A (Baby-Faced) Killer Among Us

He’s ba-a-a-ck! Three months after breaking his hand in Yokohama Karakawa Yuki (who also goes by the names of “Baby-Faced Killer” and “My Favorite Pitcher”) slipped his way back into the Lotte starting lineup. For two games he’s been back now – both vs the Fighters – and he’s 2-0 with exactly one earned run yielded in both games combined. Lovely indeed!

The first start was rougher than it sounds (1 ER in 6 IP) as he allowed quite a few baserunners (13, to be exact) but only one of them scored (OK, and another unearned run did as well), which is all that counts. The game tonight, though, was brilliance. 9 IP, only 4 hits and no ER – a 133 pitch complete game shutout of Nippon Ham. Not so coincidentally, the win also drives Lotte’s record for the past 2 weeks (since the end of the 7 game losing streak) to a rather nice 8-4.

Last week the offense was still sputtering a bit – look no further than the weekend series with Rakuten in Chiba. Lotte rang up 11 hits – total! – in the series yet somehow managed to take two of three. In the absence of offense was the resurgence of the pitching, especially the starting pitching. The only bad start of the past 10 was this Wednesday’s start by Watanabe Shunsuke in Tokyo Dome (6 ER in 2+ innings) – Murphy, Yoshimi, Penn, Naruse, and of course Karakawa have all gone deep into their recent starts and pitched well.

The offensive spark may have just restarted this week, too. As I mentioned in the Rakuten series Lotte managed only 11 hits, but that doesn’t tell the full tale. In the first two games of the series Lotte only had 3 hits COMBINED (but split the games). The rubber game was filled with late-inning drama, though. It was a 3-3 game, 12th inning. Imae had just ended the Rakuten top of the inning – guaranteeing no worse than a tie – by making an amazing sprint, slide, and catch to snag a foul pop behind home, twisting in the wind. Nemoto and Tsuyoshi coaxed walks out of Rakuten’s Koyama. One out, Imae at the plate, outfield in. Imae takes a fastball from Koyama and crushes it – plenty deep to get over the outfielders’ heads and score Nemoto, but the ball kept going, going… gone, for a three run sayonara blast.

Lotte took that momentum straight into the Fighters series in Tokyo Dome (a place where they just don’t play well normally) and took two of three. The only loss was Shunsuke’s start, where he just got off to a bad couple of innings. The offense made a furious comeback, getting back 5 runs of a 6 run deficit, but it wasn’t enough.

Karakawa’s opposite was the even more baby-faced Nakamura Masaru, 18, and looking like he should be pitching down at Koshien instead of with the pros. But young Nakamura matched Karakawa most of the game, not getting into a huge scrape until the 6th inning. But the 6th – oh did we get him in trouble. Bases loaded, two outs, up strolls Saburo. One swing later, all men of Lotte were home with huge smiles on their faces. From there only some really nice defense by Morimoto and Inaba prevented our Marines from scoring 10 or more, but Lotte still rung up 7 on the Fighters pitchers thanks to a 2-RBI double by Iguchi and a nice single by Kiyota (who seems to have an Imae-like nose for the clutch).

There’s only a bit over 30 games left, are our Marines revving up for a big sprint down the stretch? We got 6 in a row at home against Orix and Seibu to find out!

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