Monday, June 30, 2008

Game Report: Marines @ Lions - When the going gets tough, the tough get Gotoh

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, but fans are bright and cheery.
The flags are waved from the outfield stands,
Songs are sung to claps of hands,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My original plan for Sunday involved going down to Yokohama and seeing the Baystars play against the Dragons, but that plan got ditched when the skies decided to open up and rain upon the Kanto region. But, the Lotte Marines Mind Control Task Force was kind enough to call upon the Seibu Dump Improvement Squad and so I was able to go to the the Marines-Lions game and even sit in GOOD seats for once. I think they are trying to convince me that it is not, infact, a dump.

So, the thing is, they ARE improving the place quite a bit, using some of the Matsuzaka money. The outfield screen actually does look really nice now -- it's one big screen that can be partitioned into whatever parts are necessary for lineups, scores, replays... they even did split-screen displays during the hero interview, things like that. There's a new set of bathrooms, and they're rebuilding part of the stands to have new seats (picnic seats? I'm not sure) and a way to get to the bathrooms that doesn't involve climbing up 50 rows of stairs. The box seats behind home plate, which I saw for the first time, look really nice. And for the players, the bullpen area looks like it had a total makeover in the offseason; the fans get a better view of it now as well.

The only catch is, the outfield visitor's area sucks as much as it ever did. And I mean, it makes perfect sense to do the most improvements to the most expensive seats, so I understand why they're focusing on improving that part. And of course they should be catering to the Lions faithful above all others. But since I usually see games there from the left field "stands", it's still coloring my perception of the place.

I will say though, the food choices are a LOT better in the infield :) I had a fantastic yakiniku bento box for lunch, and the ice cream lady came around with like 10 flavors of ice cream cones (I had strawberry cheesecake).

Anyway, that aside, yeah, I spent this game sitting with various Lotte folks; I got to meet Mary Valentine, who is every bit as kind and funny as her husband, and I was sitting next to Julio Zuleta's girlfriend, who goes to EVERY game he plays in. On my left was the inimitable Larry Rocca, who always has a good story to tell, none of which I can ever repeat :)

Also, the Lions were spending this weekend wearing throwback Nishitetsu Lions uniforms. I actually think they were really cool -- the logo looks vaguely like the Yankees logo, but the uniform is nice and simple. Before Lions at-bats they would display "Lions" on the board in the old gothic font:

The Lions starter was the veteran Fumiya Nishiguchi, who has pretty much been around so long that he might be the only current Lions player who was actually alive when the team was Nishitetsu. The Marines starter was Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who started the last Marines game I went to as well.

Anyway, the Lions got ahead pretty much from the start, when leadoff batter Yasuyuki Kataoka doubled, moved ahead on a bunt, and was scored on a single by Hiroyuki Nakajima. 1-0.

Tomoya Satozaki came up to bat to lead off the second inning, and I was babbling to Larry about how I used to be such a huge Satozaki fan, and how great it was having him as a cleanup batter again, and how he was really kicking ass, and he had hit two home runs this weekend against the Lions, and


Satozaki took the first pitch he saw and launched it into the left-field bleachers.

"Okay, make that three," I said. 1-1.

Of course, the Lions weren't going to stand for that. Chubby Takeya Nakamura singled, the ball bouncing off of pitcher Kobayashi towards second, and then Taketoshi Gotoh, another one of those 1998 Yokohama HS kids, came in and slammed a home run to right-center field, Daisuke Hayakawa getting his first chance of the day to climb up on the Seibu outfield wall and fence and watch the ball go flying past. 3-1.

Satozaki walked on his second at-bat, in the 4th inning, and then this time it was Shoitsu Ohmatsu's turn to hit a home run over the centerfield wall. 3-3!

Going into the bottom half of the inning, Larry said, "I have a prediction. If Kobayashi can get out of this inning without a run scoring, we're going to win. If he can't, we're going to lose."

Gotoh came up to bat again. He hit a looooong fly ball.... which was caught in right field. One out. Toru Hosokawa came up to bat, to his traditional song of Kiyoshi no Zundoko Bushi, and the Lions fans were even yelling "Kiyoshi!" at the appropriate time, which is really stupid if you think about it, but that's another story. I was saying how Hosokawa gets on my nerves because he always seems to come up big against teams I like... but then he struck out. Okay. DH Yoshihito Ishii, another one of those Urawa Gakuin guys, struck out on a checked swing after that too, for a 1-2-3 inning.

"Well, good, I hope your prediction comes true!"

Alas, it was not to be. Kobayashi got MAULED by the Lions in the bottom of the 5th.

Kataoka walked, and then Takumi Kuriyama hit a ball which went out to centerfield and bounced against the back wall for a double, Kataoka scoring from first on the play. 4-3. Nakajima struck out -- that was good -- but then Craig Brazell, who just hit an actual out-of-the-park home run in Omiya the other day, hit a grounder up the middle that took a bad bounce and turned into a single as well. Kuriyama scored. 5-3. GG Satoh singled to right ("Kimochiiiiiiii!!!" I yelled as a joke), and then that Takeya Nakamura kid came up, and BLAM, he hit a ball out to center and Hayakawa climbed the wall to watch it go sailing over for a monster 3-run homer. 8-3.

"What the heck," I said, "Why does Kobayashi ALWAYS run into these roadblocks and give up? Does he think Hayakawa LIKES climbing the centerfield fence?"

As if to answer my question, the NEXT batter, that Taketoshi Gotoh guy who hit a home run in the 2nd inning, came up to bat and hit ANOTHER home run over the centerfield wall. Hayakawa climbed up AGAIN, but of course it was to no avail. 9-3.

So, we waved goodbye to Kobayashi, and Satoru Komiyama came in to pitch, and he got out of the mess with no further damage.

I guess Larry picked the wrong inning.

Anyway, the Marines did add runs in the 6th and 7th inning, to bring the score to 9-5, which is where the game would eventually end. Funny, all of their runs for the game were either scored by people who walked, or by people who hit home runs. A neat thing was seeing Satozaki throw out two would-be base stealers in the bottom of the 6th and 7th, too. But that's really about all I have to say about the rest of the game. It was kind of cold, and dark and dreary. I bet the stands were wet and beery.

Gotoh was the game hero and he dedicated the home runs to his wife, who apparently just gave birth to their first child on Saturday.

I have this feeling that maybe Hiro-chan would be better off spending some time as a relief pitcher.

In Fukuoka, Takeshi Yamasaki gave two home runs to Eagles manager Katsuya Nomura for his 73rd birthday, and Hisashi Iwakuma chalked up another win as the Eagles completely clawed out the Hawks for a 15-2 win on 20 hits. Ouch.

In Osaka, Masaru Takeda finally came back from the DL after two months and got the win for the Fighters. Yay.

In Akita, Norichika Aoki hit a big 2-run homer as the Swallows stole a game from the Tigers. The Swallows also recently lost pitcher Danny Rios, who got busted for failing a drug test.

In Hiroshima, Koji Uehara pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his first ichi-gun appearance in 2 months, and the media nearly had a collective heart attack.

In Yokohama, it rained a lot and nobody played any baseball. Boo.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

NPB Roundup: Rules Ramifications, Cheering Charges, and Senior SeaRex

There's a couple of interesting things going down this week despite having no top-team games to talk about.

Free Agency Changes

First, there are a bunch of reforms going down with respect to free agency and the draft over here. This Japanball article in English reports some of the major points:

- The draft this fall will be combined highschool and college and industry
- From this year onwards, college/industry draftees will need 7 years of service for free agency within Japan.
- All other players will need 8 years. This includes high school draftees, and those signed outside the draft.
- However, players all still need 9 years before being allowed to try to move overseas as free agents.

One very big detail that is being overlooked by a lot of people in this is that another effect of shortening the free agency requirement is that foreigners ALSO need one less year to be free agents. A foreign player who acquires enough service time in Japan to be a free agent doesn't count as a foreign player for team roster limits, meaning a team can effectively sign extra foreigners. The ramification of this policy -- pun intended -- is that as of next year, Alex Ramirez will no longer be a foreign player by the rules here. He started his NPB career in 2001 with the Yakult Swallows.

Dragons Ouendan Struggles Continue

2 Chunichi Dragons supporters groups sue baseball clubs over cheering ban

Way back at the start of the season there was a big to-do when a couple of Dragons cheering groups (白龍会, Hakuryukai/White Dragon Club, and 竜心連合, Ryushin Rengo/Dragon Spirit Club) got banned from attending games and from playing instruments such as trumpets and drums. They were banned for suspected yakuza ties, which in itself is not a bad thing -- there's a long history of yakuza problems with ouendan groups in various teams in various times, though I think most of those problems are now in the past.

The problem is that many of the other cheering groups, as a measure of solidarity, decided they weren't going to lead cheers or play instruments either. So as a result, the cheering experience has been pretty strange this year. I don't entirely know who's in charge of leading stuff during games, but it's been anywhere from a guy or two with whistles (in Jingu) to a few people holding small flags (in Tokyo Dome) to, well, whatever. (Whoever was leading it in Gifu had a drum, though no trumpets. Maybe a regional group.) The fans, of course, are still cheering and singing, but it's kind of a strange experience trying to figure out what's going on and what we're supposed to be singing when, and keeping it all together without instruments.

(Plus they had to go and make up words for the mostly-instrumental chance themes like Nerai Uchi, and the lyrics are kind of stupid.)

So, these banned ouendan groups have gotten together and are suing the NPB organization about this. I'm not really sure what to think about the situation. On the one hand, I want normal cheering to resume. On the other hand, I don't see why the teams should give the group members any compensation money, which sort of reeks of yakuza to me. The only reason I could think of it would be is if these groups had spent money ordering plane tickets or other things in order to go cheer for the Dragons and were then banned from attending the games.

The Old Man and the SeaRex

(With apologies to Ernest Hemingway.)

Yesterday saw the triumphant return of Bancho and Oyaji!

Shonan SeaRex 1, Lotte Marines 0, June 25th farm team game at Yokosuka.

Daisuke "Hama no Bancho" Miura pitched 5 innings, struck out 4, walked 2, and gave up 2 hits and no runs. Then Kimiyasu Kudoh took over and pitched a quick 1-2-3 inning.

Kudoh, who turned 45 years old on May 5th, pitched only one game this year for the Baystars before going on the DL with a strained left elbow. He was working out with the farm team to rehab in the meantime, but this was his first real game appearance. According to Sankei Sports, this was actually the first time in 10 years that he'd pitched in a farm team game. The last time was during his Daiei days, on July 11th, 1998.

34-year-old Miura, on the other hand, has been suffering through the Baystars season for a while, until he injured his shoulder at the start of June and was sent down. The team could really, really, really use him back in the rotation, so it's encouraging that he is able to pitch a few innings again.

Other Stuff

In other random farm news, Hichori Morimoto played in the Swallows-Fighters farm game yesterday and is expected to re-join the top team on July 1st. I am really sad, because I wanted to go to the game yesterday but couldn't, and probably can go see the Fighters farm team next week, but he'll be gone by then. Sigh.

And, Jim Allen wrote a neat two-part article on Sadaharu Oh: Part 1 Part 2.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Game Report: Lions @ Baystars - Wood beats Rock

Monday night, I headed down to Yokohama Stadium and got to see the Baystars absolutely CRUSH the Seibu Lions. It was a thoroughly satisfying experience, despite the light rain that was falling for about 70% of the game (see photos/movie below). And it brought their winning streak to THREE GAMES for the first time this year! Wow!

This was actually a make-up game for Sunday, when it rained so hard they cancelled the game a good hour before it was going to start. But on Monday, the skies were gray but dry as 6pm approached. A tiny bit of rain fell as we were cheering the opening lineups, but it wasn't even worth getting out umbrellas for. The starting batteries were Kazuhisa Ishii and Toru Hosokawa for the Lions, and Mike Wood and Ryoji Aikawa for the Baystars.

I don't know the official attendance for the game yet, but I'm guessing it was around 5000 people, maybe. This is what the infield looked like in the middle of the first inning:

(EDIT> It was 8251 people. I think about 5000 of them were in the rightfield bleachers and infield unreserved seats, though!)

If anything, it almost reminded me of my first baseball game in Japan, cheering the Fighters at the Tokyo Dome in the old days -- nobody at all in the infield, but plenty of wackos in the outfield.

I went up to the ouendan folks and asked for a ouenka sheet, because I didn't know Ohnishi's song, and one or two others of this year's new ones, like Bigbie. I ought to make a Baystars ouenka post sometime. It's kind of funny because the sheet still has Koike and Tsuruoka on it. (After the game when I went to get some pinbadges from the capsule machine, I got a Koike pin, too.)

Anyway, at first it seemed like this was going to be a typical Baystars game. Kataoka hit a pop out, but then Kuriyama singled... and Nakajima singled... and Brazell was hit by a pitch, so there we were, 5 minutes into the game, and the bases were already loaded. Sheesh. GG Satoh grounded into a fielder's choice (not quick enough for a double play) and that scored Kuriyama. 1-0. Takeya "Norihiro Wannabe" Nakamura struck out after that to end the inning.

There were these two guys sitting a row or two behind me in their late teens or early 20's who literally spent the entire freaking game yelling "キモチィー!!!! GG佐藤!!! キモチィー!!!!" (I'm not even sure what the English equivalent would be. "GG Satoh! Awesome!!!!" or something like that. I think it comes from something he said in a hero interview, but I don't really know.) Since GG was playing right field, they just kept on yelling it.

Tatsuhiko Kinjoh led off the Baystars' half of the first by striking out, and it seriously seemed like it was going to be just another one of THOSE days... but then Toshihisa Nishi slammed a looooong fly ball to centerfield which hit the wall a meter or so over a jumping Kuriyama. Woo! Nishi ended up getting all the way around to third base on the play for a triple. Cool. Seiichi Uchikawa then hit a line drive to left field, which was caught, but Nishi scored on the play. 1-1.

Shuuichi Murata, The Man, came up to bat after that, and he BLASTED the ball to left field. I mean, it literally almost left the stadium. It bounced against the wall all the way in back of the last row of seats. They measured it as being 135 meters, which is about 443 feet. That made it 2-1.

Hiroaki Ohnishi walked, and then Yuuki Yoshimura came up to bat. Yoshimura has a decent amount of power too (his 16 HR are second in the league behind the 19-HR triumvirate of Murata, Ramirez, and Tyrone right now), and so after we cheered "Two-run homerun Yoshimura!", he obliged by sending the ball into the right-field stands! It even landed literally about 3 meters away from me -- about 6 seats over and two rows up. I had been thinking that I was sitting in a fairly good place to catch a home run; I just didn't expect it to come from a Yokohama batter if it happened. So, 4-1.

I got up to cheer wildly for Takuro Ishii, which is always fun. Takuro hit a grounder to first, which went through DH first baseman Brazell into left field, and was considered an error. Aikawa hit a pop fly out to right ater that, but the Baystars were off to a pretty good start!

Seibu's catcher Toru Hosokawa, who ALWAYS hits a home run whenever I see the Lions, hit a solo home run in the second inning. It was a long fly ball to center which bounced off the top of the fence and fell back onto the field. Kinjoh actually threw the ball into the left-field stands but nobody was there to get it, heh. 4-2.

The Baystars had another big dose of Two Out Magic in the bottom of the 3rd. Murata walked, but when Yoshimura came up to bat there were already two outs anyway. But Ishii hit him in the shin with a pitch. He seemed okay though. Takuro Ishii came up to bat after that; he grounded to first yet again, and this time Brazell started to run the ball in, realized he wasn't going to get there, tried to get the ball to a covering Ishii, the ball arrived around the same time as Takuro, they all tripped over each other, but he was safe. So, bases loaded for Ryoji Aikawa, who singled to left, and the Mura pair both scored! 6-2. Then, wonder of wonders, Mike Wood -- the pitcher -- came up to bat, and he ALSO managed an RBI single to left. Ha! 7-2.

That was it for Kazuhisa Ishii, in what was arguably his worst start of the year, and the second start in a row where he didn't last 3 innings. Ming-Chieh Hsu replaced him on the mound and got a popout from Kinjoh.

Rain started falling for real in the top of the 4th. At Yokohama Stadium, there is no such thing as "cover" -- if you want to get out of the rain, you have to go under the stands, basically. But, since most people know that, and the team even sells ponchos, we were all prepared. Even from the minute the first droplets of rain started, people got out plastic bags to cover their belongings, and started putting on raincoats and opening umbrellas. I had brought all of the above as well, although I still haven't come up with a system where I can still keep score and not get a book wet. Shoving it in and out of the plastic bag mostly works though.

As it is, rain just makes us cheer harder, I think. I took a short movie of Murata's at-bat in the midst of medium-strength rain:

Shuuichi Murata's at-bat in the fourth inning, viewed from the rightfield stands as rain pours upon us all.

Or, here is a photo of the stands as well. Insane in the rain!

I left my scorecard in a plastic bag for the entire inning, but it wasn't hard to keep track in my head of what happened. Nishi walked, Uchikawa hit a fly to shallow center caught by Nakajima, Murata singled to right, moving Uchi to 3rd, and then Ohnishi hit a sac fly which scored him. 8-2. Yoshimura hit a pop fly out to center after that.

I'm not entirely sure why, but Takehiro Ishikawa replaced Takuro Ishii at shortstop in the top of the 5th inning. I didn't really notice until he made a fine stop of a Nakajima grounder -- not in time to make the out, but good enough that the ball didn't get into left field and move Kuriyama up to third. And I was thinking, "Nice play Takuro!" except I noticed the shortstop was wearing #52, which also meant it wasn't Shingo Nonaka. Hrm. (My best guess is, Nonaka hasn't been hitting that well, and Ishikawa is a switch-hitter. As for why Takuro came out, I was worried he might have gotten injured on that wacky play at first. But he doesn't say anything about it in his blog, just mentions being happy about the win, so...)

That took half the fun out of the bottom of the 5th for me; I like getting up and yelling "TAKUROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!", but he was out of the game. Oh well. Instead, I kind of got to yell a lot when Takahiro Saeki came in to pinch-hit for Mike Wood. Saeki wheeeeee! We literally got about one line into his cheer song when he hit a long fly ball to center, which again bounced against the wall just over the centerfielder for a double. Cool! Kinjoh grounded out again though, to pitcher Shotsu, who was in the game by then.

I went out to get food at that point, because I hadn't eaten since the early afternoon. I got the chicken karaage and fries basket, which comes with the little star-shaped potato cakes as well. They're so cute (but I unfortunately cannot see the word karaage now without thinking of Lotte pitcher Karakawa. Argh). Tasty, too. Anyway, pitcher Kentaro Kuwahara beat down the Lions pretty quickly in the 6th but then ran into some speedbumps in the 7th.

Hosokawa led off the 7th with a single to left, and then the third Ishii of the game entered when Yoshihito Ishii came in as a pinch-hitter. He used to play for Yokohama (and he's from Urawa Gakuin, heh), so people around me actually were cheering when he was announced, but they weren't so happy when he also singled to left. Kataoka hit a pop fly out, but then Kuriyama doubled to center and that scored Ishii as well as pinch-runner Ginjiro Sumitani. 8-4.

Kuwahara came out and Matt White came in. (Yes, Mr. Billionnaire Matt White.) White struck out Hiroyuki Nakajima, no small feat, but then Craig Brazell singled up the middle over the shortstop's head and Kuriyama scored. 8-5. GG Satoh also singled ("Kimochiiiiii!!!!!" those guys kept yelling), and then, thankfully, Nakamura grounded out to end the inning.

I want to stop for a second to mention that despite all the crap Murata gets for being a big homerun-hitter, he really is a pretty decent third baseman.

It stopped raining by the middle of the 7th inning, so we got up and sang a whole bunch of songs, and started the "lucky 7", which was more like the "Wacky 7". Koji Ohnuma came in to pitch for Seibu.

It took ten pitches to strike out Yoshimura, and then Ishikawa singled to center. Aikawa came up and sac bunted Ishikawa over to second base, and then we got a pinch-hitting Larry Bigbie! Ohnuma got up to a 3-1 count on Bigbie and then threw a wild pitch that somehow ended up rolling towards the Seibu dugout, and Ishikawa ran and ran and ran and ended up scoring from second on the wild pitch, by the time anyone got to it and threw it in. 9-5. Ohnuma was covering home on the play though, and it was kind of close, and I think Ishikawa slid into him, and so all of a sudden there was a big long pause in the game and they told us there would be an injury delay and another pitcher change.

(So we sang some more stuff while waiting, including "Winning Ball" and one of the chance themes. For some reason we didn't really sing any chance music during the game itself; not sure why.)

Koji Mitsui replaced Koji Ohnuma on the mound and went from a 3-1 count to striking out Bigbie. Oh well.

Michiomi Yoshihara pitched a scoreless top of the 8th, with two strikeouts even. The Baystars added another run in the bottom of the 8th by Nishi and Uchikawa hitting two consecutive doubles. 10-5.

People around me had been cheering to bring out Terahara for a while, but I don't think they understood that this wasn't a save situation, so he was unlikely to come out. And infact, the guy who came out to pitch the top of the 9th was Yuya Ishii, recently brought to Yokohama when they traded Masaaki Koike to Chunichi. Yuya was also the FOURTH Ishii to enter the game, if you're counting.

He got off to a rocky start -- walked Kuriyama and then Nakajima got a single. But, then Uchikawa made a smart play at first -- Brazell grounded to first and Uchikawa threw it to second, then Ishikawa relayed it back to Ishii covering first for the double play.

"Ganbare Yuya!!!" some people shouted. When he got up to two strikes on GG Satoh, we also added a cheer of "Ato ikkyu! Ato ikkyu!" ("One more pitch!") GG grounded out to third and the BAYSTARS ACTUALLY WON A GAME!!!! 10-5!!


Mike Wood and Shuuichi Murata were the game heroes; Wood because it was his first victory, and Murata because he's THE MAN. Seriously, can you believe Wood has pitched 14 games and this was his first win? Takumi Nasuno, who I pick on endlessly, is leading the staff in both wins (4) and losses (8). Wow, that's pathetic.

Mike Wood, game hero.

The team lined up to throw their hats to the fans sitting in Field A and Field B seating, and then Wood and Murata came out to throw a few baseballs into our section in right field as well, after the hero interviews. It started raining again during the hero interviews, but that didn't stop everyone from hanging out another 10 minutes in the stands to sing songs/cheers. I did the 1-9 and Winning and then decided to leave because it was almost 10pm and I knew I had an hour and a half train ride ahead of me to get home.

One of the guys who had been sitting down the row from me and high-fiving a lot on all of those runs came by to say goodbye. "Baystars, very happy," he said in broken English. We ended up having a short conversation in Japanese, where he said I should come back and be good luck for the team again, heh. Maybe I am -- I didn't mention it, but I have come and cheered for Yokohama three times this year and they have won all three of those games.

Stopped in the team store to pick up a ticket holder to put my pinbadges on. I keep getting a few from the capsule machines each time I'm down there, and now I have Miura and Kizuka and Nishi and Murata and Yoshimura, among others. I also got a few more. Still not sure what to do with that Koike one.

I'm planning to head back to Yokohama next Sunday to see the Dragons-Baystars game. I had originally thought I would go cheer for Chunichi, but I'm actually still kind of annoyed at their ouendan or lack thereof, plus there's still no Morino, and plus I think the Baystars could use my karma. So, we'll see.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Game Report: Rakuten @ Lotte Urawa -- Farm Team Fun, Extended Remix

I hadn't had nearly enough of watching Chiba Lotte slugfests after the Tigers game on Sunday, so I headed up to Lotte Urawa Stadium on Monday, and saw the Marines farm team and the Rakuten farm team slug it out to a 10-10 TIE GAME. How, uh, exciting!

The warm sunny weather (which Benny Agbayani had so astutely commented about -- "they'll be selling a LOT of beer today!") continued into Monday, so by the time I rode the 7-8 kilometers on my bike to get to the stadium, I was already ready to die. Then I sat out in the sun for another four hours for the game. I arrived around 12:30pm for a 1pm game and, despite wearing a Lotte t-shirt, decided to go sit on the visitor's side because I had a better chance to sit on the front-row bench. Plus, first base is always a more exciting place to be close to, really. (Masato Watanabe made it even more exciting, but I'll get to that in a bit.)

The starting pitcher for Rakuten was lefty Shingo Matsuzaki, and the starter for Lotte was Yoshihide Kanda. I was a little sad that Takumi Kohbe was starting in right field instead of first base, but I guess it makes sense since the aforementioned Masato was at first.

Yoshihide Kanda

Shingo Matsuzaki

Infact, I might as well type in my entire scorecard here, since I rarely see ni-gun box scores anywhere:
June 16, 2008 - Lotte Urawa Stadium

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 R H E
Eagles (ni-gun) 0 1 0 4 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 10 16 0
Marines (ni-gun) 1 6 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 10 10 3

Eagles AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Makida, cf 6 0 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 F8 .. S9 S9 .. F9 F8 .. D9 .. ..
Nishimura, ss 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 G1 .. d4 G4 .. E3 .. F8 F6 .. ..
Nakamura, lf 5 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 G6 .. .. BB KC G6 .. F7 .. G6 ..
Ohiro, 1b 6 2 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. D7 .. D7 S9 .. KC G5 .. F2 ..
Kawata, dh 5 1 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 .. G3 .. G3 S7 .. BB .. S9 KS ..
Yamashita, 2b 3 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 .. s9 .. E7 S9 .. S4 .. .. .. ..
Uchimura, pr-2b 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. E5 .. ..
Nishitani, ph-2b 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. F8
Hijirisawa, rf 3 2 2 2 0 3 0 0 0 .. BB .. S9 BB .. T7 .. G2 .. HP
Masuda, 3b 6 1 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. G4 F8 F7 .. S9 .. S9 .. KS
Ginji, c 2 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. .. S6 BB .. G3 .. .. .. .. ..
Nakatani, c 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. BB .. S7 .. ..
Moritani, pr 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Ishimine, c 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. F7

Marines AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Hayasaka, ss 5 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 G3 BB .. F8 .. S7 .. F9 .. G5 ..
Daita, cf 5 2 1 2 1 1 0 1 0 BB S7 .. G6 .. KC .. G6 .. .. G4
Sadaoka, lf 1 1 1 1 0 2 0 0 1 D7 BB .. BB .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Kakunaka, ph-lf 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. F7 .. L3 .. .. L6
Hosoya, 3b 6 1 1 4 1 0 0 0 1 G4 H7 .. G6 .. .. F8 .. KS .. G6
Shinzato, 2b 4 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 G6 BB .. .. G5 .. D7 .. G5 .. ..
M.Watanabe, 1b 4 2 2 0 0 1 0 0 1 .. S9/G6 .. .. S7 .. HP .. F8 .. ..
Kohbe, rf 5 1 2 3 1 0 0 0 0 .. F8 G6 .. S7 .. H7 .. .. KS ..
Aomatsu, c 3 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 .. KS F3 .. KS .. .. .. .. .. ..
Kanazawa, ph-c 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. f7 .. .. F4 ..
Ohtani, dh 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. BB F3 .. F9 .. .. .. .. .. ..
Heiuchi, ph-dh 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. F9 .. .. S7 ..

Matsuzaki 5 27 6 1 2 6 7 7
Aikyo 4 15 3 1 3 1 3 3
Watanabe 1 4 1 0 1 0 0 0
Tobe 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0

Kanda 3.2 19 6 0 0 3 5 2
Abe 2.1 11 3 0 1 1 0 0
Furuya 0.1 2 0 0 1 1 1 1
N.Kobayashi 0.2 5 3 0 0 1 2 2
Hattori 2 10 4 0 0 0 2 2
Shimoshikiryo 2 7 0 0 2 1 0 0

As you can see, it was quite a busy game at times.

The Marines got up 1-0 pretty quickly in the first inning after Takenori Daita walked, stole second, and scored on a double to left by Takuma Sadaoka.

But then the Eagles tied it up in the top of the second. Shoji Ohiro doubled to left, went to third on Kawata's groundout, and then Katsumi Yamashita hit a sac fly to right field, scoring Ohiro. 1-1. Rookie Ryo Hijirisawa, who has yet to get his first ichi-gun hit (yet has a .278 OBP in 19 PA), walked, but then got caught trying to steal second base to end the inning.

"Hetakuso!" ("You SUCK!") yelled a woman sitting a few seats down from me.

Rakuten backup catcher Jin Nakatani, who was playing catch with Shingo Matsuzaki on the sideline, heard her and yelled back something about his running speed, and perhaps about her running speed as well. Ahh, minor league.

Jin Nakatani.

The Marines, perhaps still feeding off of the momentum from the ichi-gun's big 6-run inning on Sunday, had their own big 6-run inning. It started with Masato Watanabe singling to right, but then Kohbe and Aomatsu making quick outs. (Kohbe's fly out to center was shallow enough that Masato almost got himself doubled off first.) Ryuji Ohtani, #125, a taxi squad player, walked. And then so did Keisuke Hayasaka. So suddenly the bases were loaded with two outs, and Daita came back up there and singled to left, scoring Masato and Ohtani. 3-1. Then Sadaoka walked, and if you're keeping track, that loaded the bases again...

...for Kei Hosoya, who launched a ball over the left-field fence into the netting! Grand slam! 7-1. Ken Shinzato walked, but Masato Watanabe grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning after that. 6 runs that inning on 4 walks and 3 hits. Wow.

Sadaoka stands at first base while Hosoya is at bat.

Hosoya comes in to high-five everyone after the grand slam.

Yuta Ohmine, Lotte's hyped prospect from Ishigaki, recovers the bat.

The old guy sitting next to me, who seemed to be a Rakuten fan, got up and left at that point. So did a few other people. I suppose when the price of the game is zero yen, you're not missing out on much.

Things settled down for the third inning, but then got crazy in the fourth inning. Masato Nakamura (#126) led off with a walk, and then Ohiro doubled to left. Kawata grounded out to first base, Masato running in the ball by himself, but Nakamura scored on the play, 7-2. Yamashita hit the ball to left field, and Lotte leftfielder Sadaoka took a weird route to the ball, didn't quite get it, dropped it, then scrambled to GET it again, and Ohiro scored in the meantime. 7-3. Hijirisawa singled to right, moving Yamashita to second; Yamashita would move to third on a pop fly by Masuda. Ginji walked, and the bases were loaded again for Rakuten.

Akihisa Makida came up to bat and singled to right, and both Yamashita and Hijirisawa scored on the play. 7-5. So that was it for Lotte starter Kanda, who came out of the game, and 19-year-old Kazunari Abe came into the game, and got a groundout from Nishimura to end the 9-batter inning.

Kazunari Abe.

Abe is a beanpole, something like 6 feet tall and weighs about 155 pounds. I guess perhaps he'll fill out a bit after he gets out of his teenage years?

In the top of the 5th inning, after Nakamura struck out, the Eagles banged out three straight singles. Ohiro singled to right, Kawata singled to left (moving Ohiro to second), and then Yamashita singled to right. Rightfielder Takumi Kohbe ran in to get the ball and fired it home, and Ohiro tried to score from second and was OUT AT THE PLATE! Yay Kohbe! Ohiro, for his part, was in total disbelief. Hijirisawa walked after that, but Masuda hit a pop fly out to end the inning.

The Marines got two guys on with one out in their half of the 5th, but didn't capitalize on it.

After the 5th inning, there was a brief "5th inning stretch" of sorts, while some guys drove zamboni-like machines around the all-dirt infield, and a few other grounds crew watered the dirt again to make it less dusty.

Ohiro is shocked that he was out at the plate.

Takumi Kohbe, who made the fantastic throw to the plate, singled in the bottom half of the inning.

Dirt Zamboni!

The E3 in the top of the 6th was a grounder to first where Masato Watanabe wasn't going to be able to run the ball in in time, so he flipped it to Abe, except either Abe didn't make a clean catch or the ball just fell out of his glove; either way Nishimura was safe at first on the error.

Keisuke Hayasaka got himself caught stealing in the bottom of the 6th. Also, Hisashi Aikyo replaced Shingo Matsuzaki on the mound for Rakuten after 5 innings.

Takuya Furuya came out to pitch the top of the 7th for Lotte. Furuya is a big left-handed guy from Hokkaido, and he wears #27, and let me tell you that "FuruYA 27" looks rather odd (and I nearly did infact write down his name as Furuta). Anyway, Furuya got a strikeout from Ohiro and then walked Kawata, and then there was a loooong pause in the game and a pitching chance. I have this suspicion that maybe Furuya hurt himself somehow since his pitches to Kawata were all over the place, plus that they didn't have someone ready to replace him right when he came out.

Noriyuki Kobayashi, #123, replaced Furuya on the mound. Kobayashi went to a prefectural high school in Kawaguchi that is literally a 10-minute bike ride from where I live, and then he played on an Urawa amateur team, and then for the Shikoku Island league, and then he got drafted by Lotte in the taxi squad draft. And as it is, the very first batter he faced, Yamashita, hit a line drive right into him and knocked him over, the ball rebounding to Shinzato at second, who couldn't make a throw to first in time. A bunch of medical staff came out to see if Kobayashi was going to survive, and during the long pause, Kensuke Uchimura came in to pinch-run for Yamashita.

Uchimura also was a taxi squad draftee, but he came from the championship Ishikawa team of the Hokushinetsu League. He also happens to be about 5'4, and the women sitting to my right were all saying things like "Wow! What a little guy!"

Here's Atsuya Takuya Furuta Furuya.

Noriyuki Kobayashi before he got knocked over by a line drive.

Ken Shinzato.

Little Kensuke Uchimura. Coach Hirohashi is around 5'11.

Anyway, perhaps Kobayashi never entirely recovered from his scare, because right after that, Ryo Hijirisawa hit a monster drive into the gap in left-center, which ended up being a triple, and everyone else on base scored. 7-7. It wasn't too hard for Shintaro Masuda to single home Hijirisawa after that, to bring the score to 8-7. Jin Nakatani, who had come into the game as a catcher in the bottom of the 6th, walked after that, but Kobayashi got out of the inning on luck when a low liner to shallow center was not only caught by centerfielder Daita, but he also threw in the ball to second base and doubled off Masuda, who was already at third base by the time it landed.

The Marines, who had been coasting on a nice lead for those first few innings, suddenly found themselves behind by a point in the bottom of the 7th. With one out, Ken Shinzato hit a ball that was almost a home run -- as far as I could tell, it bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and fell back onto the field. I'm not sure why it was a double instead of a homerun, but whatever. After that, Masato Watanabe got hit by a pitch. So with two runners on, big Takumi Kohbe came to the plate. And he swung his big bat and he got a BIG hit -- a home run that went waaaay over the fence in left-center and got stuck in the netting outside Urawa Stadium! BLAM! 10-8.

Kanazawa and Heiuchi pinch-hit after that, but didn't succeed in doing much of anything, Nakamura making a fantastic sliding catch just outside left field off of Kanazawa's foul fly.

Takumi Kohbe towers over all who oppose him.

Kohbe high-fives everyone in the dugout following his 3-run homer.

Yasutaka Hattori. (See below.)

Lefty Yasutaka Hattori took the mound for Lotte in the 8th. I was really psyched about that; I saw him pitch a little last time I came to Lotte Urawa stadium; he was Lotte's first-round pick in the industrial/college draft last year. Anyway, Hattori pitched a flawless 8th, but ran into some trouble in the 9th. Kawata led off with a real single, and then Uchimura hit the ball to third, where Hosoya booted it, so instead of one out and one on, there were no outs and two on. Hijirisawa meant to sac bunt up the two runners after that, but catcher Kanazawa charged the ball, threw to third for the force out, and Hosoya threw to first to get a DP on Hijirisawa at first -- a NICE double play, especially judging that the speedy little bugger Uchimura was a lost cause at second. However, Masuda singled to right ater that, and Uchimura scored from second. 10-9.

Nakatani singled as well, moving Masuda to second, and Moritani came in as a pinch-runner at first. When Makida singled after that, Masuda scored (10-10), and despite a great throw from Kohbe, Moritani was safe at third... where he would remain as Nishimura popped out to short.

Still, the game was tied, and the Marines went down 1-2-3 in their half of the 9th. So that meant... EXTRA INNINGS! Wheeee! But first the zambonis came out again, and people took bathroom breaks for a while, and a bunch of old guys went home, and so on.

They announced the Lotte pitcher for the 10th inning and I nearly fell off my chair. Yuta Shimoshikiryo! The other submariner! Shunsuke's apprentice and perhaps next-in-command! WOW! How cool was THAT? I'd wanted to see him ever since his "best sempai EVER" comment about Shunsuke in spring camp. Awesome!

I tried a couple of times to basically photograph his entire throwing motion, because it's pretty wacky. He starts from a normal standing position and a normal leg kick, but then moves down to throw from the ground, similar to where Shunsuke ends up, and when he's finishing his motion he usually pushes forward so much and comes up with so much force that his hat comes off. Seriously. Dude needs some bobbypins or barrettes to keep it on, I think :)

Yuta Shimoshikiryo, "Sub" Marine Junior.

Anyway, he was awesome and got a quick 1-2-3 tenth inning out of Rakuten.

Rakuten had only used two pitchers up to that point -- Matsuzaki for 5 innings and Aikyo for 4, so they brought in lefty Yuki Watanabe to pitch the 10th, and he also got a relatively quick inning -- Heiuchi singled with two outs, but a fielder's choice quickly erased that runner.

Top of the 11th, Shimoshikiryo hit the other long name player, Hijirisawa, with a pitch, and then spent like five throws trying to pick him off first base. There was one time that it was a really, really close call, and when he was called safe, Masato Watanabe blew a gasket and started yelling at the umpire. It was mostly pretty funny, but I hadn't really seen that kind of thing before so I was a little surprised:

Shimoshikiryo makes a pickoff throw to first.

Masato goes mental on the umpire.

Hijirisawa takes a plunge back to the bag during a later pickoff throw.

Adventure! Excitement! A Jedi craves not these things.

Anyway, Hiroshi Tobe pitched the bottom of the 11th, also getting a 1-2-3 inning, and that was it for the game as the teams had a 10-10 tie. Apparently minor league games only go to 11 innings and that's it. Just as well, really, it was almost 5pm by that point and I was beginning to worry about sunburn.

Tobe or not Tobe.

Apparently, tying the game is just as high-five-worthy as winning it, in this case?

The scoreboard only goes to 11 anyway. Here's Daita standing out there at the start of the 11th inning.

After packing up my camera, I went back to the Lotte side of the field to see if I could take some closer-up shots of any players coming out. Some guys filtered out pretty quickly to go to the Marines training/etc building; Heiuchi and Sadaoka and Kanazawa all walked out as I was walking in. Masato Watanabe seemed distinctly kind of grumpy and I think people were avoiding him as such. Some others went by; Yuta Ohmine got stormed by a ton of women who wanted his autograph, he signed a few things and then RAN AWAY as fast as possible.

I saw some people catch Hattori and Shimoshikiryo. I didn't have anything to get signed, so I just held back and snapped some photos. I could have bought a baseball or a signboard from the goods table, but for some reason I thought that would be kind of lame of me. At the time, at least. Now, I kind of regret it. It would be cool to have something signed by a Japanese player :(

I really wanted to see Kohbe and just say something like "nice home run" to him, but he was on the field taking extra batting practice -- several players had some batting cages set up and they were still all swinging, despite that they had all just played through an 11-inning game. Wow!

Then Yuki Karakawa stepped out of the clubhouse and immediately got SWAMPED with people wanting his autograph. And so someone organized everyone to stand in line, and Karakawa just went through and signed for everyone there -- for at least 10 minutes, he was still signing when I left. I should have gotten his autograph for Lisa (who calls him Karaage-kun), but I just didn't think of it. Doh. It's so amazing how he's already accomplished a bunch in baseball and he's going to turn 19 next month.

I went to the parking lot after that. The Rakuten bus was actually parked right next to my bicycle and I had to go through some of the players who were loading stuff onto the bus to go unlock my bike! That was kind of funny, saying "sumimasen" to Ohiro and Yamashita, who must have wondered what I was doing; then the CLICK as I unlocked the bike should have made it clear. Heh.

Ohmine pretends not to be a rock star.

Hattori, a lefty pitcher, signs right-handed. Very Japanese.

I caught Shimoshikiryo signing for some people as well.

I took about 10 pictures of Karakawa; this is the only one where he was actually looking towards me. Awwwwww.

I rode the 7-8 kilometers back to my apartment. I have no idea how I survived that, honestly. I rode to the park, sat in the sun for 4 hours, rode back, and when I got home, all I wanted to do was turn on the airconditioner and lie on my floor for like 20 minutes. Which is about how long it took all the pictures to download off my camera anyway.

If I haven't mentioned it already, Takumi Kohbe is definitely my Lotte ni-gun boyfriend now that Nemoto is on the top team. Someday I'm going to meet him, hopefully. And all I'll be able to say is, "You are so tall." And he'll think I'm the most retarded foreigner on the planet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Game Report: Tigers @ Marines - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Zuleta

When a team gets off to a quick 7-0 lead in the first two innings, most of the time, you'd expect that team to win, right? But when that team is the Marines with their iffy bullpen, and they're facing the Hanshin Tigers with that roaring offense, well, anything could happen.

I showed up insanely early for this game -- left my apartment around 8:10am, and arrived at the stadium around 10:05 so that the Marines Mind Control Task Force could sneak me into the stadium. I got to hang out on the field for the pre-game practices, which was a great learning experience as usual. I got to see the Marines pitchers take special bunting practice with Morozumi-coach, and I got to see players take normal batting practice. Said hi to Bobby and the foreign players; was too terrified to say anything to the Japanese players as usual.

Bee and Julio Down By The Schoolyard?

Gorilla Imae in all his fuzziness.

Morozumi-coach kind of embodies the bright sunny weather.

I continue to admire Shunsuke from afar.

When the Hanshin Tigers came out to do pre-game stretching, I decided to take a walk over to their side to see what was going on. I watched/listened as Shimoyanagi and Williams were joking with each other ("hustle, hustle!") and saw the players get in two lines and do sprints and so on. I was trying to figure out whether the line ranking was by age or experience or both; the line near me had a lot of guys I didn't know in front, and the back was brought up by Kanemoto (age 40), Shimoyanagi (age 40), and Yano (turns 40 at the end of the year). I was also trying to figure out which foreign players were currently on the top roster; I saw Atchison, Baldiris, and Williams running. I knew Vogelsong wasn't around, but I was wondering about Lew Ford (and I still get confused as to whether Wei-Tzu Lin counts as a foreign player).

Old Tigers never die, they just lose their claws.

As my brain was processing all this, and wondering whether I could get the courage up to talk to any of the foreign players on Hanshin in what was likely to be my only chance all year, the craziest thing of my ENTIRE baseball life in Japan so far happened: Jeff Williams came up to ME and said hi.

"Hey," he said, "Are you Deanna?"

I nearly fainted. "Uh... yeah... I am..."

"I've read your blog, it's great to meet you!" he said.

We shook hands. My brain was still somewhat in shock. Jeff Williams has read my blog?! "You've read my blog?!"

After chatting for a minute or two, he had to go work out with the team on the field, but promised he'd come back to chat later. Wow. Just, wow. What a nice guy.

I wandered back over to the Marines side, where I found Jim Allen. Jim is one of my heroes. He writes about baseball for the Daily Yomiuri, is fluent in Japanese and English, is fearless (he'll just go up and grab anyone from Takahiro Arai to Tatsunori Hara for a chat), knows SO much about Japanese baseball that he absolutely puts me to shame -- and always has a good story to tell (my favorite is the one about Hiroyasu Tanaka's wonderful Waseda English skills). Also, he puts up with me asking lots of stupid questions. I consider that to be an amazing personality trait in general.

Wandered back over to the Hanshin side with Jim, and we sat in the dugout because he likes bright sunlight even less than I do. A few minutes later, Scott Atchison wandered in. So Jim talked to him for a while and I mostly smiled and nodded and maybe asked one or two questions. It was really weird for me because I saw Atch a LOT in Tacoma and Seattle a few years ago. And then Atchison wandered back out, and Jeff Williams wandered in, and so I ended up just kind of hanging out in the dugout chatting with Jim and Jeff for like half an hour (and being largely in disbelief about the entire thing). I think a separate "Jeff Williams Is Awesome" post is forthcoming in a bit. Seriously.

Jeff Williams is awesome.

Tigers BP ended, so I went back to the Marines side, said hi to a few people, and then followed Jim inside the underground maze of Marine Stadium to find somewhere to sit for the game. On the way in, I passed by Saburo, and said "Ganbatte, Saburo!" He nodded and replied something -- I didn't catch it -- but hey, I usually am completely unable to talk to Japanese players, so maybe I'll break that phobia soon. Who knows.

It turned out the fake press box (an area that used to be part of the real press box, but now they sell seats there to fans -- seriously, check it out) was open to real press for the game, since Lotte expected to need extra press capacity due to the Tigers factor. The fake press room seemed like a great option to me since it was less crowded and NOT smoky. I went and found a front-row seat there, and Rob Smaal (from the Asahi Shinbun) ended up coming in there too, so I even had someone to chat with for the game. The only downsides were, it turned out we weren't actually allowed to open the windows in there, AND you're not allowed to take pictures. Which was killing me because we were RIGHT behind the plate! So close you could even clearly see Benny's tattoos or Satozaki's mole!

(So I snuck into the 3rd base camera well for about a third of the game, but that's another story.)

I went to Lotteria to get a Bobby Burger combo for lunch, and then settled down to watch the game. Seriously, Lotteria needs to bring back the Bobby Burger in places besides Marine Stadium, because it rules.

Oh hey! Did I mention that there was a game? And that it was CRAZY?

Hiroyuki Kobayashi started for the Marines, and he dispatched of the Tigers in the first inning quickly.

The Tigers starter was a 21-year-old righty from Osaka named Naoto Tsuru, who was making his ichi-gun debut appearance. Sometimes, these kids can really come out of nowhere and surprise you with what they can do.

And sometimes, they don't.

Nishioka singled. Nemoto singled. Fukuura singled. (Nishioka scored; 1-0.)
Ohmatsu walked. Satozaki singled. (Nemoto and Fukuura scored; 3-0.)
Ortiz hit a blast of a line drive to left field which Kanemoto took a diving somersault for and failed to get, turning into a double. (Ohmatsu scored; 4-0.)

I kind of facepalmed my head on the table as I watched that play. "Wait, are you a Tigers fan?" asked Rob.

"No," I replied, "But that looked really painful for Kanemoto. In more ways than one."

That was it for Tsuru. His debut ended with 6 batters faced, 5 hits, 1 walk, and 6 earned runs charged to him, without retiring a single batter. Don't ask me what his ERA is, or you'll get a divide by zero error and crash my blog.

Hirotaka Egusa came in to stem the bleeding, but Benny hit a single off of him, scoring Satozaki and Ortiz. 6-0. Imae lined out to second, and Benny was doubled off of first. And at that moment I realized I wanted to run out to the camera well in order to catch Kanemoto at bat, among other things, so I did that, arriving just after Daisuke Hayakawa singled to right. Nishioka walked, but then Nemoto grounded to Toritani by second base, and Nishioka was out on the force.

I had figured the second inning would be a good time to take pictures of Tigers batting, because Kanemoto, Hiyama, and Toritani would all be up, and they're all lefty batters. But aside from Toritani walking, nothing happened that inning. Lew Ford struck out in his first at-bat.

The Marines added another run in the bottom of the 2nd. Fukuura led off with a single, and was slowly moved along by a walk, a pop fly, and then a sac fly scored him. 7-0.

Lotte starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi.

Hanshin's non-starter Hirotaka Egusa.

It really is Lew Ford! Wow!

I spy Arai.

Kazuya Fukuura slides into home plate for the 7th Lotte run.

Kentaro Sekimoto, however, doesn't think Fukuura actually tagged up. Eh.

And so things went. That 7-0 lead seemed nigh insurmountable for a while. I got really thirsty after about 3 innings in the camera well and went back to the fake press box. Naturally, that's exactly when stuff started to HAPPEN.

Sekimoto led off the top of the 6th with a double to left, and then Arai SMASHED a ball to right which bounced off the wall for another double. Kanemoto hit a sac fly to center, scoring Sekimoto from third. 7-1. Hiyama also took the liberty of getting a big single to right, which scored Arai. 7-2. Toritani grounded out, advancing Hiyama to second. Ford hit a big bouncer to short, which Nishioka caught up with and threw to first, but not in time to get Ford, and awkwardly enough that Fukuura couldn't make a clean catch, so Hiyama scored on the play. 7-3. Yano struck out to end the inning after that, but that was what it took to knock Kobayashi out of the game.

By that point Kentaro Hashimoto had taken over on the mound for Egusa. He walked one and struck out two in the 5th, but in the 6th he kind of lost it and walked both Nishioka and Fukuura. So when Ohmatsu hit this huge blast to right field, bouncing off the wall and confusing Lew Ford, both of the walked men scored and Ohmatsu got a triple by the time the dust cleared. 9-3.

Shingo Ono pitched a 1-2-3 7th and so did Taiyo Fujita.

Going into the Lucky 8th, though, Ono gave up a single to Arai, and then a BIG HOME RUN to Kanemoto, which landed waaaay back in the Marines cheering section. 9-5. After another double by Hiyama, Ono came out of the game, and was replaced by 40-year-old Yuuji Takagi. Takagi got a groundout from Toritani, and then left the mound for Yasutomo Kubo. Ikuro Katsuragi pinch-hit for Lew Ford and


hit the ball so loud and so hard that you could tell from the minute it left the bat that it was going to land somewhere in the vicinity of Makuhari Messe. 9-7. Wei-tzu Lin (!) came in as a pinch-hitter then, but hit a pop out to center. Two outs. Kubo walked Akahoshi, Sekimoto singled, and that was it for him. Brian Sikorski came in and struck out Arai on three straight fastballs to end the inning and the threat.

Jeff Williams replaced Taiyo on the mound and I was like, "Holy crap, Jeff is pitching! I'll be right back," and ran out to the camera well. He did pretty well -- one single, and two strikeouts.

(You see, after that initial 7-0 lead, I actually figured we weren't going to get to see any of JFK or most of the really good players, but it just goes to show that Okada never had it in his mind that this game was lost -- he was always playing to win.)

He puts the J in JFK!

Lotte's closer, Tadahiro Ogino.

Tadahiro Ogino came out to close out the game. Well, that was the plan, anyway. I came back to the press box in the hopes of a quick 9th and getting to stalk Bobby's post-game victory speech.

Only the Tigers had other ideas. Kanemoto led off with a double, and then Hiyama hit a ball to second, which Nemoto fielded pretty far out and the throw bounced in. Toritani singled to center after that, scoring Kanemoto. Crap. 9-8.

"Let's see," said Rob. "He needs to get Katsuragi out and then get a double play, that's the only way out of this one." Rob was supposed to play in a hockey game in Tokyo later that evening and didn't seem too happy with the idea of staying in Chiba for extra innings.

"Yeah, and he needs to STRIKE OUT Katsuragi, specifically," I agreed.

Amazingly, after 10 pitches or so, Ogino proceeded to do precisely that -- strike out Katsuragi. Whoa.

However, Yano was apparently protected from our karma, and he hit a long fly ball out to center. Hayakawa made a damn nice catch, but there was no preventing a pinch-running Shuta from scoring. 9-9.

"Well, look on the bright side," I said. "If they score another run, Kyuji will come in and then we can still go home fairly soon!" As I said that, though, Aarom Baldiris struck out to end the inning.

Either way, with a tie game like this, the prospects were kind of grim for the home team. I mean, let's face it, the Marines have become somewhat known this year for NOT having a bullpen, while the Tigers have the most famous bullpen in Japan. Going into extra innings with a crappy bullpen is kind of like going into a pachinko parlor covered in gasoline.

Instead of Kyuji, though, we got Ryo Watanabe pitching. To be fair, Watanabe is kind of like Kyuji Lite, or Kyuji Junior, or something like that. And at first, that was a fairly accurate way to describe it. Saburo grounded out and then Satozaki hit a bunch of foul popups before one finally stayed fair and catchable. As Ortiz came up to bat for ostensibly the last out of the inning, I saw a sign.

"Oh, look at that," I said. "We're not messing around anymore."

Julio Zuleta was taking practice swings in the on-deck circle. From where we were sitting, he looked twice as tall as usual. Which is to say, about 4 Kosakas high.

Jose Ortiz walked, and Zuleta came up to the plate, and he BLASTED a ball out to right center. Going... going... not gone, but it landed at the bottom edge of the centerfield wall, way in the gap. Ortiz was running from the moment the bat hit the ball, and was rounding third before the guys even got their hands on the ball, and as the throw came in, Ortiz ran, and dove into home plate headfirst, just as Yano caught the ball. 10-9 and the Marines win it! Ortiz got up out of a big cloud of dirt and EVERYONE ran out to second base to jump on Zuleta.

Zuleta was, predictably, the game hero. I mean, it doesn't get much more dramatic than that.

Afterwards, the Marines farm team was playing a game vs. the Rakuten farm team at the stadium, so the personnel changed fairly quickly and all of the fans who stuck around moved into better seats. I stuck around for a little while to see the start of the game -- it was Szu-yu Wu for Lotte starting against Kitani from Rakuten. I knew I was probably going to see Lotte-Rakuten ni-gun the next day, plus I had to get back up to Tokyo to play volleyball, so I didn't stick around THAT long.

Still, what a crazy game and overwhelming day. Lots of fun, though.

Afterwards, I wandered into the Marines store and finally decided to suck it up and get a Watanabe #31 t-shirt. I really don't like the current design with just the M on the front -- I love my old Satozaki shirt with the entire "Marines #22" on the front that I got a few years ago. But since I don't know if they'll ever make those again, and that shirt is starting to fall apart, I might as well stop waiting.

Outside the Marines shop are a bunch of gatchapon capsule machines, and I decided to just get ONE player keychain. I figured I'd get some random nobody player, but I put in my coins, turned the dial, got out the little plastic capsule, and... I got a SHUNSUKE WATANABE #31 keychain! Hahahaha! It really IS destiny!

Anyway, I'll actually make a photo set out of all of these game shots sometime, but for now, I just have two last pictures that I'm putting up here. These are for Pau, my friend who is a big Hanshin fan, and who had too many academic obligations this month to be able to come down to Chiba with me for the game:

Big Brother is Watching You.


The Marinerds Blog would like to point out that Lotte has been 25-21 (.543) in months where Deanna's been at the park at least once, but were 7-17 (.291) in months where she hasn't been around. Just sayin'.

Next up: Lotte ni-gun game from Monday. And maybe that "Jeff Williams is Awesome" post, when I get a chance.