Climax Series Final Stage Game 1 is in the book – right under the chapter heading and introduction the book says “Lotte takes the first game of the series 3-1.” It’s a nice book so far.
Everybody loves an ace battle, and tonight was a great one – Toshiya Sugiuchi for the Hawks versus Our Marines’ ace Yoshihisa Naruse. Naruse has had some awful luck versus Daiei this year – 0-4 including 3 9-inning starts, one a 1-0 loss and another a shutout no decision. On the other hand, Sugiuchi was 4-1 on the season against Lotte, but the one loss was an absolute mauling back in August – 9 runs in less than three innings.
Naruse flipped that around tonight with a stunning gem of a performance, even by his ace standard. On the evening he gave up only one earned run and 4 hits with 9 Ks in a 134 pitch complete game masterpiece. Really, that one earned run shouldn’t have been an earned run as the runner who scored reached on an obvious error by Tsuyoshi. His real line should be 3 hits, 0 ER. Regardless, anyway you cut it you find gold inside.
The stats don’t go all the way in telling how awesome Naruse pitched. 6 of the 9 innings he pitched were perfect including the last four. He looked so unbelievably strong in the 9th that it would be easy to conceive him going further in the game should it have been required. His velocity wasn’t spectacular but his fastball had enough movement on it that hitters looked like they were swinging completely through the ball.
He’s pitched great before in Fukuoka only to leave without a win – the offense needed to do some work. Satozaki did not start for the third game in a row this Climax season. Unlike the first two games he was able to rest as his late inning heroics were not needed. Also somewhat surprisingly starting was Imaoka in the DH spot instead of Fukuura. I say somewhat surprisingly only because he did start a few late inning games as Fukuura was a bit injured. In this case with the lefty Sugiuchi on the hill it made sense to give ol’ reliable Fukuura a chance to rest unless he was needed for a pinch hitting role. Imaoka’s 1-3 with a walk and a run scored evening made sure Nishimura-kantoku did not regret the start.
Despite the lack of two normal starters, the offense managed to plate three. How? This man.
In the bottom of the second, Imaoka on third, Kim Tae Kyun on first (2-3 on the day with an intentional BB and a pair of singles) Ohmatsu drilled a second pitch slider way over the fence in right. 3-0 Lotte early on, but as hot as Naruse was, 3 runs was plenty.
The game was not without controversy. In the top of the 8th Saburo cranked the first pitch from Takehito Kanazawa high and deep over the center field wall for a homer. But wait, the umps convened, looked at the reply, and decided there was a phantom something or other in the top of the center field fence that magically prevented the shot from counting as a HR. This despite the ball bouncing clearly off the top of the green foam. If hitting the top side of the fence isn’t a HR, what is?
The phantom double ruling didn’t matter in the end even though Saburo would not score that inning because, well, you know. That Naruse guy. He takes care of everything!
So the series is tied after the first game (only in NPB!) – next team to win 3 more is off to the Nippon Series. Tomorrow’s game features Tsuyoshi Wada vs Hayden Penn, a matchup I wouldn’t have predicted even if you told me. Penn’s been somewhat erratic this year but has had a few really nice moments. The 10 inning shutout (no decision) he pitched vs Darvish and the Fighters was one of the best-pitched games of the year. He’s going to need his very best against Wada, who basically eats us for Sunday Brunch. The way things are going now I feel he will bring his very best.