“I feel like everything is shiny. Just… shiny.”
-Katsu, about 60 minutes after the end of the game
The world is indeed a shinier place this evening as yesterday’s comeback kings found a way to do it again today. Down late – again – needing a spark – again – wanting a hero to step up and lead us to victory – again – the Lotte Marines of Chiba summoned the fighting spirit that cannot be defeated and snatched Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series from the devastated Seibu Lions. With today’s 5-4 victory at Seibu Dome the Lions go home losers and Our Marines book tickets to Fukuoka.
I thought yesterday’s loss would be too much for Seibu to overcome. Honestly, that sort of loss is impossible to stomach. But Seibu put up a great fight today – Our Marines just fought harder and delivered the same crushing blow for the second day in a row. As I mentioned yesterday, I took in today’s game at the public viewing at Chiba Marine. Right as I arrived the drizzle abated and the sun started to peek through. The fans turned out in strength, too – I don’t know any official numbers but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it was 4000+. Food stalls were open, cheerleaders, Mar-kun and Rine-chan were there, and everybody was primed to scream their heads off, loud enough to be heard in Tokorozawa.
Not coincidentally, I can’t speak at all right now. That’s not an exaggeration, my voice was scratchy at best before today’s game and as I type I can’t make more than a raspy squeak. Its the good sort of muteness, though – happy silence.
Today’s pitching matchup featured 12 game winner Bill Murphy against Seibu’s Takayuki Kishi. Lotte’s start was promising with Kiyota blasting a liner to right, but directly to Takayama, and Iguchi skying one deep to right that stopped just short of the fence. In the Seibu half of the inning, Murphy got roughed up due to some wildness. Two walks, three singles, and a ton of pitches led to Seibu plating three for the early lead. (Isn’t it nice how I completely dismiss Seibu’s big inning in two sentences?)
How would the Lotte offense respond? In the second with two outs, Imae at the plate – HUGE smash to left! That ball was much closer to the back of the stadium than to the wall! Lotte throws a punch that lands squarely on Seibu’s nose, and the game goes to 3-1 Seibu.
But Seibu would answer in the third with a leadoff double by Nakamura (delicately lumbering to second), a sac bunt, and a sac fly to score another run and increase the lead to 4-1. With that, Murphy was pulled for Shunsuke Watanabe, El Submarinero extraordinare, at the start of the fourth. It was Shunsuke’s first appearance for some time as he was rather ineffective late in the season.
I’m going to spoil some of the suspense for you, I apologize – from the 4th inning until the end of the game the Lotte pitching staff and defense would not allow a single Lion to cross home plate without being smacked with a tag. It was a remarkable run of relief work by first Watanabe, then Yabuta, Yoshimi, Itoh, Uchi, and finally Kobayashi. 6 pitchers, all performed their job perfectly. Who’s maligning the Lotte pen again?
In the 6th, Kiyota led off with a single, Iguchi walked, and Saburo pasted a double to left to score Kiyota! It was 4-2 Seibu now, nobody out, runners on 2nd and 3rd. Unfortunately we couldn’t get anyone else across that inning, but one run was a nice start.
Everytime Lotte put a run on the board the fans at Chiba Marine erupted sure as the ouendan in Seibu Dome. It really was almost as good as being there (without the two hour transit).
Ohmatsu led off the 7th with a lovely double to the left gap, and Satozaki drove him on home to inch the score ever so closer, 4-3 Seibu. Lotte would load the bases yet again be unable to get another runner in. Strangely, I never felt that this was going to hurt us, though of course I wanted more runs, and right then.
In the 8th Seibu threatened to score another run. With one out Gotoh singled and Hosokawa bunted him to second. Kuriyama came to the plate, and he lined a single to left in front of Ohmatsu. Gotoh got the green light – he was coming in. Ohmatsu cocked, fired a shot right to Satozaki at home who gloved the throw, blocked the plate masterfully, and planted the tag. OUT. See this great play yourself:
Sato looked pretty shaken after that collision – it’s only his second game in two months – and he had to bat immediately after. Oof. I hope he wasn’t too rattled – it’s the top of the 9th, Lotte down by one, we need all hands to pull!
So Satozaki steps to the plate. Osada has come in in relief. Sato settled in, probably still a bit fuzzy. The first pitch from Osada – Satozaki clubs it deeeeeep and OUT to left field! GREAT defensive play followed immediately by a GREAT smack! It’s the essential run, the chance, the tie!
He even got his flip in action. This is precisely when I lost my voice, for those who are interested. How about Satozaki – 3-3 today (2 RBIs) and 1-1 (2 RBIs) last night. What a spark he is!
The big screen at Chiba Marine kept showing fan and player shots – Fans looking like they were about to cry, players looking like someone stole their lunch money. It was great. Here’s a video from You Tuber dokozonochibakenmin, who’s in the Lotte outfield:
Let nobody say Lotte fans don’t show up for big games.
Seibu players looked totally rattled, mounting no chance off of Itoh in the 9th, though Jose Fernandez did blast a very deep foul that was a lot closer to fair than I would have liked.
Lotte did nothing in the 10th as well. Itoh gave up a leadoff walk to Nakamura in the 10th, he was promptly bunted to second. With one out, Nishimura-Kantoku called for the only sensible play – an intentional walk to Brown, then brought in… Uchi. My man! I heard some not-so-nice words from the fans today based on last night’s adventure, but I was glad to see Nishimura giving him another chance in a big spot. After a high breaking ball, Uchi coaxed Gotoh into a inning ending DP. Great.
It’s the 11th – we love the 11th at Seibu Dome. Ohmatsu leads with a single and is pinch-ran for by Okada. Satozaki surprisingly bunts Okada over, after which Watanabe-kantoku gives a free pass to Tsuyoshi. Now this is a stupid move, IMO. There’s a big difference between putting the second run on in the top of the inning and creating the force play in the bottom of the inning. I like dumb managerial moves for my opponent’s manager, though!
Kiyota lines one to right (again!) but the outfield is playing super-duper in so Gotoh fields it on the fly. At normal depth that scores a run, easily. Not this time. It’s two outs and up to Iguchi to do something. For the game he is a not-very-good 0-4 with a walk. Onodera is pitching – he gave up the hit to Satozaki that tied it last night. What about tonight? First pitch, high fastball, Iguchi pokes it to center! Okada is rounding third and racing home, nothing will stop him! With that super-ultra timely hit, Lotte takes another 11th inning lead, 5-4!!
The camera pans around the Seibu players. Watanabe-kantoku looks like he soiled himself. A few of the players look like they are about to break down in tears. You can hear it, even though it’s not audible, “Not again!!!” Yes, again.
Kobayashi is in for the bottom of the inning. After a leadoff single and a nice snag by Tsuyoshi it’s one out. Pinch hitter Asamura pops one up to the infield – out two. “After one more! After one more!” the crowd at Chiba Marine screams. It’s the dangerous Nakajima – he takes a 1-2 slider and pops it to center. Okada is under it, gloves it, game, series!
It’s on to Fukuoka!!
What an amazing series. Lions fans were seriously crying after this one (and I don’t blame them) – the cameras showed the Seibu ouendan all weeping madly. Lotte fans from Chiba to Tokorozawa, and surely in Fukuoka, Sendai, Osaka, Ishigaki, and all other places where the Marines faithful live and cheer – celebrated the great victory.
Game 1 against the Hawks starts Thursday – I must admit I am totally spent right now, so I’ll have to write more on that later. It’s a REALLY REALLY good sort of spent, though!