Climax Series 1st Stage Game 1 – Never Say Die

‘‘This is what happens when you never give up,’’ said Fukuura, who pumped his right fist as he rounded the bases.
– Kyodo News on Saturday’s Climax Series First Stage Game 1

If you were to make a time capsule for sports – a representative collection of the appeal of sport and the significance to the people who love it – you could grab Saturday’s game and have all the greatness embodied in baseball. Dazzling pitching – there. Big home runs – there. Clutch defense – there. The will to win, passion of the fans, deep lows and amazing highs – all of that there.

In one of the more remarkable games I’ve ever seen in person, the Chiba Lotte Marines defeated their arch-rival Seibu Lions in stunning fashion by a score of 6-5 on Saturday to kick off the 2010 Climax Series.

The Lotte starting lineup was almost the same as game 144 vs Orix – Tsuyoshi (SS), Kiyota (CF), Iguchi (2B), Saburo (RF), Fukuura (DH – only change over the last game), Imae (3B), Kim Tae Kyun (1B), Ohmatsu (RF), Matoba (C). Disappointingly, Satozaki was on the roster but did not start this game, though he would see action later.

Ace Battle

I’ll be honest – Seibu was firmly in control for most of this game. The starting pitching match was just as electrifying as anticipated. Lotte starter Naruse was great – 8Ks in 7 innings of work, but Seibu’s Wakui was even better – 9 K’s in 8 IP and only 4 hits. For the first couple of innings Wakui was essentially unhittable. You could see the movement on his pitches in the results off Lotte bats – grounder after grounder after grounder as his pitches danced around the strike zone. Naruse fell victim in the second inning to the problem he’s had all year – he left a pitch over the plate for Takeya Nakamura. You don’t want to leave anything over the plate for the big 3B as he smashed it deep into the outfield. I didn’t think it was gone when he hit it as it was so high, but Kiyota went back, back, all the way back, climbed the fence, and still couldn’t get to it. 1-0 Seibu early.

There were a few scattered base runners after that for both teams but not too many legitimate scoring chances as the dueling aces did performed masterfully. In the 7th the Lotte offense finally got something going with a one out walk to Saburo and a single by Fukuura – the Lotte ouendan, already at jet-engine levels of noise, went to work with our chance theme and caused the roof to lift just a bit. Imae lined a shot to right, but right at Takayama. Kim Tae Kyun grounded out to end the chance.

We were sitting in so-called “Lions Seats” which were 1B reserved behind the Lotte dugout. Despite the designation, they were still infested with us disreputable Chiba exports. It was clear to see that frustration with KTK was at a high – I had my inflatable KTK bat raised, one of my friends walked by and said “you should put that away”. Another fan told me simply – “Tae Kyun, Dame!” Our big former cleanup hitter needs to do something to get back into the fans good graces!

Equalizer
One person who definitely does not need his status raised is Captain Tsuyoshi – the hit king and our team’s clear MVP on the year had a quiet game to this point. He came to the plate with two outs in the top of the 8th, Lotte still down 1-0, needing some sort of spark. On a 3-1 pitch Wakui threw a fastball low and Tsuyoshi ripped it. I jumped out of my seat and yelled GO! I thought it might go to the fence and Tsuyoshi could leg it into a triple but the ball just kept sailing and sailing, soaring over the center field fence for a huge HR! Just like that, after all the masterful pitching of Wakui, the game was tied at 1-1. WOW.

Hopes Fade

It’s the bottom of the 8th, in comes my man Uchi. Can he continue his recent greatness? Eek, no. 3 hits, 2 walks 2 errors on the same play (a throwing error by Saburo and another by Satozaki, who came in for this inning), and…. 4 runs for Seibu. Seibu fans danced and screamed as their team took a 5-1 lead. Itoh came in for Uchi as Nishimura-kantoku mercifully pulled the shaken reliever.

Is it Possible?
It was now the 9th, Lotte needing a miracle. We left our seats and moved to the outfield unreserved to be amongst our people. As we walk to the outfield, the ouendan gets the Seibu Dome song cranking – “Seibu niwa! Makerarenai! Tamashii wo komete tatakae!” At Seibu, we can’t lose. Yes, it seemed possible to come back but not likely, I’ll admit. Seibu at home with a 4 run lead, bringing in our old friend Sikorski to finish us off – it didn’t look good.

Right when we get situated – standing room only on the back concourse – Iguchi leads off with a single. Saburo swings at strike three for the first out, but Fukuura singles to center for runners at first and second. I say to John, “Hey, get a few runs, anything can happen!” Imae’s up – he can make it interesting with a hit. A hit! Iguchi stops at third. Bases loaded, one out. Up at the plate, Kim Tae Kyun, our much maligned 1B. He’s hit into a league leading 24 DPs this year. One right now kills us. First pitch fastball from Sikorski – KTK swings, it’s a grounder, but up the middle and safe! Iguchi scores, Fukuura scores, and just like that it’s a 5-3 game, still one out. WHOA.

We are going crazy in the outfield. I’m hugging people I’ve never seen in my life. Lions fans are quiet – I can feel there nervousness from the outfield. Up at the plate – Ohmatsu with a chance to do some real damage. Ohmatsu and Sikorski go head-to-head for an 11 pitch at bat, foul after foul after foul. On the 11th pitch, Ohmatsu draws ball four to re-load the bases (and is pulled for pinch-runner Okada, which has a big impact on the future). It’s up to… Satozaki! His first at-bat in two months, and the veteran catcher could not possibly come in at a bigger moment. What will he do?

On the second pitch he lines one to center!! Imae in, Kim Tae Kyun in! All the way back – there seemed like so little hope, but all the way back in the 9th – a 5-5 tie! And STILL only one out!

Tsuyoshi is back up with a chance to give us the lead. Okada is at third. The Captain lines the second pitch to Gotoh in left; Okada is tagging. The throw comes in to Ginjiro at the plate…. out. Nice defensive play to stop our rally. But we have a chance, a real chance now!

Extra Time, Extra Drama
Itoh is still in for the 9th. He makes things a bit interesting by yielding a pair of singles, but he strikes out everyone else to keep it tied.

The top of the Lotte order does little in the 10th – the center field scoreboard reminds us that if the game is still tied after 12, it’s a tie. I have no idea how that would work in practice.

In the bottom of the 10th, Seibu has a real chance. Ginjiro leads off with a lucky bounce infield single and is sacrificed to second. Abe lofts a dying fly to left – Kiyota has moved to left after Ohmatsu was pinch-run for in the 9th. He makes a break on it, dives, and gets it! I don’t think Ohmatsu makes that play, Kiyota is fast and has great instincts out there. Great play. Nakajima grounds out and we’re off to the 11th.

Doi is in for Seibu – he’s facing Fukuura. On the second pitch, Fukuura CRUSHES a ball right at the Lotte ouendan! It clears the fence and we go NUTS. NUTS. “Seibu niwa! Makerarenai!” My goodness, what a clutch hit that was!

Doi is pulled for Osada but it’s one pitch too late. Kobayashi is in for a second inning of work in the 11th and yields nothing to the Seibu offense. Just like that, from defeat to victory, from a potential 0-1 hole on the road to a 1-0 lead! What a great game, and I am so happy to have been a part of it.

Up on Sunday – Game 2, Murphy vs Kishi. I’m going to the public viewing party at Chiba Marine instead of Seibu Dome, just for fun. Let’s hope Murphy and the offense can close out this series today!

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