The Chiba Lotte Marines plan for the last two months of the 2013 season is in full effect. No more of the bad pitching, no more of the losing. The goal was to forget all that went down in July and start playing like we did in May. After a little bit of a stumble to start the month of August Our Marines have been playing like a team destined for A-Class.
Tonight, Chiba rode the fantastic start of New Righty Ace Nishino and the closing power of PL saves leader Masuda to a 2-0 shutout win over Nippon Ham in Sapporo. The win marked Our Marines’ 3rd win in a row and the 5th win out of the past 6.
I’ve been travelling a lot recently and haven’t had a chance to update. That’s too bad as Lotte has put on a hell of a good show this month! The first two games of August were kind of bad, notable only for Keiyo Aomatsu making his first appearance at ichi-gun since 2006 and getting an RBI in his first AB (he got hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance.) Also, Fukuura of all people legged out a triple, high off the outfield wall at Kyocera Dome – his first triple in 7 years. But other than that, there’s nothing to discuss – consecutive losses to Nippon Ham and Orix.
Since then, though, there’s been a whole lot of enjoyable baseball (save a snooze-inducing loss to Daiei in Fukuoka). Last Saturday featured 6 Lotte pitchers holding Orix to 4 runs at a very hotto Hotto Motto while beating up Kei Igawa and the Buffs pen to the tune of 7 runs on 14 hits. There were big games at the plate by T OGINO (2-2 with 2 walks and 2 RBI from the leadoff spot), Okada (3-4 with a triple and an RBI), Braz (a massive pinch-hit homer to right), and Aomatsu with his first modasho and first trip to the podium as the hero. It was a very enjoyable 7-4 victory.
Sunday’s game looked much like Saturday’s game as Nishino started a bit shaky (3 runs in 3 innings), but 5 men from the pen (Ledezma, Uchi, Matsunaga, Rosa, Masuda) took over and shut down Orix. The bats were just as lively as in Saturday’s game – 7 runs on 11 hits including big performances by Iguchi (his 20th HR of the year), T OGINO (2-3 with 2 HBP and a 2-run HR), Braz (a key RBI double), and Okada (his second consecutive modasho). The 7-3 victory sealed Lotte’s first series win in 3 weeks.
Our Marines dropped the opener in Fukuoka 6-1, but that doesn’t matter as they rebounded strongly to take the next two games 2-1 on Wednesday and 5-4 on Thursday for the second series win in a row.
Wednesday’s game was a type we haven’t seen in a while – a close pitching duel behind the start of New Lefty Ace Furuya (7 IP, 5 H, 4 Ks, only 1 run). Chiba had a hard time getting runners across the plate despite 2 runners on in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th innings and bases loaded in the 6th due to the crafty pitching of the Hawks’ Takeda, Morifuku, and Yanase. Lotte broke through in the 8th vs Padilla, though – a leadoff hit by Imae and a sac bunt by Kakunaka gave Braz the opportunity to tie the game with a lovely RBI single. In the 9th, Heiuchi (HISAO! HISAO! HISAO! HISAO!) led off with a double, and T OGINO brought him in with a timely bloop double to left. Masuda mauled the bottom of the Hawks lineup in the 9th to seal the win.
In Thursday’s rubber match, Greisinger looked fantastic for 5 out of 6 innings (not so much in the other one, though) but the pen was really dodgy making this one much tighter than it should have been. Our Marines ran out to an early 5-0 lead thanks to a big 3rd inning off the bats of Imae (modasho and an RBI single), Kakunaka (2-3 with a 2-RBI double), and Fukuura (1-3 with a big 2-RBI double). That should have been plenty of runs – and indeed it was – but the outcome was very much in doubt until the last pitch.
Greisinger gave up a pair in the 4th to make it a 5-2 game, and Ledezma game up another via a long Egawa HR in the 7th to make it 5-3. Masuda came in to close it in the 9th, but his performance was pretty much the exact opposite of his outing on Wednesday. 3 quick hits to start off the inning including an RBI single by Egawa to make it 5-4 – the Hawks fans were smelling blood. A sac bunt by Kaneko put runners on 2nd and 3rd, only one out, and Masuda was pulled for Matsunaga. (4 batters, 3 hits for Masuda on only 9 pitches!) Yanagita was in to pinch hit – he chopped one past the mound, Matsunaga made a nice snag and gunned it home to nail Hasegawa at the plate! And soon after Matsunaga induced a game ending grounder by Tanoue to seal the victory. Too close for my comfort but a 5-4 victory and another series win again!
On To Sapporo
Friday’s start to the Hamu series was one for the fans of pitching. Nishino got the start and was downright dominant. I feel it was probably his second best start of the year (behind the 12-K masterpiece vs Hiroshima) and it was one he easily could have completed. 8 IP, 3 hits1, 5 Ks, 1 walk, and 0 runs on the night for young Nishino, and taking only 98 pitches to do so. Perhaps Itoh-kantoku was worried about the long fly outs Nishino gave up in the 8th as the reason for pulling him, but no mind as Nishino did everything he needed to do to get the win.
1And one of the hits could have reasonably been caught on a different day by all world center fielder Okada. It would have been a very difficult catch on a liner to deep center, and Okada did in fact get a glove on it, but just couldn’t reel it in. It says a lot about how good Okada is that we are almost disappointed when he doesn’t make a crazy twisting circus catch on a tough ball.
The offense? Well, the Chiba bats only got runs across the plate in the first inning thanks to great pitching by Keppel, Otani (in his first relief appearance) and Enoshita, but with Nishino as good as he was a single run would have gotten the job done. The first Lotte run came thanks to a leadoff walk by T OGINO, a sac bunt by Okada, and a timely single off the bat of Iguchi. A single by Imae (to run his batting streak to 9 games and his batting average to .320) moved over Iguchi, and Braz brought him home to make it a 2-0 game.
That was the final score! Masuda took over for Nishino in the 9th, looking to get over the bad outing the previous night and largely he did. The fastball looked lively in striking out Akada and Nakata, and Abreu lined out to end the game.
Our Marines are all alone in 2nd place now, well behind 1st place Rakuten but looking stronger and stronger. A good run now could push the weaker teams out of the picture completely and there’s still 11 games left with the Eagles (7 at QVC) to reel them back in. If the boys from Chiba can continue to win, positioning for the Climax Series will take care of itself.
Up next is The Baby-Faced Killer vs Takeda in an afternoon tilt at Sapporo Dome. Karakawa REALLY needs to step up with a nice outing this time.