On a splendid summer afternoon at QVC Marine Field, the Marines edged the Nippon-Ham Fighters with a 2-1 victory. With veterans Okada and Ohmatsu in the lineup and Nishino on the bump, Lotte shook off some early troubles with the same coolness as the breeze blowing in from Tokyo Bay. Even without his best stuff, Nishino pitched a solid 7 innings, continuing to be our most reliable pitcher in the first half of the season. Here’s the recap…
The first two innings were not exactly an example Nishino’s best work. Nishino would eventually settle down and throw shutout ball in innings 3 through 7. However, when determining how he earned his 7th win of the season, his handling of those early struggles carry just as much importance as his success in the middle innings. With clear control issues – he walked in the first run of the game on a ball that bounced 5 feet in front of home plate – Nishino managed to only give up one run in the first two innings, despite putting 6 Fighters on base. This kept Lotte within striking distance until they finally took the lead in the 6th.
The trouble for Nishino started with the first batter of the game. Yoh led off for the Fighters with an infield hit to Daichi at short. Daichi two-hopped his throw to first, and with Yoh already safe by two steps, the ball skipped past Ohmastu’s glove. The ball rolled to the home dugout, and Yoh would advance to second. After a sac bunt, the Fighters now had a runner on third with 1 out. Daichi would make up for his earlier throwing error by robbing Shohei Otani of an RBI single with a diving stop. The ball was hit so sharply that Daichi could check the runner at third before recording the out at first. After a Sho Nakata HBP, Nishino would get a huge strike out of Inaba on a filthy breaking pitch to retire the side.
Nishino’s troubles would carry over into the second inning, as he allowed a walk and two 1-out singles to load the bases. It looked like Nishino might escape unscathed again after he got Yoh to strike out looking for the 2nd out. However, Nishino walked the next batter Obiki, forcing the run home from third and giving the Fighters a 1-0 lead. With the bases still loaded, Shohei Otani came to the plate with a huge opportunity to make a memorable first impression on the fans at QVC Marine. To the delight of Chiba fans, Nishino got Otani to ground out weakly to second to end the inning (Otani would finish the day 0-for-4 in the 3-spot).
At the plate
Hiroshi Kisanuki kept the Marines bats quiet early on. It took until number nine hitter Okada in the third inning for Lotte to get their first hit of the afternoon. The Chiba bats came alive in the 4th, as Imae, Ohmatsu, and Daichi Suzuki all singled. But an Imae caught stealing (on what I can only imagine was a blown hit and run) for the first out erased any real threat of putting together a proper rally.
Finally in the 6th the Marines would score their only 2 runs of the game, and the only 2 runs they would need to get the win. Imae (2-for-4 on the day) led off and went to the opposite field with an outside pitch, poking a ball through the hole between first and second. Ohmatsu followed (also 2-for-4) by reaching down and slapping a ball into the right-center field gap. Imae raced in to score, tying the game at 1-1. T. Ogino followed by laying down a successful sac bunt to advance Ohmastu to third base. Daichi Suzuki came up next and hit a sinking liner to shallow center. Yoh had to dive to make the catch, allowing Ohmatsu to tag up and score, making it a sac fly for Daichi. Lotte had taken the lead for good at 2-1.
After the aforementioned rough start for Nishino, he settled down quite nicely. Nishino allowed only 3 Fighters hits from innings 3 through 7. Two of the three hits were cancelled out thanks to the following batters hitting into double plays. Daichi continued to erase the memory of his first inning error by handling a tough ground ball off the bat of Abreu to start-up the first double play. Nemoto took Daichi’s throw and made a quick transfer at second base to complete the 6-4-3 double play. In the 7th, a sac bunt gone wrong allowed Lotte to turn a 1-6-4 (Nemo covering 1st) double play. Nishino followed by getting the next batter Yoh to strike out looking on his last batter of the game.
Nishino would finish the day with: 7IP, 6H, 6K, 2BB, 1HBP, 1ER, bumping his record up to 7-2. Set-up man Carlos Rosa came in and pitched a perfect 8th, including a strike out of Shohei Otani on some nasty high-heat.
Masuda did have some trouble closing things out in the 9th though. Things got a little tense after the first two batters singled. The Fighters attempted to sacrifice the runners over into scoring position, but Ohmatsu swooped in from first with cat like reflexes, grabbed the ball and fired to 3rd for the first out. A two out walk would load the bases, but Masuda put an exclamation mark on the afternoon by getting Yoh to swing and miss on an 0-2 fastball to close out the game for his NPB leading 21st save. Marines win 2-1!!!
Up next is the rubber match in a four game series shortened to three thanks to a rain out. Fujioka (4-4, 3.72 ERA) will get his first start after spending the inter-league games working from the bullpen. He will face Masaru Takeda (4-4, 4.56 ERA) in the only NPB game slated for Monday night.