.392, 10 HR)
6. L Takahito Kudoh #53, LF (.288/.329/.353, high socks)
7a. L Naoto Inada #54, 3B (.275/.293/.300, fears no cameraman)
7b. R Eiichi Koyano #31, 3B (.253/.289/.332)
8. R Makoto Kaneko #8, SS (.243/.296/.327, team captain)

The Fighters lineup is weird in that rather than there being one or two really big batters that everyone fears, there are just a whole bunch of mediocre batters who come up with big hits at the most bizarre times. Kaneko, for one, is extremely notorious for pulling clutch hits out of nowhere, probably because people never expect it out of him.

But, it is funny looking at our lineup and thinking "Wow, we have exactly one regular on the team this year with an OPS over .800, eh."

As an aside, Kensuke Tanaka hit .538 against Chunichi this year, including going 6-for-7 in the two games at the Nagoya Dome. Just saying. Watch him spend most of the Series bunting his life away anyway.


R Shinya Tsuruoka #64, C (starting catcher for most of the 2006 Series games but had a .463 OPS this year and Shinji stole the job back)
R Satoshi Nakajima #32, C (player-coach, probly will not play much)
R Yukio Tanaka #6, IF (hasn't played much since getting his 2000th hit, is retiring after this season, better get a few at-bats)
R Chon-so Yoh #24, IF (mediocre fielder, mediocre bat)
R Yuuji Iiyama #57, IF (decent fielder, mediocre bat, nice speed, quintessential late-inning pinch-runner or defensive replacement, which you can guess because he's been in 105 games and gotten 55 at-bats)
L Tomochika Tsuboi #7, OF (.283/.334/.322, all-around decent but has no power, wears high socks)
L Toshimasa Konta #52, OF (5th outfielder in a swarm of lefty outfielders)

I dunno who else will factor in, if anyone. Keizo Kawashima might see a few at-bats if he's lucky, maybe.

I also realized that describing someone on the Fighters as having a "mediocre bat" is actually the default, and I really ought to pick the people out who DON'T have a mediocre bat instead :)

Pitchers, Fighters

SP1: Yu Darvish #11, RHP (15-5, 1.82; 207.2 IP, 49 BB, 210 K, 9 HR)
SP2: Masaru Takeda #38, LHP (9-4, 2.54; 35 G, 149 IP, 17 BB, 101 K, 18 HR)
SP3: Ryan Glynn #14, RHP (9-8, 2.21; 155 IP, 33 BB, 111 K, 16 HR)
SP4: Brian Sweeney #42, RHP (6-8, 3.70; 109.1 IP, 36 BB, 56 K, 11 HR)

You know, I should probably worry about the fact that there was only one 10-game winner on the Fighters this year, shouldn't I. I guess it's because the starts were really spread out among a wide group, with rookies like Yoshikawa and Kinoshita getting a few starts and guys like Kanamori picking up a bunch of relief wins.

But, I am betting this is the rotation they go with for the series -- it's what they went with for the playoffs, and since Chunichi is so righty-heavy it doesn't make sense to try to put Yagi or Yoshikawa into the mix. But, you never know.

Glynn, who was the best pitcher in the Central League this year (even though he was playing on a Pacific League team) pitched twice against the Dragons and was 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 15.1 IP, with 11 strikeouts, his two runs both coming on one Nori Nakamura homer. He was even better against Hanshin (2-0, 0.64 ERA, 14 IP 15 K, his lone run coming on a... Toshihiro Noguchi homer? Are you KIDDING me?)

Bullpen: Micheal Nakamura is obviously the closer. I'm honestly not sure exactly how the rest of the bullpen will shake down, or whether Yagi and Yoshikawa will enter in as lefty relievers. I was trying to figure out exactly why Jun Hagiwara's getting so much play time, too. He's mostly been out there for mop-up, it seems.

But, we still have Hisashi Takeda, who is the best middle reliever EVER, so it can't be all that bad. Until his arm falls off, of course.

CL: Micheal Nakamura #36, RHP (1-1, 2.16, 34 SV; 58.1 IP, 14 BB, 49 K, 4 HR, two recent meltdowns in the PLCS2)
BP1: Hisashi Takeda #21, RHP (7-6, 2.42, 2 SV; 74.1 IP, 16 BB, 53 K, 2 HR, awesome)
BP2: Takayuki Kanamori #59, RHP (4-1, 2.35; 23 IP, 3 BB, 9 K, 0 HR)
BP3: Mitsuo Yoshikawa #34, LHP (4-3, 3.66; 93.1 IP, 46 BB, 52 K, 6 HR)
BP4: Takehiko Oshimoto #61, RHP (2-1, 4.60; 47 IP, 23 BB, 49 K, 7 HR)
BP5: Tomoya Yagi #29, LHP (4-6, 4.54; 85.1 IP, 20 BB, 36 K, 12 HR, was injured)
BP6: Satoru Kanemura #16, RHP (5-6, 4.73; 78 IP, 30 BB, 33 K, 9 HR, was mental)

I'm hoping our lack of a left-handed relief ace like Hideki Okajima this year doesn't come back to bite us. Fortunately, with Kosuke Fukudome injured and not playing in this series, we don't have the same need for an arch-nemesis for him like Okajima was last year. ("Runners on base and Fukudome at the plate? No problem! Just take a Hideki Okajima and call me in the next inning.") In all honesty, the only lefty bat on Chunichi that I *really* worry about is, of course, my Dragonbutt, Masahiko Morino, and he can't do that much damage all by himself. (I hope. Just watch.) I'm going to get a lot of flak for not worrying more about Tatsunami and Lee, I'm sure.

I have this great idea to get a Fighters jersey with "Takeda #2138" on the back, anyway, to cover both awesome Takedas in one jersey. It'd be sort of like having an "Arakibata #26" Chunichi jersey, I'm sure.

Position Players, Dragons

Starting lineup, without DH, assuming a vaguely depressing platoon of Hidenori and Kazuki in RF (with a DH you just throw in LH Kazuyoshi Tatsunami batting 6th or 7th to break up the righties):

1. R Masahiro Araki #2, 2B (.263/.296/.302, 31 SB)
2. R Hirokazu Ibata #6, SS (.296/.368/.393, 23 SB, awesome)
3. L Masahiko Morino #31, LF (.294/.366/.458, 18 HR, 97 RBI, Mr. 3-Run Dragonbutt)
4. R Tyrone Woods #44, 1B (.270/.418/.530, 35 HR, 102 RBI)
5. R Norihiro Nakamura #99, 3B (.293/.359/.477, 20 HR, 79 RBI)
6. R Byung-gyu Lee #7, CF (.262/.295/.370)
7a. R Hidenori Kuramoto #57, RF (.278/.321/.389)
7b. L Kazuki Inoue #9, RF (.292/.352/.427, old)
8. R Motonobu Tanishige #27, C (.236/.347/.322)

Hey, that's not fair. Even without that Kosuke kid in action, they have all of these guys who know how to hit a baseball with a bat!

R Kouhei Oda #26, C (Tanishige caught in 133 games out of 144 for a reason. Oda batted .194/.231/.222 in 27 games. Chunichi essentially has no backup catcher.)
L Kazuyoshi Tatsunami #3, DH (Current active Japanese hits leader, .275/.364/.367 as a pinch-hitter all year. Is awesome.)
R Hiroyuki Watanabe #5, IF (Sometimes comes in as a late-inning 1B because Tyrone is slow. Has an annoyingly difficult last name to write. Batted .130 this year.)
R Ryota Arai #25, IF (Little brother! Is adorable. Had a solid year on the farm and did okay in the top league too.)
R Ryousuke Hirata #8, OF (19-year-old kid from Osaka Toin. Still not sure what to think of him.)
R Atsushi Fujii #22, OF (900+ OPS on the farm, sucky in the top league.)
L Yoshinori Ueda #35, OF (Former Fighter)

You know, the Dragons' bench kind of sucks. Yeah, Tatsunami is FANTASTIC but I really don't know what to expect out of the rest of these guys. And god forbid anything happen to Tanishige, or the team's pretty much completely hosed.

Pitchers, Dragons

Rotation: The Chunichi rotation is actually the alternate identities of the Crazy Ken Band. Only guys named Ken (Kenshin, Kenichi, Kenta) are allowed in, along with some dude named Daisuke.

SP1: Kenshin Kawakami #11, RHP (12-8, 3.55; 167.1 IP, 23 BB, 145 K, 18 HR)
SP2: Kenichi Nakata #20, RHP (14-8, 3.59; 170.1 IP, 81 BB, 177 K, 14 HR)
SP3: Kenta Asakura #14, RHP (12-7, 3.36; 171.2 IP, 50 BB, 105 K, 9 HR)
SP4: Daisuke Yamai #29, RHP (6-4, 3.36; 83 IP, 32 BB, 56 K, 6 HR)
SP5: Takashi Ogasawara #43, LHP (6-6, 2.99; 120.1 IP, 33 BB, 97 K, 10 HR)

I don't actually think Takashi Ogasawara will get a start, but I guess it all depends on how the series is going. Since the Fighters have a relatively balanced standard lineup, it's unclear whether throwing a lefty at them will really make a difference. It was pretty crafty of Ochiai to throw Ogasawara at the Giants when they were expecting Kenshin, though, but that's the Central League for you.

And sadly, as my friend Jeff made the pun: "If you see Yamamoto coming out to the mound, you're going to say 'Masaka?!'"

(Hence, I am not even counting the 42-year-old lefty Masa Yamamoto (2-10, 5.07) in the mix. I feel TERRIBLE about that, since at this time last year he was still kicking butt for the Dragons, but that's just what happens.)

But at least the Dragons had three guys who won 10+ games, unlike the Fighters. Though it's funny to note that Kenichi Nakata had the second-highest strikeout total in the CL (177 to the 180 by Yomiuri's Utsumi), but he by far and away had the highest walk total in the CL (after his 81 the next highest is Hiroshima's Kan Ohtake with 59, which should tell you something). I would also guess that he had more full counts than any baseball player on the planet Earth this year, but I don't have a quick way to check that.

Bullpen: Hitoki Iwase is amazing. Did you know he's pitched in 10 Japan Series games in his career and never gave up a run in any of them?

CL: Hitoki Iwase #13, LHP (2-4, 2.44, 43 SV; 59 IP, 9 BB, 50 K, 3 HR)
BP1: Shinya Okamoto #12, RHP (5-2, 2.89; 56 IP, 21 BB, 44 K, 3 HR)
BP2: Yuuichi Hisamoto #61, LHP (2-1, 3.38; 45.1 IP, 20 BB, 31 K, 2 HR)
BP3: Masafumi Hirai #36, RHP (4-2, 3.29; 41 IP, 10 BB, 30 K, 5 HR)
BP4: Yoshihiro Suzuki #23, RHP (1-1, 3.52; 30.2 IP, 14 BB, 31 K, 3 HR)
BP5: Yuuya Ishii #30, LHP (2-2, 2.95; 18.1 IP, 11 BB, 14 K, 1 HR)

Wow. This is nowhere near the formidable bullpen Chunichi had last year. If nothing else, their walk rates have been ridiculously high.

Okay. Analysis next... we'll see how much I can think of before I fall asleep. I wanted to get this all done before the series but it just might not work out that way, sadly.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Japan's ticketing systems are retarded

I woke up super-early to go look for Japan Series tickets, which were supposed to go on sale today. Yahoo ticketing said that tickets would be sold at Pia and Lawson, among other places. I wanted to try to get tickets to the games on 11/3 and 11/4, since I have 11/3 off from work and a 3-day weekend which I could use to go up to Sapporo finally.

I was at the Lawson near my house at 10am and the ticket machine said "sorry, you can't buy Series tickets here, you have to use the online Loppi site to buy tickets", so I figured I'd go to the only Pia place I know near here, which is in Parco Ikebukuro. I arrived there around 10:50am... only to see a guy in a bright yellow Hanshin Tigers jersey (with 兄貴 #6 on the back, awesome) arguing with the lady at the counter about "why the hell do you have it listed on the board here if we can't buy tickets here?" and sure enough, he's also trying to get Japan Series tickets. Turns out that of course Pia will only sell Japan Series tickets either online or over the phone. I tell the clerk, "I suck at talking on the phone in Japanese, can you help me with it?" She predictably replies, "No."

I guess when the sites say "you can get them at Lawson's or Pia or..." they really mean "you had to pre-order them weeks ago to get them there, OR you have to call to order them and pick them up there, OR maybe you can buy them on the internet and pick them up there," but you can't apparently go to the actual ticket seller and buy them there. And since I don't have appropriate accounts to buy things online or over the phone, I'm pretty much screwed.

The Tigers fan turned out to be a Fighters fan as well, who's only seen soccer in Sapporo, not baseball. He told me I should go to Hokkaido anyway, but I think that's a bad idea.

I did get tickets to the finale of the Konami Cup, so I'll almost certainly see whoever wins the Japan Series there. But that STILL doesn't change the fact that this all sucks.

Last weekend I found Hichori Morimoto's parents' yakiniku restaurant (people who've cheered for the Fighters for a few years might recall his old fanfare of "Yakiniku Erika, a 5-minute walk from Nippori Station"), though, so maybe I'll go there to watch some of the games. We'll see.

I'll try to write some Deanna-flavored Japan Series preview in the next few days.

In the meantime, this is what the Fighters goods' selection looked like at the Tokyo Dome shop on Monday:

I bought a real mamori and a Fighters PL 2007 champs folder... I held off on spending $30 on a t-shirt because if they win the Series I want to get the Japan Champion 2007 shirt instead. BUT, of course, they might sell out the PL 2007 champion shirts in the meantime. Argh. I had been thinking I'd be going to Hokkaido so I could just get lots of great Fighters goods there, but now that's looking really unlikely anytime soon (and I think it's a better idea for me to go to Hokkaido next spring for games, rather than just going for the hell of it sometime over the winter, though if there's a Fan Fest or victory parade on a Sunday I might reconsider). I guess I'll go back to the Tokyo Dome shop sometime in a few days either way and pick up some stuff. We'll see.

Oh, on one last note:
October 25th is Michihiro Ogasawara's birthday. I want to just take this opportunity to point out that LAST year he was winning a Japan Series game on his birthday. This year, his clean-shaven doppleganger is sitting at home in Chiba on his birthday. THAT'S what you get for switching teams, dude.

Monday, October 22, 2007

9/24: Dragons @ Giants - Yomiuri Taose, oh!

(I am trying to catch up on writing up some old games I went to. This one seemed like a good idea given recent events.)

Dragons 7, Giants 5

This was a pretty fun game to go to. It involved Morino being awesome and Arakibata being awesome and OCD being terrible and the Giants losing. You know, all of those things that usually make for a good game. Well, except Kazuki Inoue sucking, but I'll get to that in a second.

I went to this one with my friend Shinsuke, who I'd last seen at a college reunion several months ago. I'd threatened back then to drag him to a game if I managed to move to Japan. He thought I was kidding, but of course I wasn't. After realizing that we were both big anti-Giants types, and looking at our schedules, this seemed like a good one to go to, so I could cheer the Dragons and we could both hate the Giants.

He knew I was a big baseball fan, but I don't think he realized exactly how big a fan until we got to our seats and I took out my scorecard book and my Dragons noisemakers and my Morino towel and jersey and my printout of the Chunichi ouenka. Of course, by then we were already in our seats in the middle of a packed row in the upper deck of the Tokyo Dome and he couldn't really run away screaming.

13th row of the upper deck; a view remarkably similar to
my old Safeco season ticket in section 334 row 14.

Before the game started, we grabbed dinner at the "Baseball Cafe", a restaurant in the Tokyo Dome City courtyard somewhere. It was pretty wacky; sort of like what would happen if you showed a Japanese person some pictures of an Applebee's and told them to make a baseball-themed restaurant that looked like that. Except, of course, you never actually send this person to America to see a real one, and just let them do some sort of interpretation of it. As a result, they got the whole "tons of random crap all over the place" aspect of those sorts of restaurants done right, but the random crap itself was a bit bizarre. Our table, and others that I saw, had clear surfaces in the table with various baseballs under them. For some reason, the wall next to our table had a random smattering of the ugliest baseball cards known to man, the Fleer 1991 yellow-ugly set. All of the waitstaff were wearing MLB-style jerseys, but they weren't always of actual MLB teams. Also, despite being the middle of September, the place was also full of Halloween decorations. When they led you to your table, they gave you an inexplicable bucket of popcorn.

The oddest part, though, was when you paid to leave, you had to walk under this gigantic bizarre papier-mache statue of Tommy Lasorda. No, I'm really not kidding:

If this doesn't frighten you into paying your bill, nothing will.

Anyway, Shin and I sat around in our upper-deck seats babbling in English for a while, which probably confused everyone around us, but that's okay. We just talked about random baseball crap while waiting for the game to start, and it was actually pretty nice. We looked at the starting lineups and both did the "goddamn Giants stealing the entire PL" rant, compared stats for starters Yamai and Kisanuki, and exchanged Giants-hating stories. Always a nice way to start off an evening.

The game starts, and from the get-go I yell and sing a lot of random crap. Of course, I'm singing Ibata's cheer, and it gets to the end, and we yell "Kattobase Ibata!!" and then people yell something else before starting the next iteration. I of course have no idea what they're yelling, but it doesn't really matter. Ibata gets a single to right and I start telling Shin how totally awesome Ibata is in general, and then Araki also singles, this time to right, Ibata running to third.

"And this is Kazuki Inoue," I explain. "I don't know his cheer song, because he sucks."

Inoue obliges me by striking out.

"This'll be pretty funny," I say before we start Tyrone Woods's intro. Except... instead of doing the normal song for him, the oendan strike up one of the chance music themes, which I guess makes sense. So instead of making a "T" with our cheer sticks, we're just yelling a lot of "ute! ute! ute! ute! ute ute uchimakure!" Tyrone eventually ends up walking, which loads the bases.

And of course at that point as Dragonbutt's walking up to home plate, I hold up my Morino towel and yell "MORINOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" which gets a few laughs from the people around me and a wide-eyed OMG look from the little kid sitting next to me. Shin thinks this is pretty funny and also yells "MORINOOOOOOOO!!!" We get drowned out by the chance music for the most part anyway.

Morino singles to right, which scores both of Arakibata! 2-0 Dragons! I stand up and sing Moeyo Dragons and do a banzai and high-five some people around me, including the little kid, who seems slightly less frightened of me.

Chance music starts up again, but Byung-kyu Lee grounds into a 5-4 fielder's choice, and then Hidenori hits a fly ball out to center to end the inning. Still, that's not a bad start, though less dramatic than the last two Chunichi first-inning explosions I'd seen, for 4 and 5 runs respectively.

In the bottom of the first inning, OCD came up with Tani standing on first, and he hit into an Arakibata double play! I started babbling again about how damn good Chunichi's middle infield is, the two-headed Double Play Monster.

About halfway through the second inning, I remarked, "Okay, so what exactly are they saying after 'kattobase'? It sounds like 'Kyojin taose yo'," (meaning "Defeat the Giants!!") and Shin said "I don't think that's exactly what they're saying, but it's a nice sentiment!" I started shouting it anyway because it was fun to yell.

Seung-Yeop Lee led off the bottom of the second inning by hitting a long fly ball to left field, which sailed a bit behind Kazuki Inoue but he should have had plenty of time to get to it... except that instead of getting to it, he tripped over his own feet and fell over and eventually Byung-Kyu Lee had to recover the ball and throw it in, as the other Lee got to third base on the play. I fully expected it to be called an error, but NO, the scorer called it a TRIPLE. Ugh. Nioka grounded out to Araki after that but Lee scored. 2-1. Abe struck out and Takayuki "Go West" Shimizu also grounded out to Araki.

Next inning, Araki strikes out and then Kazuki Inoue comes up to bat.

"KAZUKIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!" I yell really loud, like several other people do to cheer his name.

" *SUCK*!" I yell slightly quieter.

Shin and I crack up. Fortunately nobody around us has any idea what the hell I just said, and Kazuki grounds out to second anyway.

The next time anything major happens is in the top of the 4th inning. Morino leads off but sadly hits a fly out. Then Byung-kyu Lee singles to center! Hidenori hits into a fielder's choice, replacing Lee at first base. Tanishige singles, so when the pitcher Daisuke Yamai comes up to bat, there are runners at first and second, and two outs. Shin asks me, "What do you think of the DH anyway? Is it better or worse for a baseball game to have a pitcher come up and always strike out?"

And at that moment, Yamai took a 0-2 pitch and grounded it back to the mound. Except rather than fielding it and throwing it to first, Kisanuki booted the play and the ball went flying up in the air. So Yamai was safe at first, Tanishige at second, and Hidenori at third, and THEN we had Ibata coming up with the bases loaded. Misero yo Ibata! He singled to center, scoring Hidenori and Tanishige, so even when Araki hit a pop out after that, the Dragons had gone up 4-1.

The Giants weren't having any of that though, and Yoshitomo Tani led off the Giants' half of the inning with a double to left. Ogasawara struck out (yay!) but then the other Lee, Seung-Yeop, hit a ball over the left-field wall for a home run. Whoooosh. And just like that, the lead was cut to 4-3.

Kazuki-you-suck-Inoue started the 5th inning by grounding out to first, but then Tyrone Woods singled, and Hara decided that he'd seen enough of Kisanuki, so there was a pitching change. He brought out the left-handed rookie Norihito Kaneto to face the lefty-batting Morino. It worked, Morino hit a pop fly out to left.

During Byung-kyu Lee's at-bat I saw the funniest thing I've seen in a looooong time.

Tyrone Woods STOLE A BASE!

NOBODY expected that. Kaneto wasn't holding him on the bag, they weren't pitching for a pitchout, nothing. One second Lee's at bat and Woods is just kinda standing there on first, and the next thing you know, he's running.

"Wait, why is Tyrone running?" I said, thinking that, like, nobody had hit the ball, so why wouldn't he be standing on his base? I mean, this is TYRONE WOODS, he doesn't steal bases, you know?

Sure enough, that's pretty much what everyone else in the stadium was thinking. Catcher Abe suddenly realizes, "Wait, that big dude is running to second and I think it's my job to throw the ball there to get him out," and he throws it there too late. Most of the people in the stands are all either laughing or cheering or saying things like "OMG, TYRONE STOLE A BASE! HOLY CRAP!!"

Kaneto was so shocked by Tyrone stealing that he walked Lee, and then Hidenori hit a single which scored Tyrone. 5-3! Another pitching change at that point brought in Shintaro Yoshitake, who intentionally walked Tanishige to get to Daisuke Yamai, who obliged by grounding back to the mound.

Wakiya hit a geniune triple off the back of the CF wall in the bottom of the 5th -- it was even almost a home run -- and a few batters later Tani singled him in, before OCD grounded out to Araki. 5-4.

Araki, by the way, was playing in his 1000th career game. For some reason completely unknown to me, the moment where they decided to announce that and bring him a big bouquet of flowers was right after the end of the 5th inning.

#30 Nishimura pitched the 6th and 7th innings for the Giants and gave up two more runs on five more hits, including a triple by Yoshinori Ueda, who scored when Ibata grounded to second and barely beat out the throw on a headfirst slide into first base, which had me yelling a whole slew of obscenities in English about "some BEEPers who don't realize exactly how BEEPing dangerous that can be." 7-4. In the meantime, #30 Ishii pitched the 6th and 7th innings for Chunichi and had two no-hit innings, aided by an Arakibata double play after a walk, and two strikeouts in the 7th.

No Dragons game is really complete without a pitch-hit appearance by Kazuyoshi Tatsunami. Everyone stood up and started cheering madly when he came in, but he grounded out to start off the 8th inning. MORINOOOOOOOOOOOO finally got a second hit, but it didn't really matter.

Things progressed on to the bottom of the 9th inning, where Hitoki Iwase came in with a score of 7-4 to get the save for Chunichi. Hiroyuki Watanabe came in to play first base, and I complained to Shinsuke that I couldn't write 渡邉 because the second kanji is too complicated. He assured me that I don't suck at writing kanji, and said that even he has trouble with names like that (and that he actually knew a DIFFERENT complicated kanji for "nabe"), and that most Japanese people are just lazy and write the simple version, so that's pretty much what I did.

Seung-Yeop Lee swung his bat so hard on the 1-1 pitch that it went flying into the Giants dugout. Players scattered but I think it actually hit Wakiya, since I saw someone basically helping him walk down to the tunnel behind the dugout. Oops. Lee singled to left, but was doubled up on another Arakibata double play, the third one of the night. Shinnosuke Abe managed to hit a home run into the Giants cheering section in right field, 115 meters, but that was it for the bad guys as the Dragons won 7-5.

"I wonder who will be game hero?" I said. "I hope it's Morino... he did get the first RBIs of the game, and aside from the fielding of Arakibata I can't think of anything else that was fabulous this game."

We waited about 5 minutes. The Chunichi oendan went through all of the player songs. There was no media stage being set up, but rather there were fans in Giants jerseys coming out to the mound to do something. It seemed like there might not be a hero interview. Do the Giants just not allow away teams to do them or something?

"We should leave," said Shin. "I've barely ever stayed for the end of a game in my life, let alone stayed afterwards for this kind of thing. The subways are going to be a nightmare, anyway."

So, we walked out of the stadium and walked down towards the subways and stuff around Suidobashi, and found our respective subways and went home.

When I got home I chatted on AIM with another friend (who is a huge Dragons fan and posts comments here as "Firearm"), since he had taught me half of the Dragons ouenka in the first place, and I asked what the heck the deal is with the "Kyojin taose yo" cheer after each player. He forwarded me this YouTube video from last year at the Tokyo Dome and explained that it's very specific -- you yell "YOMIURI TAOSE WO!!" after the batters, but ONLY at the Tokyo Dome and only for the Giants, which is why I had never seen or heard it before at any of the other Dragons games I'd attended.

This is particularly poignant now because I was really hoping to go back and yell it a whole lot in the CL Playoffs, but alas.

That video's also worth watching for pure Doala hilarity, though, to be honest. I think Doala might be my favorite mascot in Japan, though it's a little unfair because I've still never seen the Fighters BB bear in action. I need to go to Hokkaido, dammit.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Congratulations, Dragons. You're going down.

The Chunichi Dragons just swept the entirety of the Central League playoffs, finishing off today when the Giants shot themselves in the foot, running into a retarded double play when Furuki pinch-ran at first, ran on a fly ball by Damon Hollins, which was caught, and fired in to double up Furuki by a mile. The fact that Kimutaku struck out after that to end the game was just sort of stupid.

So, now of course I go into Dragons-hating mode, which isn't too difficult because I'm pretty pissed off about having my weekend ruined. They couldn't lose ONE game? They had to sweep? Now I don't get to go to any baseball games on my days off AND I'm not even sure how to get the money back for the tickets I bought for Sunday and Monday's games, which aren't happening now.

What I really don't understand is why the hell this series started on Thursday instead of Friday. If it was on Friday, then Sunday would be a guaranteed game, but instead, Sunday and Monday weren't. PLUS the first game coincided with the last game of the PL Playoffs. How stupid is that? If they'd just started one day later, I'd get to see a game tomorrow AND they wouldn't have overlapped. But, noooooo.

Anyway, yeah, now it's a rematch of last year's series, which isn't necessarily bad. I guess maybe I can look into Asia Series tickets instead or something, since no matter who wins it's going to be a team I like to watch. BUT, this means I now have to root against the Dragons for the next two weeks. Yes, even Morino. No hard feelings, I hope, Dragonbutt.

Oh yeah, and Trey Hillman is going to manage the Kansas City Royals next year. Sigh. I mean, I knew he was leaving, but now it feels like a real goodbye.

Friday, October 19, 2007




This week has been insanely busy for me, which is why I hadn't written more here. Go figure that I finally move to Japan and can barely actually watch any games since my busiest work hours are 6-10pm. But, that's ok. Here's what my last few days have been like, baseball-wise:

Sat: Oct 13th
I have work from 11am to 8pm. Baseball schedule for the day includes the PL 2nd Stage Game 1 at 1pm, Fighters vs. Marines (Darvish vs. Kubo), and the CL 1st Stage Game 1 at 6pm, Dragons vs. Tigers (Kawakami vs. Shimoyanagi). One of my students who is in both my 1pm and 2pm classes loves baseball, so we get out our cellphones and check the score between classes. Fighters are up 4-1! Woohoo! By the next time I check in it's 5-2, still winning, still Darvish. The Fighters win 5-2 in the end, Darvish keeping the complete game. Nice.

I check in on the Dragons game between my last two classes, at 7pm, and the Dragons are up 3-0 and Kenshin's pitched something like 3 perfect innings so far. By the time I leave a little after 8pm, it's already 7-0 Dragons, so I don't really follow it, while having dinner with one of my coworkers down in Shinjuku. I'm riding the train home around 10pm and I notice I have a cell email from my friend Jeff saying "Hahaha! Dragons ownage! 7-0 and the Tigers finally got a runner to second base." So I write back "Wooooo Kenshin." Then I actually look at the box score and my eyes bug out.

Morino hit a 3-run homer! "Mr. 3-Run" strikes again! Yaaaaay Dragonbutt!

Watching the sports highlights that evening was pretty awesome, what with the Fighters win, Dragons win, and general awesomeness by players I like. It should be noted that Tyrone Woods also hit a home run in the game in his first at-bat -- just a few days too late...

(I suppose I hadn't mentioned it here yet, but I got Tyrone Woods's autograph before the 10/7 game in Yokohama, by using my secret English superpowers to talk to him. He was supposed to hit me a home run that day, but alas.)

Sun: Oct 14th
Fighters vs. Marines (Masaru Takeda vs. Hiroyuki Kobayashi) at 1pm, Dragons vs. Tigers (Nakata vs. Uezono) at 6pm.

One of my friends from college had managed to get himself sent to Tokyo for two weeks or so for a business trip. His wife, who is also my friend from college, came along, as well as their 16-month-old daughter, who quickly figured out that Japanese baseball noisemakers are pretty awesome. None of them have much interest in baseball, though, so we spent the day wandering around various parts of Tokyo, seeing things, shopping, eating interesting foods, singing karaoke, and all of the sorts of things you do when you're hanging out with old friends in Tokyo.

Around 3pm, I'm sitting outside a bookstore in Jimbocho with my friend. His daughter is asleep in the stroller and his wife is shopping in the store. So, I show off my cool Japanese cellphone by turning it into a television set and put on the Fighters game. It's 4-1, Satozaki and Ortiz having hit back-to-back homeruns in the 2nd. Immediately, Saburo responds by ALSO hitting a home run, making it 5-1. Yikes. I watch the Fighters be ineffective in their half of the inning and then my friends and I go elsewhere. By the next time I check in, it's 7-1, and the Fighters eventually lose the game 8-1 and my friends tell me I need to stop watching the game, it's just bad luck.

My friends and I part ways around 8pm and I check on the game again and it's 5-1. I go to Yamashita Books by the Tokyo Dome and buy the 2007 All-Star set of baseball cards, and then I find a place to sit down and watch the game on my cellphone TV. The Tigers manage to get in a few runs to make it 5-3. A little bit after that, I'm waiting for the Dragons half of the inning to start with Morino leading off... and it's 8:54pm so of course the TV feed cuts out. DAMMIT Japan. I'm riding home on the train after that and I get the cell email from Jeff saying "TIGERS EXTINCT!" and I see that the Dragons won, which means the Tigers are done for the year, and I send an apologetic email to a Tigers fan friend like "I'm sorry. If the Dragons beat the Giants too, all is forgiven, right?"

That evening I go home and open the All-Star card set. I'm admiring the Dragons ones in particular -- Ibata's and Kosuke's are rather nice, and Morino's got his look of "whoa, did I hit another home run?", and Ochiai's got his look of "You think I am being a brilliant strategist, but in reality I'm debating whether I want miso katsu for dinner," and so on. Then I get to Tyrone Woods's card in the set and it turns out that they SPELLED HIS NAME WRONG. No joke.

Incidentally, if you care, yes, all of the Rakuten players in the PL set had the special "Fan Selected!!!" logo on their cards, even though the only ones deserving of that honour were Takeshi Yamasaki and Masahiro Tanaka.

Mon: Oct 15th
(Fighters vs. Marines, Ryan Glynn vs. Shunsuke Watanabe, at 6pm)

I go back to Jimbocho with my Mariners blogosphere friend, Tokyo Sam. Sam actually knows which bookstores are worth going into, and even in the very first one I see a ton of awesome baseball-related magazines and books, and pick up the 2006 Fighters Victory book and a book about Japanese stadiums.

We go into a baseball card shop and I'm just like a kid in a candy store. We look through tons of boxes of old cards and it's just a fantastic amount of fun. I swear we came across at least 20-30 cards where Sam was like "I wonder what this would get on Ebay?", of players who are now in the MLB. In the end I bought a bunch of old Fighters cards, including a Shimoyanagi. In more amusement, they had a signed Ichiro baseball in the shop selling for 75,000 yen, and a signed A-Rod baseball selling for 30,000 yen. Japan is funny.

I found another store with Shukan Baseball magazines going back to 1976 and I ended up buying two issues of Pro Yakyu ai from 1997. All I've got to say is: 20-year-old Johjima is the cutest thing on the entire planet. They also had pictures from when Inaba and Johjima went to the Hawaiian Winter League... in 1996. One has a poster of Ichiro in it as well. So cute!

I digress. I made sure to get home by 6pm so I could watch the game. I watched the first hour on Yahoo Douga, then the next two hours on Channel 12 on TV, and then when the TV feed cut out, I went back to Yahoo. I also spent the entire time being the token Fighters nutcase in the chatroom on, which wasn't hard to do because the FIGHTERS KICKED BUTT AND WON 7-0. I got to make jokes about how "Glynn was the best pitcher in the Central League, too." I did feel bad that Shunsuke Watanabe had to lose the game, since I adore him so, but... can't be helped, Fighters trump submariners. It was fun to watch him pitch as always, though.

The Fighters treated me to an excellent show of defense, too -- starting with what I'll forever refer to as Naoto Vs. The Cameraman. Basically, Daisuke Hayakawa lofted a foul ball over towards the third base side, and Naoto Inada made a run for it. A BIG run. And it didn't stop at the edge of the field, but instead he just kept going and dived... into the media well where all the photographers were. He went flying over the wall, a cameraman had to dodge out of his way, and a few seconds later Inada stands up with the ball in his glove and a huge grin on his face. That's going to be on the highlight reels for a while, seriously. Here's an amazing shot of Naoto Inada actually GETTING the ball in his glove, and here's his legs sticking up in the air as he goes flying over the wall. They replayed it about five times on TV from different angles and the funnier part was watching the cameraman get out of his way like "OH CRAP THERE IS A THIRD BASEMAN RUNNING AT ME LIKE A MADMAN HEEEEEELLLP MEEEEEE".

Ryan Glynn pitched really well, don't get me wrong -- but he was definitely helped by a few awesome defensive plays. Besides Naoto's crazy dive, Atsunori Inaba (RF) also made a running catch to get a low fly off of Saburo to end the 6th inning (with two runners on), and then Takahito Kudoh (LF) made a catch off Hashimoto to end the 7th inning (also with two runners on), running back to the wall and crashing into it after making the play. The next time there was a runner on in the top of the 8th, Kensuke Tanaka (2B) made a diving catch of a low drive off of Saburo, also to end the inning. All amazing, but none quite so amazing as Naoto Inada's play. For that and for kicking off the two-out 6-run rally in the 7th inning, they made him a co-gamehero with Ryan Glynn.

"How did you feel when you were going after the ball?" they asked him.

"I ran after the ball like I was a hungry wild boar and it was a piece of food," Naoto replied.

At the end of the game we're told that the starters for Tuesday are going to be Sweeney for the Fighters and Ono for the Marines. It's an interesting gamble by Bobby Valentine, which makes perfect sense if you think about it -- if you believe Naruse is a definite win, sure, you HAVE to win the 4th game, but if you use Naruse then, who is going up for the 5th game? Why not save your "definite win" for then? If you win the 4th game only to lose the 5th, it's no different than losing the 4th, really, so.

Tue: Oct 16th
(Fighters vs. Marines, Brian Sweeney vs. Shingo Ono, 6pm)

I had work, of course. I checked on the game early on, but it was 0-0 when I started my 7pm class.

The next time I got to check the score was 10pm. I intuitively knew that the Fighters had lost. Why? Because if they'd won, I would have had at least a few emails on my cellphone of "SHINJIRARENAI!!!!" or something similar.

I was wearing a Fighters shirt around that day for good luck and probably looked pretty depressed after work. Alas.

Wed: Oct 17th
The starters for Thursday's game were announced as Darvish vs. Naruse. Yikes. Naruse's the "Boy who couldn't lose", but Darvish has been "Mr. October" for the Fighters. Still, for some reason I was incredibly worried and depressed about the game all day. Several of my students even asked me about the series. One guy came in late to a class, and pretty much said "I'm sorry for I am late!", paused a second, and then said "Do you think the Fighters will win tomorrow?"

I got home that evening and realized what I had to do.

See, last year, all October, I walked around Seattle wearing my Fighters hat every single day until they won the Japan Series. And as some of you might remember, I also put up a Fighters shrine in my computer room.

I didn't have room to make a shrine in my tiny apartment here in Japan, so instead I made something else: a Fighters omamori.

"優勝日本ハム Victory Nippon Ham - めざせ日本一ファイターズ Aim for Nippon Ichi Fighters"

Keep in mind I have no clue how one really makes a mamori, but I had to do SOMETHING. I used black thick paper and wrote on it in blue and gold, stapled it together and tied it with white strings, to use the Fighters colors together. And inside it -- rather than cardboard with prayers on it -- are two baseball cards, a 2007 Fighters Team Checklist card and a Yukio Tanaka card from several years ago. I figured if anyone embodied the spirit of the team, it was Yukio.

Thu: Oct 18th
(Fighters vs. Marines, Yu Darvish vs. Yoshihisa Naruse, 6pm. Also Giants vs. Dragons, Tetsuya Utsumi vs. Takashi Ogasawara, 6pm)

I wore my Fighters hat, my Tsuboi oldskool Fighters t-shirt, I had my BB bear keychain hanging on my bag, my Fighters strap on my cellphone, and the omamori in my bag as well. I thought about bringing my Inaba home run ball back with me to school as well but decided against it.

I also remembered that last year I was doing crazy things like eating dragon rolls and katsu and stuff to help the team, so I also went and got a funny lunch from the tonkatsu place in the station. I had some hirekatsu, and I also had a Hokkaido potato croquette. I figured that was about as good as I was going to get.

Despite it being a crazy day, I finished all of my lesson planning as quickly as possible so I could at least tune into the chat room and get the play-by-play from Westbay for the first hour or so of the game. Of course... once again... it was scoreless by the time I had to start class at 7pm.

Between my 7 and 8pm classes, though, I had an email on my cellphone from Westbay: "Seguignol 3-run!" I checked the score and not only were the Fighters winning, it was 6-0!!!!

I was really happy and hyper for the rest of the evening's classes, of course. When I finally finished with my 9pm class, I looked at my phone, and sure enough I had several emails saying that the Fighters had won 6-2! (And I also had one saying that the Dragons had beaten the Giants 5-2 too! Tyrone SMASH!!!)

I had to stay at work to do some paperwork and talk to some people (we had a manager there today, and even HE said to me in Japanese, "I heard the Fighters won, that's great!!"), so I got home around 11:30pm and just started flipping around the different channels. I saw about three different highlight shows, though the best was on channel 8, I think -- they not only showed the game highlights, they also had the after-party.

I need to find pictures from that, because it was just too funny.

- Hichori was dressed up in army gear and running around shooting people from a watergun filled with beer
- Kaneko was wearing a hat that basically was a beer mug over his head with a curly white wig. It was hilarious. So the reporters are interviewing him and Naoto Inada runs over yelling something crazy about "beer-head" and dumps an entire traffic cone of beer on Kaneko, which also sploshes onto the cameras and the screen goes blank
- Fernando Seguignol was actually talking to the cameras in Japanese... so they ask him to give a message to the fans and he just yells "どんだけ~~~~" and runs off.
- They tried to interview Trey Hillman, who said a few things in English, but then his translator got covered in beer, so Hillman yelled "SHINJITEMASHITA!!!!! Hokkaido no minnasan wa sekai ichiban! sonotoori! MACHIGAINAI!!" and he picked up the interviewer chick and ran over to some other players who soaked her in beer as well.

A little while later they had Fighters pitchers Masaru Takeda and Hisashi Takeda on the show, not covered in beer, just dressed in street clothes, and they talked about the season and the game and all. It was, for lack of a better word, AWESOME.

I started to write this post but eventually fell asleep, so I'm actually finishing it Friday morning. Wheeeeee.

So, the funny thing is, Nov 3 is a holiday for me, so I have an actual three-day weekend then. The 6th and 7th games of the Series, if they happen, will be in Hokkaido. Should I start trying to find game tickets and plane tickets?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fighters ouenka (cheer songs) 2007

Here's a set of the Fighters ouenka -- cheer songs sung for each player's at-bat and other songs sung at different situations in the game -- with pronunciations and cheering directions in English.

It occurs to me that there's a chance that if I don't post these tonight, they will be utterly useless for several months (and in a few cases, forever, aside from when the Fighters fans get bored and decide to sing random old player themes before games).

I'm hoping that they will be useful for a few more weeks, but just in case, I am posting them. I actually translated most of these a few weeks back before going to a game, and then of course it was the infamous "Dare aitsu?" ("who the hell is that?") lineup in Chiba the day after they clinched first place in the PL.

From sources both official and unofficial.

It is important to note that we call the following players by their first names:
- Hichori Morimoto (because Hichori is a weird name and Morimoto is common)
- Kensuke Tanaka and Yukio Tanaka, for obvious reasons
- Naoto Inada (because otherwise we'd confuse Inaba and Inada)
- Shinji Takahashi (Takahashi is also too common a name)
- Hisashi Takeda and Masaru Takeda, for obvious reasons

1. Hichori Morimoto / 森本稀哲
(This year we don't sing the words to the Yakiniku Erika fanfare)

心の叫びをバットにぶつけろ 立ち上がれ いざ見せろ 燃える男の魂を
Kokoro no / sakebi wo / BATTO ni butsukero // tachiagare / iza misero / moeru otoko no tamashii wo (Kattobase Hichori!)

3. Kensuke Tanaka / 田中賢介
(コール) 賢介~×3
(three times call: KENSUKE!!!!!!)

どこまでも飛ばせ 賢介ガッツだGoGoGo 僕らは待つよ 輝く瞬間
Dokomademo tobase / Kensuke GATTSU da gogogo // Bokura wa matsu yo / Kagayaku shunkan (Kattobase Kensuke!)

5. Fernando Seguignol
俺たちの夢のせ アーチを描け 熱いその気持ちを込めて 飛ばせ空のかなた
Oretachi no yume no se / ACHI wo egake // Atsui sono kimochi wo komete / tobase sora no kanata (Kattobase Se-gi-no-ru!)

(On "ACHI wo egake", wave your arms in an arc from left to right; on "tobase" wave left, "sora no" wave right, and "kanata" arms go from up to down in the middle)

6. Yukio Tanaka / 田中幸雄
行くぞ幸雄ホームラン センターオーバーホームラン 弾丸ライナーだ 飛ばせ運べ幸雄
Ikuzo Yukio home run / SENTAA OBAA home run // dangan RAINAA da / tobase hakobe Yukio! (Kattobase Yukio!)

(Right hand up for "Dan", left hand up for "Gan", get down on "Liner da" and then JUMP!)

7. Tomochika Tsuboi / 坪井智哉
(ファンファーレ) PL~ 青学~ 東芝(阪神!) 坪井~ つ・ぼ・い!
(Fanfare: PL -- Aogaku -- Toshiba (Hanshin!) Tsuboiiii - TSU! BO! I!)

俊足飛ばして グラウンド駆け抜けろ 魅せろ今だ坪井 勝利へ導け
Shunsoku tobashite / GURAUNDO kakenukero // Misero ima da Tsuboi / Shouri e michibike (Kattobase Tsuboi!)

8. Makoto Kaneko / 金子誠
狙いは誠、絶好球 飛ばせ遥かスタンドへ
Nerai wa Makoto / Zekkokyu // Tobase haruka / SUTANDO e (Kattobase Kaneko!)

30. Shinji Takahashi / 高橋信二
新たな時代(とき)を築け 熱く熱く燃やせ 美作(みまさか)男児の心意気 進め誇り高く
Arata na toki wo kizuke / Atsuku atsuku moyase // Mimasaka danji no kokoroiki / Susume hokori takaku (Kattobase Shinji!)

31. Eiichi Koyano / 小谷野栄一
遥か天高く 空に輝く 栄光を掴め 小谷野栄一
Haruka ten takaku / Sora ni kagayaku // Eikou wo tsukame / Koyano Eiichi (Kattobase Koyano!)

32. Satoshi Nakajima / 中嶋聡
魅せろ男中嶋 秘めたその力で バットに想い乗せて夢を天高く飛ばせ
Misero otoko Nakajima / Himeta sono chikara de // BATTO ni omoi nosete / Yume wo ten takaku tobase (Kattobase Nakajima!)

39. Keizo Kawashima / 川島慶三
俊足巧打 打つぞ川島 スタンドを沸かせる 若き戦士
Shunsoku kouda / Utsuzo Kawashima // SUTANDO wo wakaseru / Wakaki senshi (Kattobase Kawashima!)

41. Atsunori Inaba / 稲葉篤紀
(If fanfare, sing the first line of chance music, then I-NA-BA!)

今見せろ お前の底力を 突き進め 勝利を掴み取れ
Ima misero / Omae no soko chikara wo // Tsuki susume / Shouri wo tsukami tore (Kattobase Inaba!)

52. Toshimasa Konta / 紺田敏正
走れ走れ紺田 風より早く 飛ばせ俊足 グラウンド駆け抜けろ
Hashire hashire Konta / Kaze yori hayaku // Tobase shunsoku / GURAUNDO kakenukero (Kattobase Konta!)

54. Naoto Inada / 稲田直人
ラーラ ララララ ラーラ ララララ なおとホームラン ラーラーラー ララララーララ ホームラン な・お・と!!
La la la la la la, Naoto Homerun, la la la la la Homerun Na-o-to! (Kattobase Naoto!)

(Sing first time acapella with just clapping to the beat, then just start jumping the entire time in a chaotic fashion. For the name "Naoto" the second time, put out right hand first on "na", left on "o", right on "to".)

64. Shinya Tsuruoka / 鶴岡慎也
鶴岡慎也 燃えろ打てよ 鶴岡慎也 ホームラン 鶴岡慎也 狙え放て 飛ばせホームラン
Tsuruoka Shinya moero uteyo / Tsuruoka Shinya Homerun // Tsuruoka Shinya nerae hanate / Tobase homerun (Kattobase Tsuruoka!)

Other Players' Theme 1:
勝利を誘(いざな)う晴れ舞台(ラララ) みなぎる闘志をぶつけろ(選手名)
Shouri wo izanau hare butai LALALA // Minagiru toushi wo butsukero (name)

Other Players' Theme 2: (notably used for Kudoh)
行けそれ行け 打てそれ打て 走れここで輝け Let's Go FIGHTERS
Ike sore ike / Ute sore ute // Hashire / Kokode kagayake / Let's go Fighters

Sanka: (sung before the game, in the 5th inning, and in the case of victory and/or the oendan just happen to get bored and need to fill time during a pitcher's change or something else like that)

誰が鳴らすかあの鐘は 勇気を讃えて空高く
燃える心の茜雲 明日に向かって飛んでゆけ
進めファイターズ勝利の男 進めファイターズさわやかに

Darega narasu ka ano kane ha / Yuuki wo tataete sora takaku
Moeru kokoro no akane kumo / Ashita ni mukatte tonde yuke
Susume Fighters / shouri no otoko / Susume Fighters / sawayakani

Go Go Fighters! (sung in the 7th inning)

F・I・G・H・T・E・R・S Let's Go!
時計台の鐘が鳴る 希望の大地で
大いなる大志を抱いて 明日へ駆け出せ!
行け!行け! ファイターズ! 進め!進め! ファイターズ!
走れ!走れ! ファイターズ! Go!Go! ファイターズ!
飛びたてファイターズ! 輝けファイターズ!
F・I・G・H・T・E・R・S Let's Go!

F・I・G・H・T・E・R・S Let's Go!
Tokeidai no kane ga naru / Kibou no daichi de
Ooinaru taishi wo daite / Ashita e nukedase!
Ike! Ike! FAITAAZU! Susume! Susume! FAITAAZU!
Hashire! Hashire! FAITAAZU! Go! Go! FAITAAZU!
Tobidate FAITAAZU! Kagayake FAITAAZU!
F・I・G・H・T・E・R・S Let's Go!

Okay, so now you are all ready to help me cheer on the Fighters on Thursday. Right? Well, aside from the fact that I'll be at work during the game, but still. You have to admit that Darvish vs. Naruse with the entire season on the line is extremely exciting, although I'm probably going to have a heart attack by then. Oh well, at least we'll always have Naoto vs. The Cameraman to look back on fondly...

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Importance of Being Darvish - Going Stathead on the NPB

I posted this originally to the forums as a reply to "Who's more likely to get the Sawamura award, Yu Darvish or Yoshihisa Naruse?" But, I want to have this around to work with as an article later, so I'm reposting it here.

For those who don't follow the NPB, Darvish is the best Iranian-Japanese pitcher in the history of baseball, and the ace pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters. The tall lanky right-hander just turned 22 two months ago, and his line for this year is 15-5 with a 1.82 ERA, 210 strikeouts and 49 walks in 207.2 IP.

Cherub-cheeked Yoshihisa Naruse is The Boy Who Can't Lose for this year's Chiba Lotte Marines. He's a young lefty -- his 23rd birthday is tomorrow -- and his line for this year is 16-1 with a 1.82 ERA, 138 strikeouts and 27 walks in 173.1 IP.

Yes, Darvish and Naruse both have amazing real ERAs, and are tied for the lowest ERA in Japan this year. But for those who also like being sabermetric statheads, there's a statistic called "fielding independent ERA", which you calculate based on things which the pitcher can control -- walks, strikeouts, home runs. I ran the numbers for all pitchers in Japan who logged over 100 innings, and Darvish comes out ahead in that with a 2.64 FIP.

Top 5 FIP (using ((13*HR + 3*(BB+HBP) - 2*K) / IP) + 3.2)

1 NHF Darvish 2.64
2 CLM H Kobayashi 2.71
3 OB Kishida 2.76
4 FSH Sugiuchi 2.87
5 CLM Naruse 2.89

In addition to running the FIP numbers, I also examined a statistic called WHIP: Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. This is basically an indicator of how many baserunners a pitcher is allowing in general. It's important because, after all, if a pitcher doesn't allow a lot of guys on base, then there aren't a lot of guys to score runs. Right? Generally, if a guy posts around a 1.1 or lower, that's great, meaning they allow slightly over one runner per inning. Darvish had a 0.83 WHIP, which is just amazing.

Top 7 WHIP: (everyone under 1.1)

1 NHF Darvish 0.83
2 NHF M Takeda 0.87
3 CLM Naruse 0.92
4 TYS Greisinger 1.03
5 NHF Glynn 1.05
6 CLM S Watanabe 1.06
7 FSH Sugiuchi 1.08

Another way to look at pitchers' strikeouts is in the number of strikeouts per 9 innings they have, not just the total. If a starter is managing to strike out over 1 guy per inning, that's really really good. Usually relievers have higher K/9 ratios because they come out and throw harder for a shorter period of time, but starters have to sustain their ability for a longer outing. Darvish is one of only three pitchers in Japan who logged over 100 innings and managed to strike out over one batter per inning:

Top 5 K/9:

1 RGE Tanaka 9.48
2 CD Nakata 9.37
3 NHF Darvish 9.12
4 TYS K Ishii 8.83
5 FSH Arakaki 8.67

The only place where Darvish is weak is specifically in walks - his BB/9 and K/BB ratios are a little weaker than Naruse's. Darvish walked 2.13 guys per 9 innings, where Naruse walked 1.40 guys per 9 innings, so Darvish's ratio of strikeouts to walks is only 4.29, where Naruse's is 5.11, just from the lower ratio of walks.

But on the other hand, only three pitchers in Japan logged more than 200 innings: Wakui at 213, Greisinger at 209, and Darvish at 207 2/3. Darvish also has a Japan-leading 12 complete games to Naruse's 6, though Naruse has 4 shutouts to Darvish's 3.

What does this all mean? It basically means that it's pretty difficult to tell who's going to get it. I think there's a good argument for Darvish even on the "normal" stats -- IP, K, ERA, W -- but it's really not clear-cut. The only thing for sure is, if either of the Giants lefty aces get it, then something bizarre has transpired.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And the Hokkaidorks are facing... the Marinerds.

Congrats to the Chiba Lotte Marines, who defeated the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks two games to one in the Pacific League Playoff Stage 1. Stage 2 starts up in Hokkaido on Saturday at 1pm; my guess is Darvish will face Shunsuke, but that's obviously just a guess right now. Either way, it's irrelevant, as the Fighters are going to win. Sorry, Chiba, that's just the way it is.

I did watch Game 1 of the playoffs over the internet -- thanks to not getting to Lawson's until 12:30pm on the day the tickets went on sale, rather than at 10am -- but rather than liveblogging it here, I just did the play-by-play in the chatroom on, which you can read here. Submariner Shunsuke Watanabe pitched a complete-game win, because he rules, and Kazumi Saitoh continues to be plagued by bad luck in the playoffs.

I missed games 2 and 3 because I was at work. Essentially, Toshiya Sugiuchi rules, so he won the game yesterday for the Hawks. And then Yoshihisa Naruse is still The Boy Who Couldn't Lose, so today he pitched a complete game shutout to win the game and the series for the Marines. Jason Standridge started for the Hawks, but walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th inning and then Saburo came through with a bases-clearing triple to put the Marines ahead 3-0, followed by Satozaki successfully pulling off a squeeze to make it 4-0, which is where it would end.

When I think about it, it's still funny how I went to Chiba last year on a whim to see Naruse pitch, just because I thought he was interesting. I came out of that game thinking "Eh, he's pretty good, but I don't understand why," and the thing is, I still sort of feel that way. But, whatever mystique surrounds him, when he starts a game for Lotte, they win. It's pretty crazy.

Yesterday's playoff game was mostly eclipsed in the news by the final game for Atsuya Furuta, though. Furuta, for those who don't know, is pretty much the greatest catcher of this generation of Japanese baseball. He's not only had a Hall of Fame career on the field, but also was the leader of the players' union, organized the strike in the fall of 2004 that led to the creation of the Rakuten Eagles, and when he became manager of the Swallows last year, was the first player-manager in Japan since Katsuya Nomura (also regarded as one of the best catchers and managers in the history of Japan) in 1977. Though he didn't play much this year, people still made a big deal over "daida, ore", otherwise known as "Now pinch-hitting, me." Tonight was his last game as a player, and sure enough he did a Daida Ore in the 9th inning, AND he got a hit, too.

I randomly happened to watch a sports program that had Furuta on as a guest, and I really wanted to cry. The wacky thing about Furuta is that he doesn't even really look 42; I'd say he looks like he's still in his mid-30's. They did a whole video retrospective on his career and had brief quotes from tons of random players, it was both awesome and sad all at once. They showed some footage of him back in the late 1980's when he started playing; it's funny how some teams passed on drafting him because of his ridiculously big glasses. Of course, some teams passed on drafting Ichiro because he was a ridiculously skinny runt, so hey, nobody's perfect. Still, Ichiro grew up and Furuta got smaller glasses, and both have had Hall of Fame careers, so hey.

The thing that sucks is that I never actually got to see Furuta play. Even in the Giants-Swallows game I went to in 2004, he didn't play; nor in any of the bunches of Yakult games I saw in the last two years. I've always had an insane amount of respect for the man, and it's sad to see an era come to an end.

As an aside, with the CL games finally coming to a close yesterday, the man who won the drama-filled CL home run race was, in the end, Yokohama's Shuuichi Murata. First, it was a tie between Murata, Yomiuri's Yoshinobu Takahashi, and Chunichi's Tyrone Woods, all at 35 homers. The Giants finished the season and Murata got his 36th, so Yoshinobu was out of the race.

Chunichi's final game was on Sunday... against Yokohama. I managed to talk to Tyrone Woods before the game a little, and he said he didn't think they'd pitch to him, but he was sure going to try to hit a home run. As it is, they did pitch to him, and he didn't hit a home run, so Tyrone also found himself out of the race. However, in the meantime, that same day, Aaron Guiel of the Yakult Swallows hit a normal home run and an inside-the-park home run, to bring his total up to 35. So, there was still a race going on... just a slightly different race.

Naturally, Yakult's final two games were against Yokohama as well. Now, of course, if both teams simply walked each other's home run leaders, then Murata would just win outright. But, as it is, Murata just struck out a lot, and Guiel didn't manage to hit any home runs, so in the end, Murata got the title. And good for him, too, because he's really an amazing hitter, by far the current best Baystars bat.

I finally got a DVD player a few days ago and watched the 2006 Fighters DVD, which I was too cheap to buy last year, and found used for 1500 yen at a store a few weeks ago. Let me tell you, it's simply amazing. Highlights from every 2006 game, from the playoffs, from the series... not only that, there's footage from the 1962 and 1981 Fighters/Flyers teams as well. It reminded me how much I really love these guys and how sad it is that I have this long-distance relationship with them. Since they'll always have the top spot in my heart, I think it's okay if I see the Dragons and Baystars in the meantime, when the Fighters aren't in town. I mean, it's okay, they're in the other league anyway, so it's technically not cheating on them, right?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

9/17: Dragons @ Swallows - Dragonbutt, Our Hero!

Dragons 8, Swallows 7

Japan generally doesn't schedule baseball games on Mondays, except for makeup games and national holidays. September 17th was a national holiday, so there were Monday games. Hooray. I had originally thought I might even go to both Rakuten @ Seibu AND the Dragons game, but realized I'd probably be pretty wiped out by the end if I did that, plus I didn't really care about seeing the super-compelling pitching matchup of Domingo Guzman vs. Kazuyuki Hoashi, if you know what I mean.

I got to Meiji Jingu stadium around 5pm for a 6:20 game; bought a ticket for outfield unreserved, and wandered up to the Dragons cheering section in left field, which was already pretty full of people, but there were plenty of empty seats, so I just went and sat down about 3-4 rows back from the front of the section, which was still 20 rows back from the field because reserved outfield seating is in front of it.

Chilling out in the so-called "Morino Seats".

I was decked out in my Morino jersey, carrying my Morino towel, and intending to act like a big Dragondork.

Fortunately, Masahiko "Dragonbutt" Morino was actually out there catching fly balls, and right in front of us, because he usually starts in left field these days. Of course, I was way too far back to really do anything. I didn't bring my big camera because I know Jingu sucks due to the big thick fences, so of course I couldn't take any pictures of him... and then over in the bullpen, Kenshin Kawakami and Masa Yamamoto started throwing, and a bazillion people went over to watch, and of course I stayed still, because there was no point in running over there. It was actually sort of depressing. That's the crapshoot of going to games alone; sometimes I'll find cool people to talk to, sometimes I'll just end up by myself feeling pretty silly.

Anyway, about 30-40 minutes before the game they announced the starting lineups and then I had stuff to do -- cheering for the players and singing songs, and then writing my scorecard, and so on, and people actually completely filled in the seats around me, so it was pretty packed by game time. Somehow, every time I have gone to a game at Jingu, the Swallows starting pitcher has been Kazuhisa Ishii, and this game was no different.

And just like the S-D game on the 9th, the Dragons exploded in the first inning. Ibata led off with a hit before we could even get to "misero yo Ibata". Araki meant to bunt him to second, but instead nearly hit into a double play. Still, Araki stole a base during Nori's at-bat, so it was about the same result. Nori Nakamura walked, and then Tyrone Woods also walked, so it was bases loaded, one out, when Morino came up to bat.

I held up my Morino towel and yelled "MORINOOOOOOOOOO!!!" several times, until we started singing his cheer song. A few people laughed at me, but when Morino hit a bases-clearing double to center, they stopped laughing and instead started singing "Moe yo Dragons" and high-fiving me and everyone else around. Whee!

Hidenori hit a home run shortly after that, which gave the Dragons a 5-0 lead coming out of the top of the first.

Since I was so close to the leftfield foul pole, it was pretty far away from the main cheering group out closer to centerfield. A lot of times we'd be trying to cheer and be completely out of sync with the rest of the cheering section; eventually one guy near the front of our area decided to be the self-appointed syncmeister for us all and so he'd be looking over at the other cheering section to get the timing and we'd all be looking at him. (It mostly looked really funny when we were totally out of sync on the "T"'s for Tyrone Woods, or the waving for "sore-sore-kattobase-Norihiro!")

Daisuke Yamai started for the Dragons, and had a rough first inning, giving up back-to-back home runs to Alex Ramirez and Aaron Guiel, but that's all the Swallows picked up to bring it to 5-2.

In the second inning, with Ibata and Nori on base and Morino (who is also known as "3-Run Otoko", or "Mr. 3-Run", since he has hit an inordinate number of 3-run homers this year) at the plate, we started yelling "THREE-RUN HOMERUN MO-RI-NO!", but alas, he walked. That happens a lot.

Kazuhisa Ishii nearly hit a home run in the bottom of the second. I'm not joking, Lee basically kept running back and back and back, and he made the catch just short of the wall, and then hit the wall and fell over, but was still holding the ball when he got back up.

In the top of the 4th, Araki singled, tagged up to second on a fly out by Nori, and so with two outs, they intentionally walked Tyrone Woods to go for the lefty-lefty combo on Dragonbutt. He obliged by hitting a towering fly ball to left field. You know, that kind where it just goes up and up and up, and the outfielder should have about ninety years to get under it and catch it. It sailed out towards us in the stands, and we all started to sit down for the end of the inning, expecting Ramirez to catch it.

Except, uh, he didn't.

The ball landed on the ground, and Araki and Tyrone scored, making it 7-2 as Lee struck out. So Morino was mostly responsible for 5 out of the 7 runs scored now. Gooooo Dragonbutt! More yelling! More high-fives! Wheee!

Alex Ramirez got his revenge a bit later, though. With Manaka and Aoki on base, Rami-chan hit a HIGH fly ball out towards left field. Morino ran in for it, Ibata ran out for it, and... Morino fell over trying to get it. Ibata had to help Morino stand up, and Lee threw in the ball, and somehow that didn't get called an error as the Swallows brought the gap to 7-4. If that's how the Jingu scorer calls things, that might explain part of Ramirez's 200+ hits this year...

Araki doubled to lead off the top of the 6th, advanced on a wild pitch, and Tyrone Woods doubled him in. Morino and Hidenori both walked to load the bases, but Tanishige lined out to pitcher Kamata to end the threat.

Yuuichi Matsumoto, who I have since discovered is really named Daniel and is half-Brazilian, led off the bottom of the 6th with a single, and was driven in when catcher Ryohei Kawamoto hit a 2-run home run, garnering a collective "WTF?" from the folks in the stands, and signalling to Chunichi manager Ochiai that it was about time to take Yamai out of the oven, since he was about done. 8-6. Ryuji Miyade struck out to end the inning and swung so hard he fell over; it seems he actually broke his finger doing so. Oops.

Around that time, everyone got out their balloons and sung the Dragons fight song. Whooosh.

Uh, it looks kind of like Koshien, except with lots of Dragons fans.

Masafumi "Not Ken" Hirai came in to pitch for the Dragons and Swallows star Norichika Aoki signalled his approval of the change by launching a home run a few rows back in the left-field stands, bringing the score to 8-7, which is where it would stay.

A few Motos (Hisamoto and Okamoto) later, it became the bottom of the 9th and Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase came out to get his 150-somethingth career save. Except, of course, when Kawamoto grounded out to third, Norihiro Nakamura decided to punt the ball instead of fielding it. Watarai singled after that, so suddenly there were two guys on and no outs, rather than one guy on and one out. Ugh. Iwase hung in there though, and struck out Aoki, and then off of Hiroyasu, the Dragons infield managed a Norino double play! For the win!

(I say "Norino" because it was Norihiro to Morino to Watanabe. Usually I call the 6-4-3's or 4-6-3's "Ibataraki" or "Arakibata" double plays, but Ibata actually came out of the game in the 7th inning for some reason.)

I'd been yelling and cheering for Morino all game, much to the amusement of the people around me, so when he was named the game hero, people were like "Hey, it's your guy!"

He's MY hero!

So yeah, that was pretty cool. After the hero interview, despite that the Jingu staff were actively trying to get people out of the stadium, and turning off the lights and all, the Chunichi fans kept singing fight songs and player songs anyway, and yelling "MORINO! MORINO! MORINO!!!" and so on. Fun stuff. I had one of the people sitting next to me take my picture holding up my Morino towel, because, hey, why not:

Yume ni egaita ichida wo, Morino Masahiko hanate yo!

I was starving by the time I got back to my neighborhood, and it was around 11pm, so I stopped by the ramen shop on the way home which is full of Giants posters and baseball newspaper clippings, still wearing my Chunichi jersey. I ordered miso ramen, and one guy asked me incredulously, "you're a Dragons fan?" "Yeah, kinda..." "Did you go to the game?" "Yeah! They won! 8-7 against Yakult! They got 5 runs in the first inning!" The TV was actually showing the sports daily review by then, so we talked about the Giants-Tigers game as well.

Oh, and the miso ramen was really good too. I always have to eat something miso-related after Dragons games, it seems.