In a move that’s been a LONG time coming – we are back in first. Who’d a thought that a little ways back this month?
In a fortuitous confluence of events it was a) BlackBlack Towel Night (free towels, plus the team wore away blacks) b) Free Ticket Night from the Makuhari civic association c) The Baby-Faced Killer’s 3rd start since his return from broken bones. So I got a FREE towel at a a FREE game where my favorite pitcher was pitching against our biggest rival with the chance to climb into first. It was, in fact, a great night.
Because of how packed the stands were (amazing how many people turn up for a free ticket night, eh?) it took a while to settle into seats, and by the time we did Seibu had already taken a 1-0 lead thanks to a first inning Nakajima double to score Kataoka. Aaand… that was about it for the Lions attack. Well, that’s not entirely true – Seibu recorded 3 more hits including a double off the very top of the left-center fence by Takayama (I honestly thought it was gone off the bat, but the 7 m/s wind kept it in. Love the Tokyo Bay breeze!). But for all intents and purposes Seibu was shut down by Karakawa’s great movement and control.
Karakawa only allowed one baserunner (a walk) in the last 4 innings of work, and that was when he was already over 120 pitches. All in all the righty from Narita threw for 8 innings, with 7 Ks, only the one walk and the one run. It was exactly the strong start we needed.
The Lotte offense was somewhat befuddled by Seibu starter Nishiguchi with only one hit in the first 4 innings. In the 5th, though, Lotte would break through. After strikeouts by Matoba and Kiyota both Tsuyoshi and Imae singled, and ultra-hot Iguchi smacked an RBI single to tie the game at 1. Mega-slumping Kim Tae Kyun (0-3 with two awful-looking Ks) drew a walk to load the bases, but Fukuura’s fly ball hung up in right to end the inning.
Lotte loaded the bases again in the 6th with two outs, and Imae had the chance to break it open. He lofted a little flare behind second that looked like it would squeeze in, but Kataoka made a nice play to reel it in and take away Lotte’s scoring chance.
In the 8th Saburo lead off with a walk against reliever Osada and was pinch-run for by Okada. Ohmatsu singled to right, sending Okada to third. Matoba had the chance to send in the go ahead run, but he struck out. It was up to Kiyota – he lifts a shallow pop to left for Oshima to field. Oshima charges, Okada is tagging! Fast runner versus Oshima’s arm…. and Okada makes it in before the ball arrives! 2-1 Lotte on a great run by Okada on a very difficult ball to score.
Karakawa leaves with the lead and Kobayashi is in – 1,2,3 and just like that, Our Marines have swept Seibu and with the tie in Fukuoka they slip back into (a tie for) first for the first time since early June!
It’s 27 games left now – it’s all in front of them. On Friday a critical 3-game set in Fukuoka with Daiei begins – a series win would be fantastic right now. It looks like Naruse vs Hiroki Yamada for the first game, so chances are good for a nice start to the series.