***Updated 8/25 10:45 PM***
As Steve mentioned at the conclusion of the Seibu series post, Our Marines are heading north to Sendai on Friday for a pivotal 3 game set between the top two teams in the PL. Thanks to Lotte’s 12-5 run, combined with a five game losing streak for Rakuten, we sit only 2.5 games back of the first place Eagles heading in. With our three most reliable pitchers of 2013 slated to start this weekend, hopefully we can at least take 2 of 3 and win our 7th series in a row.
Game 1, August 23: Eagles 5, Marines 0
Friday’s game featured a match-up between our 9-3 Nishino, and some guy named Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka’s been in the news recently…something about starting the year 17-0 while riding a 21 game winning streak over the last 363 days. Meanwhile, Nishino is returning from a brief 2 week hiatus due to some discomfort in his pitching shoulder.
Could this be the night that Tanaka’s streak came to an end? Last time around versus Ma-kun, we were two outs away from doing just that, but ultimately failed. Nishino certainly thought he had a chance to best Tanaka tonight, and actually was the stronger pitcher through the first four innings. Nishino was perfect the first time through the Eagles lineup, and didn’t give up his first hit until the 5th. The Lotte bats had a chance to strike early in the first inning, loading the bases thanks to an Okada lead off double, an Iguchi HBP, and a Kakunaka walk. But Chiba couldn’t capitalize on the 2-out bases loaded opportunity that resulted from Tanaka’s early issues, as Saburo was punched out looking on a 3-2 pitch to ever-so-frustratingly end the inning.
Our Marines did manage at least one base runner in 6 out of 7 Tanaka innings pitched, but failed to produce a run all night. Meanwhile, Rakuten finally got to Nishino in the 5th inning getting their first two hits of the night. The Eagles plated one run in the inning on a Shimauchi sac fly to make it 1-0. Chiba had a chance to strike back in the top of the 6th, but Tanaka got a big 2-out strikeout of Fukuura on some 156-km/h heat, stranding Imae and Daichi in scoring position.
Rakuten blew the game open in the bottom of the 6th, chasing Nishino from the game on a 2-run 1-out double by Casey McGehee to make it 3-0. Nishino had struck out the first batter of the inning, but was pulled after giving up three straight hits and the two runs on the aforementioned McGehee double. Nishino was charged with one more run, as Hattori came in and allowed a hit to his first batter Masuda, knocking in McGehee making the score 4-0.
The rest was pretty much history. Rakuten scored one more off Ledezma in the 7th, moving on to a 5-0 victory. Tanaka is now 18-0, extending his winning streak to 22 wins in the last calendar year. It was a valiant effort by Nishino going toe-to-toe & round-for-round with Tanaka through 4 innings, but in the end there was no way Rakuten’s ace was going to allow his team to lose six in a row.
Game 2, August 24: Eagles 7, Marines 5
Last Saturday, Our Marines were the victims of a first inning grand slam by Orix’s Baldiris. This Saturday, we were the perpetrators of such first inning brutality versus Rakuten. Iguchi and Imae each had a two out base hit in the top of the first, followed by a Kakunaka walk to load the bases. Next up, getting the rare start in left field, the veteran journeyman and fan favorite G.G. Sato walked up to the plate with the bases loaded. First pitch swinging…Crack!…Way Back…Way Back…Gone! A grand slam to left center! 4-0 Chiba Lotte in the first!!!
So ya, I mentioned that last weekend we gave up a first inning grand slam to Orix. The difference between that game and this Saturday’s game in Sendai you ask? We had no signs of even hinting at making a comeback in last weekend’s game. On Saturday, Rakuten wasted little time getting back in the game, tying it at 4-4 by the time we completed the 4th inning. By the time it was all said and done, Rakuten scored seven unanswered runs and went on to a 7-5 victory.
Despite the seven unanswered runs, we had chances to strike back. Saburo, Kakunaka and Imae all had two hit performaces at the plate, while Nemoto had a 3-5 modasho. Chiba failed to convert on three chances with RISP after the G.G. grand slam. After Rakuten’s closer Rasner left with an injury in the 9th, Lotte finally managed to score one run on an Imae RBI single, but it was too little too late.
Rakuten’s starter Wataru Karashima survived the rough first inning going a full 5 innings and earning the win.1 Meanwhile, our New Lefty Ace Furuya was pulled after giving up three runs in three innings, barely escaping the 3rd with the lead in tact. The bullpen couldn’t hold the 4-3 lead for long, Hattori allowed the tying run in the 4th and was he was also charged with the go ahead run in the 5th after he was relieved by Ueno.
1 Credit to Karashima for lasting so long in the game. With two runners reaching base after the G.G. grand slam, someone on Twitter who shall remain nameless, pleaded to Hoshino to keep Karashima in the game as long as possible so we could keep scoring runs. Well, he stayed in the game and kept putting 0′s on the board after that.
It looks like our streak of taking 2 of 3 games in each series will stop at 6. Hopefully, we can salvage one win in Sendai and pull back within 3.5 games of the Eagles. Otherwise, we’ll be down 5.5 to a team nobody wants to go on the road against in Stage 2 of the Climax Series.
Game 3, August 25: Eagles 6x, Marines 5
I’m not sure where to start with this one. After two difficult losses on Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s defeat was absolutely crushing. It looked like we were going to take at least one game in Sendai, but once again we blew a 4-0 lead and went down in defeat. Let’s get to the recap:
Craig Brazell got things going with a solo HR in the 2nd to make it 1-0 early on. Braz also got an RBI on Chiba’s second run of the game, knocking in Kakunaka (who cleverly advanced from 2nd to 3rd on an Imae ground out in the previous AB) on a line drive sac fly to center. Lotte scored again on a line drive sac fly to center in the 5th, this time it was Okada knocking in Fukuura. Later in the inning, Kaukunaka drove in Daichi Suzuki on an RBI single to LF to make it 4-0 Marines. The pair of Kakunaka and Daichi had the only multi-hit games for Lotte on a night in which we had 9 hits total as a team. Kakunaka went 2-3 with an RBI single, double, HBP and walk. Daichi had a triple in the 3rd (a lead off triple no less, in which no one was able to bring him home) and a double in 6th.
Ok, so it’s 4-0 after 6 innings. Greisinger has thrown 75 pitches thus far and had given up only two hits.1 Then with one out Ginji Akaminai and Andruw Jones hit back to back singles. With Ginji on third, Casey McGehee drove him in on a sac fly for the Eagles’ first run. The next batter Masuda sent a big fly to right center for a two-run home run, pulling the Eagles even closer at 4-3. Greisinger was chased from the game by a single from the next batter, Kaz Matsui. Uchi came in relief but gave up 2 two-out singles of his own that led to a 4-4 tie. Uchi managed to escape the inning with the tie in tact when Okajima lined out on a very sharply hit ball to first.
1Rakuten ended up with 13 hits. You do the math.
Despite Lotte loading the bases in the 7th, the game remained tied until the 8th inning when T. Ogino sent a home run down the left field line to give Lotte the 5-4 lead. The lead held through the bottom half of the inning with Carlos Rosa escaping a 2 out bases loaded jam by popping up Shima to end the threat.
In came PL saves leader, and a well rested Masuda to close the 9th. It didn’t start well for Masuda though, as he gave up a lead off single to Shimauchi. The single turned into 3 bases for Shimauchi, thanks to a very untimely two base error in right by Ishimine. The next batter Okajima drove in Shimauchi on a single to LF to tie things at 5. A sac bunt and intentional walk later, in came Aoi Enomoto to PH for Andrew Jones. Fun fact about Enomoto: this was his first AB in 2013 and only his 20th the 21 year, 1 month, 1 day old’s career. This was certainly an AB he’ll remember for this rest of his life, as he golfed a 2-2 pitch deep into the right center field gap, driving in the winning run for a 6-5 sayonara victory.
So there you have it. Rakuten swept us back to 5.5 games behind, looking up at them in the standings in second place. Please refer back to the opening paragraph of this post for a case example of how quickly fortunes can change in baseball. Luckily, we are still alive and very much kicking as we prepare for the stretch run, but now only a game up on SoftBank for second place. There remains 3.5 games separating us and 4th place Seibu for the 3rd Climax Series spot.