Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Game 110: Swallows vs. Gomiuri: Shiroishi's Last Stand

In theory, this should have been Game 111 for me instead of 110, but I've been feeling really tired lately and stayed up too late on Sunday night, so I woke up late on Monday and didn't get down to Jingu in time for the rubber match between Waseda and Rikkio.

I missed a GREAT game, as it turns out. Waseda won 6-4, which isn't particularly anything I care about, but Tatsuya Ohishi had one of his best games ever.

I'm a huge Ohishi fan, incase you haven't heard me babble about him enough already the last year or two. He's a 3rd-year pitcher for Waseda University who can throw 154km/h and is made of awesome. Not only is he an amazing pitcher, but he's also apparently an amazing shortstop as well. He just kicks ass. I saw him pitch on Saturday, which was his birthday, where he put in 3 innings of pretty good relief pitching after Yuki Saitoh's start. 4 strikeouts in 3 scoreless innings and he was hitting 146-148 on the Jingu radar guns, though to be fair the scoreless innings were partially due to Rikkio running themselves out of the 7th inning, maybe a bit of good luck for his birthday.

For Monday's game, apparently Yuki Saitoh only lasted 4 innings. Ohishi came in and, I am not making this up, pitched 5 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits, 1 walk, and striking out 11. I read a blog entry about it and he was even apparently topping out at 152-153 on his fastball. Holy crap. And to add to that, he was also 2-for-2 at the plate, which now has him batting .667 for the Fall 2009 season (4-for-6).

I arrived at Jingu in the bottom of the 9th, and watched the game from outside one of the infield gates, where I could see the game on the TV screen just inside. There were two on and one out... and then Ohishi struck out the last two guys to end the game and win it for Waseda.

So, since it'd be a bit before anyone would be allowed into the stadium for the Swallows game anyway, I decided to wait for the Waseda players to come out to get on their bus. I did the waiting-for-players thing for Meiji's team on Saturday and it was fairly low-key, with the players just coming out to chat before getting on their bus, but apparently that isn't how it works for Waseda, at least not when there is a pro game that day and they don't want anyone getting near Yuki Saitoh. It took about 30 minutes for them to come out, and when they did, all of the baseball club members not on the active roster essentially stormed the bus door and formed a corridor so nobody could see the players coming out. It looked something like this:

I spotted Ohishi when he came out anyway -- he has really distinctive eyebrows and was also grinning like an idiot. He went into the bus and sat down behind Saitoh (who I didn't see go in -- possibly because I wasn't looking for him and because he's shorter and was probably being shielded a bit closer). Saitoh sat there looking kind of tired and grumpy, whereas Ohishi opened up the window and looked out at the crowd. I was sadly totally in the wrong spot, or I would have waved and yelled something at him.

("Two aces!")

Seriously, I don't really care that much about Waseda's team, but I love this kid. It makes it all the more frustrating that you can't get anywhere near him thanks to the ridiculous Saitoh hype and the ridiculous Waseda hype.

Anyway, after that I went towards the gates to the outfield bleachers, though on the way I saw two Swallows players out there signing stuff. One was Shohei Tateyama (I got a photo with him but it's pretty bad so I'm not posting it here. It's a shame, because he is AWESOME) and the other was Masato Hanada, who was having his retirement ceremony after the game. Tateyama was friendly enough to people but Hanada was looking very... I dunno, grumpy or sad or some combination thereof.

I went into the stadium and found my way to the top of Section D, where I was going to sit with the Tsubamegun guys. They weren't there yet, but fortunately Christopher had warned the guys in charge of saving seats that I'd be coming there early, so it worked out okay. Christopher was actually too busy being a famous movie actor to come to the game, so it was just David and Garrett, along with TPR man Ken, and some of his friends, and Mike who I met at a game a few weeks ago. We also randomly met Mac, a Swallows fan who comments here and there sometimes. I also spent a bunch of time talking to the Japanese fans in that group, who are pretty interesting.

Also, we received baseball cards of Hanada and Shiroishi when we entered the park. A lot of people in the stands had signs for those players. (Far more Shiroishi than Hanada, though that isn't really surprising.)

Something that really annoyed me was before the game, they put us on the big screen (they LOVE putting groups of white people on the big screen, but Dave had once assured me that the Tsubamegun guys were immune to that). I was, at the time, writing my scorecard, and one of the guys in our group points out that we're up there, and I'm like "oh FUCK" and hide behind my Keizo Kawashima towel until they basically take us off the screen. In retrospect what I should have done is stood up and turned around, being as I was wearing this, but I didn't think of that soon enough.

What bugs me about it is that I never seem to get on the screen when holding up signs in Japanese. (Not at Jingu, but ANYWHERE.) Sometimes I swear the camera people must be instructed to only put white people on the screen looking like confused foreigners.

Oh yeah, a bunch of my Fighters friends were at this game, either because they double as Swallows fans, or because they like Yuji Onizaki (he had a lot of admirers at Kamagaya), or just because it was the last baseball game of the year. One guy I know was sitting down at the opposite end of the row I was in; we were both pretty surprised to see each other.

Tetsuya Utsumi started for the Giants, and Yoshinori Satoh started for the Swallows. I feel like recently, every time I go to Jingu, Yoshinori is starting for the Swallows. It might just be a byproduct of watching so much college ball.

Masato Hanada's daughter Miri threw out the ceremonial first pitch. She was wonderfully adorable but needs to bug her dad to play catch more often.

Something about this game is that for a change, while I did spend all of the Swallows at-bats standing up and cheering, I spent most of the Yomiuri at-bats not really paying attention to the game, and just soaking up the atmosphere at Jingu, or having bizarre conversations with the people around me, or trying to read the Swallows ouenka, or whatever. So in all honesty a lot of the game kind of went by in a blur for me.

The Swallows took an early lead in the first inning when Yoshiyuki Noguchi walked, advanced to third on a single to right by Munehiro Shida, and scored on a groundout by Jamie D'Antona (I'm not even sure people were aware a run scored until the umbrellas started coming out), 1-0.

The Giants' Shinnosuke Abe hit a huge homerun to right in the 2nd inning, tying things up at 1-1. In the top of the 3rd, they loaded the bases on three consecutive singles by Utsumi, Sakamoto, and Matsumoto, and then D'Antona and Yoshinori booted a play together, a grounder to first that had a bad throw and a bad catch, so two Giants runs came in while they were recovering from the error. 3-1. Yoshinori was so pissed off that he promptly struck out the next three batters he faced to end the inning.

Aaron Guiel hit a homerun that landed just over the wall in straightaway center to make it 3-2. For his efforts, he was rewarded by being benched, and Yuichi Matsumoto replaced him in right when we wanted to yell "GUIEL! GUIEL!".

As the game progressed, we wondered when the Retirement Boys were going to get into the game. The first one was answered when Masato Hanada came out to pitch the top of the 7th inning. We all yelled a ton of "GANBARE GANBARE HANADA!!!" and held up signs and whatnot. He threw two pitches, Ryota Wakiya grounded out, and then Hanada was taken out of the game for Hiromitsu Takagi, to great applause.

The Swallows' 7th inning came and went with umbrellas and "Kutabare Yomiuri", but no further advancement of the game.

The Giants' Daisuke Ochi took the mound in the bottom of the 8th, and after Shida struck out to lead off the inning, that's when our second Retirement Boy of the Day came out, as Noriyuki Shiroishi pinch-hit for Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, also to great applause and yelling and singing from the outfield stands. Even better, in his first and last at-bat of 2009, Shiroishi took the second pitch he saw, and lined it into left-center for a double! That was pretty exciting. D'Antona walked and was replaced at first by pinch-runner Kazuki Fukuchi (aka Your CL Stolen Base Leader 2009), as Yuichi hit a pop fly out to right. Two down. Atsushi Kinugawa continued the "Who dat?" trend of Yakult hitters and pinch-hit for Takagi, and got his first and last ichi-gun hit of the year as well, a single to right that scored Shiroishi for the tying run! 3-3. Then Ryo "No really, who dat?" Yoshimoto came up to bat and whoosh, hit a double to left, scoring Fukuchi AND Kinugawa, for the go-ahead 5-3 score. Ochi surrendered the mound to Kaneto for the last out.

Hye-Cheon Lee took the mound for the top of the 9th. Shiroishi went into the field as the second baseman, joined by Shinya Miyamoto at shortstop for one last time together in the field, I guess. However, only Miyamoto got a play in the 9th as the Giants went down 1-2-3 to end the game.

Then they had a Final Game Ceremony and the Retirement Ceremonies.

Actually, before the official ceremonies started, former Swallow Alex Ramirez gave a bouquet of flowers to Shiroishi. I'm not sure who gave one to Hanada if at all...

Then Takada started talking, and Dave and Garrett and Ken started booing.

I really don't remember much of what Takada said (and I couldn't hear half of it anyway).

Then, the retirement ceremony!

More flowers. First each player received flowers from their family (in Shiroishi's case, he only recently married a TV announcer like 2-3 years ago, but Hanada has two young kids). Then they received flowers from teammates -- Shiroishi got his from Shinya Miyamoto as an infielder of roughly the same vintage, and Hanada got his from Tateyama as a pitcher of roughly the same vintage.

Hanada made his speech first. He couldn't stop crying through it all. (They also showed his wife and kids on the screen and his wife was bawling like a baby too.) He mostly just kept reiterating that he felt really lucky to have spent 10 years as a baseball player wearing a Yakult uniform and he wanted to thank all the teammates and players for all their support over the years.

They also showed a video introducing him before his speech, and I swear the most interesting moment was a clip of when someone hit a ball back to the mound and it got tangled up in his uniform.

Then there was Shiroishi, who wasn't crying, I don't think. His speech was mostly saying that he thought he'd never get to play at Jingu again, having been injured and so on, but he was happy for the team finally making the playoffs. And then he thanked a bazillion people, teammates, fans, even the Giants members, for helping him have such a great baseball life.

What's interesting about Shiroishi is that he was a high school baseball star, went to Aoyama Gakuin University (would have been there the same time as Iguchi, Tsuboi, etc), but dropped out of college. He was essentially a "freeter", working part-time in a gas station trying to figure out what the hell to do with his life, when he went to a Fighters tryout in 1994. They liked what they saw and drafted him. (Seriously, there are so many stories of the Fighters taking players in bizarre circumstances that it shouldn't really surprise anyone.) A few years later he was traded to Yakult for, of all people, Toshiyuki Freaking Noguchi.

By the way, I know that the Tsubamegun guys consider Shiroishi to be a fairly useless player, or at least it stymied them how much the team was paying him to do nothing in their eyes, but I think in this speech I at least understand why he was so popular (besides being the player rep after Furuta) -- he's a really good-looking charismatic guy. If fans, especially female fans, saw him making what they thought was his best effort to play hard, I can totally see why they'd fall so hard for him. I'm not a Yakult fan, but I've definitely gotten a sense for what kinds of players people here really latch onto for what seems like no apparent reason, and Shiroishi strikes me as being one of them.

Anyway, after the speeches, they took Hanada out to the pitcher's mound and threw him in the air, and then took Shiroishi out to second base and threw him in the air.

And that was about it... the team also came out to the outfield to wave goodbye. People threw some streamers out onto the field and held up signs and whatnot, but we left at that point so I don't know what happened afterwards.

I guess this really was my last regular season pro yakyu game of 2009. How surreal. I was in Chiba on Opening Day, and I finished out with this one.

I'll be rooting against the Giants at the Tokyo Dome next Thursday, but other than that I have no clue whether I'll manage to get into any other postseason games this year; I'll have to hope for a miracle if/when the Fighters make it to the Japan Series. I'll try to liveblog some of the playoff games as I watch them on BS1.

But in the meantime, there's still three weeks of Tokyo Big 6 left, and also things like fanfests and the "U-26 NPB" vs. College Ball game, and various stuff on the horizon like that, plus maybe I can finally catch up on cropping out some photo sets (like, holy crap, I still never got around to putting up my Koshien shots of Yusei Kikuchi and Shota Dobayashi, or my Shikoku trip featuring Hideki Irabu) and other things I had no time to do this year.

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