Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Game Report: Dragons vs. Baystars @ Yokohama -- Enter the Dragonbutt

I need to preface this report with some very square statistics about my weekend; between Sunday afternoon and Monday night, I spent 4 hours sleeping, 9 hours in transit between places, and 16 hours at baseball stadiums. But I got to hang out with great people, yell a lot, and see Atori's ichi-gun debut, so it was all worth it.

The weekend adventure started on Sunday afternoon, when I arrived at Yokohama Stadium. I had planned to sit with Ikeda and Sasaki again, only Sasaki didn't come to this game. But Ikeda was really nice and gave me a raincoat and a cool Yokohama 30th Anniversary pinbadge. I gave him my double Miura and Yoshimura pinbadges in return.

Then, when I went to do pinbadges a bit later, I swear I got two Teraharas in a row, out of the same machine, even. These three women wearing Nishi #7 jerseys all did pinbadges after me, so I asked if anyone wanted to trade for a Terahara... and naturally, just like every other time I have tried to trade, the first offer was, holding out a pinbadge with an air of disgust, "You want Yokoyama?"

"NO THANKS! Err... that is... I already have him," I said.

Ended up trading for a different Miura "浜の番長" one instead. Yay.

I hate to join in the Yokoyama-bashing, but it does seem like I have seen him lose an awful lot of games, both now and when he was the Fighters closer. At the same time, I feel bad for him -- it can't be easy being booed by your own team's fans here in Japan, since that's pretty rare.

Anyway, this was the second Sunday in a row I was watching Dragons vs. Baystars, only this time I was only 30ish kilomters from home instead of 300ish. The Baystars' starter was Futoshi "Hama no Express" Kobayashi, just like last time, but the Dragons' starter was Sohma Yamauchi. Yamauchi was just drafted last year out of Meijo University, and is another one of the Dragons' "local boys". This was actually his first start at ichi-gun; I suppose there isn't that much difference between starting at ni-gun and starting against the Yokohama Baystars, but let's not go there.

Kobayashi had control issues from the start, though, and walked Dragons' leadoff batter (and incidentally one of MY favorite baseball players), Masahiko "Dragonbutt" Morino, in a 7-pitch at-bat. I don't usually count pitches when keeping score, but I had a hunch that it'd be a good idea for Kobayashi, and I was right. I get the feeling the Dragons came up just wanting to wear him out as soon as possible, and their plan worked. Araki and Lee both hit popouts to left after that, but then Tyrone Woods came up to the plate, and Kobayashi walked him too, on 5 pitches (18 up to that point). Kazuhiro Wada was actually at an 0-2 count for a while before he just started fouling off pitches, then got to a full count, fouled off a few more, and finally got a pitch he liked, driving it to left for a single, scoring Morino and moving Tyrone Woods to third. 1-0.

The Dragons ouendan, which, by the way, is STILL lacking trumpets and drums, started singing the Uchimakure chance theme for Norihiro, who... also walked, loading the bases. The good part about that is that when Tomas Delarosa grounded to third, it was a forceout on Wada to end the inning, with only the one run scoring, amazingly. Kobayashi threw 20 balls, 19 strikes, 39 pitches. Urk. The annoying thing is, he even threw first-pitch strikes to 4 out of 7 batters, but he quickly got behind the count on almost everyone.

Fortunately for the Baystars, Shuuichi Murata is well on his way to bashing out another Home Run King title, and so after Uchikawa singled, Murata came, saw, and launched a home run into the buffer in front of the scoreboard in center field, 125 meters away, his 39th of the year. 2-1.

The top of the second saw one of the weirdest plays I've seen in a while, although since it feels like I keep saying that, maybe it's not true.

You see, Daisuke Tanaka singled to right to start off the inning, and then pitcher Yamauchi grounded to the mound in a sacrifice bunt attempt. Kobayashi smartly threw the ball to Ishikawa covering second to get the lead runner, and then Ishikawa threw to first to try for the double play. Only problem is, the throw to first was high and a bit wide and Nishi had to jump out to get it and dropped it, so Yamauchi was initially ruled safe. I guess he ran too far out though, or seemed to go for second with the dropped ball at first, so when Nishi recovered the ball he tagged out Yamauchi who had started to head back to first, and it was called an out. Morino singled and so did Araki, but Lee hit a big pop fly behind the plate that Takeyama caught for the third out. Kobayashi was up to 52 pitches after two innings.

Tyrone went yard to lead off the third inning, 125 meters into left field. 2-2.

In the 4th, when Morino came up to bat, I finally had to own up to how much I like him. I was saying how he's my absolute favorite Dragons player, and Ikeda was pointing out that Morino grew up in Kanagawa, and was actually a Yokohama Taiyo Whales and later Baystars fan club member as a kid, and wouldn't it be nice for him to come back to his hometown and play for his childhood favorite team, when he becomes a free agent next year?

"Yeah," I agreed, "I doubt the Baystars will spend the money to sign a free agent like him, but it would be nice so I could see him hit home runs here all the--"


Morino absolutely CRUSHED the next pitch, that kind of hit where you know it's a home run the second it leaves the bat. It sailed towards us -- literally right towards me -- and then OVER me -- and then OVER THE WALL and OUT OF THE STADIUM, in what was said to be a 145-meter home run. 3-2.

"Holy CRAP," I said in both languages. "Morino always does well when I see him..."

Anyway, when Murata came up to bat in the bottom of the 4th, I yelled "Let's have home run number 40!!!" and wouldn't you know it, but Murata DID infact hit home run number 40 right then, 130 meters to left field, to tie it at 3-3. The other half of the Mura Machine, Yuuki Yoshimura, followed it up with his own 125-meter home run to right, and then BOOM, it was 4-3. Gyakuten! Of course Kinjoh couldn't follow it up with another, and instead grounded out to Araki, or more like, Araki made an AMAZING play, basically diving to snag Kinjoh's grounder and then throwing to first while still on his knees, a perfect shot.

Then the 5th inning hit. Shigeki Ushida, Mr. Cow Field, took over on the mound for Kobayashi, who threw 81 pitches in 4 innings. He pitched to Byung-gyu Lee, who grounded back to the mound...

...kicking off an extremely unlucky chain of events. First, the ball hit Ushida in the leg and went bouncing up in the air. He caught it, but was obviously in a lot of pain and his throw to first was WAY off, so Lee ended up on second. Second, Ushida kind of limped back, and the medical staff came out, and determined that yeah, he should come out of the game, since he didn't particularly seem too happy standing on his leg, let alone pitching from it.

Third, uh, he was replaced on the mound by Yukiya Yokoyama.

I might have mentioned that Baystars fans have a great amount of ire for Yokoyama, some of which is deserved, some of which is really not. And to be fair, I doubt he was actually fully prepared to enter the game at the point he did; nobody really EXPECTS the pitcher to get taken out with a hard grounder. Also, uh, what transpired with him on the mound was not entirely his fault.

But it sucked. That's the bottom line.

Tyrone grounded out, and then Yokoyama walked Kazuhiro Wada. Then Norihiro Nakamura grounded to short, and in a normal universe with a slow Nori hitting, and a slow Wada running from first, it should have been an inning-ending double play. Except what happened instead is, shortstop Takehiro Ishikawa let the ball go through his legs or his glove or whatever, off into left field. BIG ERROR. Lee scored, 4-4, and Wada made it to second. Tomas Delarosa hit a legitimate double to left, scoring Wada, 5-4. The next batter was Ryosuke Hirata, pinch-hitting for Daisuke Tanaka. Hirata, as you might recall, hit that sayonara home run off Yokoyama last week when I saw the Dragons play the Baystars, and he's still not old enough to drink in the USA. So Hirata took the first pitch and launched it way out to centerfield -- fortunately, caught by Kinjoh -- but unfortunately, far enough to be a sacrifice fly to score Norihiro from third. 6-4. Then ex-Baystar Motonobu Tanishige pinch-hit for Yamauchi, and Tanishige doubled to center, scoring Delarosa. 7-4. Morino came up to bat and hit yet ANOTHER double, scoring Tanishige. 8-4! Araki finally mercifully hit a pop fly out to right to end the inning.

Yokoyama, by the way, was credited with the loss, but with no earned runs, because by all means, with normal play Lee shouldn't have been on base to begin with, and Norihiro should have grounded out. As I said, what transpired was really not Yokoyama's fault, and yet it was. No Yokohama pitcher had actually managed to strike ANYONE out in the first 5 innings, but instead issued 5 walks.

So that was the bad part. The good part was that Sign Guy had made his rounds of the infield by then (he's apparently double-ticketing these days to go around more than just the outfield) and had come to visit us losers in the outfield. I asked him if I could take a picture of his sign, as usual:

The girl behind me was like, "He's a Yokohama 名物!", and I didn't catch the last word (meibutsu), so everyone was trying to explain it to me, "He's like, you know, a famous product from Yokohama, like... uhh... Chinese food..."

Anyway, something super-awesome-great happened in the top of the 6th inning. Two things, you could even say. One was that Yokoyama was relieved of his pitching duties. The other was that he was replaced by ATORI OHTA! MAKING HIS ICHI-GUN DEBUT!!!

I already explained my vague obsession with Atori a week or two ago after seeing him at a minor-league game. Heck, I've had a cropped version of this photo I took as my cellphone wallpaper for the last week or two. I love Atori. I want him to be the Boy Who Will Save The Baystars. It's a big weight for someone to shoulder, but he's got pretty big shoulders.

So, Atori's debut went pretty well. He got a 1-2-3 inning in the 6th and only allowed one baserunner in the 7th (who was, incidentally, former Baystar Masaaki Koike). However, the first Baystars pitcher to notch a strikeout was actually Hiroki Sanada, who came in for the 8th and 9th innings, and actually managed to strike out Lee, Woods, and Wada. Not too shabby.

Unfortunately, despite us singing the "Behind" chance theme all through the 6th inning, the Baystars couldn't manage to get anywhere in the later innings; after starter Yamauchi went 4 innings we saw an inning each out of Chunichi relievers Masafumi "not Ken" Hirai, Shinsuke "not Kazumi" Saitoh, Akifumi "Rock Star" Takahashi, Takuya "the Kid" Asao, and of course Hitoki "Closer to Fine" Iwase. And well, even if Iwase had a lot of trouble in the Olympics, he had no trouble with the Baystars, which should give you an idea of how good they are. Er.

And the Dragons won 8-4.

In a fit of cruel irony, the game hero for Chunichi was my favorite Dragon, Morino:

Because, let's face it, when you go 3-for-4, drive in 2 runs, score 2 runs, and launch a home run OUT OF THE FREAKING STADIUM, you deserve some sort of special recognition.

Don't worry, Dragonbutt, I still love you.

It seems that whatever magic I had in the first few months of the season to only see the Baystars win has gone away in the last few months. I'm going to blame it on Ohya for not playing Takuro Ishii whenever I'm there. Yeah.

After the game I ended up walking around with Matt, one of the guys from the forums, who was going to be part of Monday's adventures. We went to the Baystars store, and I did pinbadges again. Still no Takuro. Got Uchikawa and Aikawa, though! Exciting! Also got Nasuno, which is uh, not exciting. Matt did two pinbadges and got two consecutive Shimokubos, which are a lot less tradable than two consecutive Teraharas, that's for sure. I tried to console him by saying that at least he didn't get two consecutive Yokoyamas.

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