Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Game Report: Baystars vs. Dragons @ Nagoya Dome - Hirata's Sayonara HR, or "Tatsunami Made Me Do It"

When I go to Osaka in two weeks, assuming it doesn't rain on the 22nd, I will have seen the Yokohama Bay Stars play in every standard Central League stadium in Japan this year, as well as in Gifu Nagarakawa Stadium.

And, uh, rainouts aside, I will probably have also seen them LOSE in every CL stadium in Japan.

On Sunday the 7th, I headed down to Nagoya to hang out with some friends, sing some karaoke, eat some miso katsu, watch some baseball, all of the normal things one does when one visits Nagoya, I suppose. We arrived at the Nagoya Dome a little after 5pm and found our way into our seats, which were a tiny bit to the right of home plate, and 2 rows from the absolute back of the dome. Surprisingly, this was actually a fairly decent view:

Our gang included myself, and my friend Jeff, who has been a Chunichi Dragons fan (and Tatsunami fan in particular) for about 14 years; my friend Laura who has lived in Gifu for two years but this was her first baseball game in Japan, and my friend Craig, who just moved to Nagoya a month ago, and this was also his first baseball game in Japan. After we threw our stuff down on our seats, we went our separate ways to find food and whatnot. I came back with two sets of cheer sticks.

"What are those for?" asked Laura.

"These are to save your hands from falling off after clapping for 3 straight hours," I replied.

Given, we weren't exactly in a cheering area, but given that Laura is a really fun person who loves singing and has totally immersed herself into Japanese culture, and had been hearing me rave for the last few years about how awesome it is to sing ouenka, I knew it was my duty to show her The Way, as it were. I explained to her the word "Kattobase", and that it is the Common Denominator of all ouenka. I told her all about Morino and Tyrone and Norihiro and Araki and Tanishige and explained about making the "T!" for Tyrone and whatnot, and went through the "Misero Ochiai Nippon Ichi" and everything after the Dragons ouendan did their lineup music.

Of course, as soon as the lineups were announced and the Baystars ouendan started singing their songs, I realized this was going to be a bit confusing, as I started singing along to them as well. Jeff smacked me when I was about halfway through Seiichi Uchikawa's song.

"Don't make us sic Doala on you," he threatened.

"I told you, this is what they get for not starting Kenichi Nakata."

You see, late last year Jeff and I went to a game at the Nagoya Dome and the Dragons won 4-1 with Nakata starting and Iwase getting the save, and Nakata reaching 150 strikeouts for the year and Iwase reaching 150 career saves. (It was also the day after I got hit by a truck -- wow, has it already been a year? Crazy!) Then earlier this year, in April, Jeff and I went to a game out in Gifu and the Dragons won 4-1 with Nakata starting and Iwase getting the save. So, we figured if Nakata started this game it'd be a total breeze for them to win 4-1 with Iwase getting the save again.

Of course, at the time, we didn't know that Nakata HAD infact pitched earlier that day at the Nagoya Dome -- with the Dragons minor-league squad. Oops.

So, the starters were Kazuki Yoshimi for the Dragons and Futoshi Kobayashi for the Baystars. Yoshimi started off this year in amazing fashion and seemed nigh unbeatable for a while, but then he kind of lost steam, maybe was overused a little bit, and wound up in the minors rehabbing after some serious arm pain; this was his first appearance on the top team in almost two months. Kobayashi, on the other hand, has been one of the few bright points on the Yokohama roster this year, and would probably be a shoe-in for CL Rookie of the Year if he was playing for a team actually capable of winning baseball games.

It seemed like pretty much anything could happen. And to be honest, I would be happy no matter what team won.

The game got off to a blazing fast start. After about 25 minutes, we were in the middle of the 3rd inning, the score was still 0-0, and not only that, nobody had gotten a hit. Yoshimi struck out 5 Baystars on his first time through the lineup, and Laura was wondering if we'd get to see anyone actually run around the bases, since all she'd seen so far was Norihiro walking to first.

Tanishige obliged by hitting a double to left field, and Yoshimi bunted him up. I handed Laura my second Morino towel (yes, I have two) and we waved them and sang his cheer song and... he walked! Araki also walked, loading the bases, and then Byung-gyu Lee hit a big big big fly ball to left, which was caught, but allowed Tanishige to score on the sacrifice. 1-0. Tyrone grounded into a 5-4 fielder's choice after that to end the inning.

After we sang a chorus of Moeyo Dragons (which Craig and Laura had been subjected to earlier in the day at karaoke), and the excitement died down, I asked my friends, "How do you say the equivalent of 'throws like a girl' in Japanese?"

They debated a few possibilities, then asked why, and I explained, "I think we just saw the absolute slowest runner on the Dragons score on a sac fly thrown by the absolute worst outfield arm in Japan. I want to know how to accurately express the sentiment that, much as I love Saeki, Laura here could have probably thrown the ball in faster than he did."

"But I've never played baseball in my life!" she said.


I was trying to explain what "Uchimakure" meant as the fourth inning started up. Takehiro Ishikawa led off with a single to second that he beat out, and was bunted up by Nishi, and then Uchikawa singled to right, scoring Ishikawa to tie up the game at 1-1. Then something super-weird happened. Shuuichi "THE MAN" Murata hit a loooong double into the gap in left, at which Jeff was muttering "at least it wasn't a home run". Kazuhiro Wada fielded it and threw it in, but it was a really bad throw, WAY wide of home plate, so Uchikawa scored pretty easily on the play, 2-1. Tanishige, realizing he had missed the tag by far, threw the ball to second base to try to get Murata there, except Araki was out of place and couldn't quite catch the throw, which went into right field; by the time the Dragons recovered the ball, Murata was on third. Yuki Yoshimura singled to left after that, scoring Murata. 3-1. Saeki popped out and Kinjoh struck out.

The Dragons added another run in the bottom of the 4th after a Wada double, a Norihiro pop fly to right that Wada advanced to third on, and a sac fly to left by Tomas Delarosa. 3-2. Then Tanishige came up to bat, and Kobayashi got up to a count of one ball and two strikes on him... and the entire Baystars medical staff suddenly came out to the mound.

We didn't know what happened at the time (apparently he hurt his left leg), but he was replaced on the mound by Shigeki Ushida ("Mr. Cow Field?" joked Jeff), who struck out Tanishige two pitches later to end the inning.

Ushida actually batted for himself in the top of the 5th -- apparently his first at-bat since 2006. "They don't even have a batting average for him," said Jeff.

"Yeah, I agree," I replied, "obviously it's a divide-by-zero error and totally crashed the Baystars team. Why the heck are the ouendan playing chance music for him?"

Subsequently, Dragons starting pitcher Yoshimi was the batter leading off the bottom of the 5th. Embarrassingly, even for a pitcher, he's had 30 plate appearances this year, and still has a batting average -- nay, an OPS -- of .000. "Another one," said Jeff. "But how did he get one RBI?"

"Damn, that's a really good question," I replied. "A groundout? A sacrifice?"

(Note: As it turns out, it was a SUICIDE SQUEEZE on April 27th at Jingu and I was even at the game and had marvelled at the play at the time.)

Yoshimi grounded out this time, and then Morino hit a line drive to the right side, which Toshihisa Nishi just HAPPENED to make a perfect jump for and catch. So, with two outs, Araki walked, stole second, and then scored on a single by Lee. 3-3. Laura was delighted to learn both the word "douten" and to learn chance music. Ushida was switched on the mound for Oyamada, who walked Tyrone before getting Wada to ground out.

Earlier in the game I had bet that Murata was going to either ground out to third or hit a home run, so when he came up to bat in the 6th inning and hit a home run 110 meters into the left-field stands, it didn't really surprise anyone, least of all me. 4-3.

In the bottom of the 6th, Norihiro walked again, was bunted up by Delarosa, and Tanishige singled, Norihiro holding at third. We then heard over the loud speaker, "Changing from Yoshimi, pinch-hitter... TATSUNAMI KAZUYOSHI."

That was enough to send the stadium erupting into a ton of cheers, so naturally the Baystars had to counter by changing pitchers to ex-Dragon lefty Yuya Ishii.

Dragons ouendan struck up the Nerai Uchi chance theme, and before they even got through one round of it, Tatsunami grounded to second, and Tanishige was out on the force, but there was no double play, and Norihiro scored. 4-4. Morino struck out after that, possibly on a hit-and-run mistake. Jeff said, "It's really depressing to think that might be the last time I will ever see Tatsunami at bat in person."

A bunch of dragonlings pitched the 7th to 9th innings -- Akifumi Takahashi, and then Takuya Asao, who still looks like he's about 15 years old. The top of the 9th had one of the funniest moments ever, where Murata doubled, and then Yoshimura went to bunt up Murata... so as Yoshimura kept squaring to bunt, Tyrone Woods kept slowly creeping in, in, in from first base, and by the time Yoshimura bunted and the ball popped up in the air, Tyrone totally ran in and made the catch. This after he had charged a Nishi bunt earlier in the game AND ran really far to make a foul fly catch, it was definitely a good day for him.

Yukiya Yokoyama took the mound for the Baystars in the bottom of the 9th with the score still tied. "I hope this game doesn't go on too much longer, or I won't be able to get the bus back to my house in Gifu," said Jeff.

"No worries," I replied, "Yokoyama will give up the ship. Just wait a little bit."

Sure enough, Ryosuke Hirata came up to bat as a pinch-hitter for Asao. Hirata, who I remember best as the guy who was only 19 when he helped the Dragons win the Japan Series last year, and thus wasn't legally allowed to be part of the beer-spraying party, is now 20, but is still a big kid from Osaka Toin. And you know what big kids from Osaka Toin do best...

...hit game-ending home runs into the right-field stands. Which is exactly what he did. The game ended at 5-4.

Naturally, he was the game hero...

Apparently it was actually his first pro home run, which surprised me since I know he hit a bazillion in high school (okay, 70) and it turns out he hasn't hit so many home runs yet in the minors either, but whatever, it was pretty exciting for him. In his hero interview they asked him the standard "what were you thinking when you came up to bat?" and he said "well, Tatsunami told me that if I went up there and nobody was on, I should swing for the fences, so I did."

I think that "Tatsunami made me do it" is definitely one of the better answers I've heard in hero interviews.

Anyway, after the hero interview, and after the ouendan were singing lots of songs ("How long does this post-game party last anyway?" my friends asked), and after we took a bunch of photos in the stands, and packed up all of our stuff... I insisted on going into the Dragons shop. I had hoped to find like, a postcard or poster or something commemorating Masa's 200th win.

Little did I know they had moved a ton of Giants goods out to make room for an entire Masa 200 goods shelf:

I got a cloth detailing his milestone games and wins. Then I visited the Doala Corner of the store and got a pair of Doala ears, finally (they didn't have them in April). And then I decided I wanted to get something else Masa, but what? I was staring off into space debating what I would or wouldn't wear and/or use, when Jeff came over to inform me that everyone else had made their purchases and were waiting outside for me, so I should just hurry up and spend too much money already and be done with it.

As he was saying this to me, a girl from a gaggle of three Japanese Dragon-fangirls tentatively tapped Jeff on the shoulder with their cellphone cameras out, and said in English, "Picture... please?"

Jeff was wearing a Cubs Fukudome #1 t-shirt, see. I guess they figured he was a tourist. He replied in Japanese, "What, you want me to turn around so you can take a picture of my shirt or something?"

Me being me, I took a picture of them taking a picture, just because I thought it would be funny:

And then I opted for a white Yamamoto #34 t-shirt and went to leave and join my friends outside.

Eventually we got back to Gifu, since I was crashing at Laura's apartment. She has a cat now, and I wasted no time in introducing the cat to cheer sticks, which are conveniently plastic and have string, making them DOUBLY qualified as cat toys:

However, I failed in getting the cat to wear Doala ears. It's just as well.

I came back to Tokyo Monday morning, riding the train partway with Laura and her friends, who were going to Fuji-Q Highlands, a rollercoaster park near Mt. Fuji. Laura's coworker came along and was wearing an Orioles #10 Jones t-shirt. I said, "Is that an ADAM Jones t-shirt?"

"Why, yes, it is."

"Grrrrr stupid trade grrrrrrrrr Sherrill grrrrrr Bedard grrrrrrr."

"You from Seattle or something?"

There are times where I'm really glad to be far away from the majors -- actually, pretty much all of the time -- but I hadn't realized exactly how phenomenally bad the Mariners are right now. They're not quite in the realm of "historically abysmal" like the Yokohama Baystars this year, but they're close, especially considering their payroll.

Anyway, good times. Next up is the story of me continuing to curse Hisayoshi Chono at the industrial league semi-finals on Monday.

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