Series Preview: Did I say we were 5-8, and the last series was a “must win”? Oh, I did, and we didn’t, and that 5-6 is now 5-8. Daiei, once 3.5 back, took the lead for second place before dropping back on percentage points on Thursday. Rakuten and first place are just a mirage in the distance – we’ve got 15 games of hard battle to fight to wrap up second. The first three are this weekend.
Any way you look at it this is a Climax preview. The last three games vs the Hawks in the regular season, and almost assuredly this will be the matchup in the Climax Series First Stage. We want those games at home. Reliever-turned-starter Matsunaga is tasked with stopping Daiei ace (and reliever-turned-starter) Settsu in Saturday’s game 1.
I stole the lead graphic from my own post preview to the 2010 Climax Series Final Stage. I found it amusing to go back and reread that, maybe you will too.
By Craig Roberts A seven run first inning off of SoftBank's ace Settsu propelled Our Marines to a 14-5 blow out victory. Of all 11 Marines that came to the plate on the afternoon, each reached base at least once. Shunichi Nemoto led the way with a 3-for-4 day at the plate which included a double, two RBI, two runs, a stolen base and two walks.
Despite Nemo’s modasho, today’s offensive hero honors would go to Saburo. The veteran had only one hit on the day, but boy did he make that hit count. The hit came with two outs and the bases loaded in the first inning. This first blow made the entire seven run inning possible, first though, let’s set the stage: Nemo led off the inning with a double, followed by a bunt attempt by T OGINO. Ogino’s bunt was fielded by the catcher, who decided to throw the ball to third. Flying Nemo beat the throw and tag as both runners reached safely. Iguchi struck out next, followed by an Imae ground out and Kakunaka walk. So now, here comes Saburo with the bases loaded and two out versus the Hawks’ ace Settsu…Saburo works it to a 3-1 count…and CRACK! Saburo laces a double into the left center field gap! The ball one hops the wall as Nemo scores, Ogino scores, Kakunaka scores! 3-0 Marines!
I did mention it was a seven run first inning, didn’t I? Craig Brazell came up next and knocked in Saburo with a base hit up the middle to center making it 4-0. Next up, Kei Hosoya put runners on the corners with a single through the right side of the infield. Today’s starting catcher Kanazawa delivered next with a base hit to left, scoring Brazell for a 5-0 lead. Did I mention this was all happening with two outs? With the top of the lineup coming around again, Nemo hit a tough grounder up the middle. The second baseman Honda got ahold of it with his back hand, but the shortstop Imamiya got crossed up by the throw to second causing the ball to sail toward the mound. Everyone was safe, the bases now loaded. A T OGINO HBP forced home another run to make it 6-0. It looked like the Hawks were finally out of the inning when Iguchi hit a chopper to second, but Honda couldn’t get a handle on the ball. After dropping it on his initial attempt, Honda failed to successfully pick it off the turf in time to throw the ball to first. Everyone safe, Kanazawa scores. 7-0!!! Finally Imae ended the inning with a ground out to third, but clearly plenty of damage had been done.
Making his fourth start of the year, Matsunaga came in hoping to pitch more like his first two starts (10 IP, 1ER) and not his last start (4 IP, 3 ER). Instead today he had his worst of the four starts, going three innings responsible for four runs scoring. After two and a half, the Hawks seems quite alive only down 7-4. Lotte scored another run in the bottom of the third when Iguchi hit into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases full notching the tally to 8-4. Ueno came in to pitch the fourth inning and ended up going two and third, allowing only one hit and earning the win.1 The Lotte bats turned back on in the bottom frame silencing any possible creeping threat by the Hawks. Kanazawa led things off with a double lined to right field. Nemoto followed with an RBI single, scoring Kanazawa to make it 9-4. Flying Nemo then stole second base, and Imae sent him home on a double to deep left to make it 10-4 Lotte Marines!
1 Ueno was clearly choked up and had to fight back the tears during his hero interview. I was able to borrow my wife from taking care of our son for a brief moment and a quick translation. Apparently, despite his struggles this year the fans songs and support motivated him to come out of the pen and pitch well in today’s game. It seemed like a real genuine moment. If anyone has a more thorough translation, please feel free to share in the comments section.
For good measure, Our Marines tacked on four more runs in the 8th to reach a final total of 14-5. A two out Nemo walk with the bases loaded scored the first run. Ogino drove in two more on a single to left, and Hosoya put the finishing touches on with an RBI base hit up the middle.
By Steve Novosel If you love tons of runs, yesterday was the game for you. But if you like tough pitching and great defense - honestly, it doesn't get much better than this one. In what surely will go down as one of the best games of the year, New Lefty Ace Furuya out-dueled hot new import Paul Oseguera to grab an exciting 1-0 win and a 2 game lead for second place in the Pacific.
Furuya bulldozed the top of the Daiei lineup in the first inning with a pair of Ks. In the bottom, Nemoto and T OGINO singled to lead off the game against Oseguera, who coming into the game had only yielded 1 run in his 3 ichi-gun starts. But an Iguchi K and an Imae GIDP ended the Lotte scoring chance. It would not be the last time that Oseguera and the Hawks defense would escape a tough situation.
The Hawks had a great scoring opportunity of their own in the top of the second. Matsuda and Pena singled with one out, but Furuya coaxed Egawa into sitting on the bench via K. That brought up Honda, who hit a grounder to Imae – but it hit the bag! Bad bounce – Imae got a glove on it but couldn’t hold it. All Daiei gents safe – bases juiced with two outs, frequent Lotte punching bag Hosokawa at the plate. Furuya gets Hosokawa to fly out, threat over, still 0-0.
Fast forward to the Lotte third. Nothing doing for Our Marines since the two hits in the first, but Satozaki changed that with a towering high fly to left! Bat flipped, jog started, 1-0 Chiba!
Holding the Lead
Furuya continued to look strong. The powerful Hawks attack got men on the sacks in the fourth and fifth innings but conveniently induced double plays ended the inning both times. The defense was rock-solid today for Chiba – good positioning, nice catches, hard throws. Imae and Daichi had especially good games, in my opinion.
In the Hawks sixth, Furuya got Imamiya and PL batting leader Hasegawa swinging for the first two outs, but after getting ahead of Uchikawa and then Matsuda, only losing both to singles, Furuya got Pena swingng to end the frame. That would do it for Furuya – his line: 6 IP, 6 H, 7 K, 2 walks and no runs. Very good stuff.
Oseguera was cruising after the Satozaki HR, not getting into any trouble in the 4th or 5th innings. In the 6th, Our Marines had a huge chance as Satozaki, Iguchi and Imae singled to load the bases, but Kakunaka flied out to end the chance. And again in the 7th – a two-out Daichi double and Satozaki single (that should have scored Daichi, but Daichi got a bad jump from second and could only make it to third). That brought up Nemoto, who hit a hot shot to third that Matsuda had to make a great dive for and quick throw to get Satozaki. A very nice play by the veteran 3B to keep the score at 1-0. That was also the end of the day for Oseguera – 7 IP, 8 H and a walk, and just the one run via the HR. Impressive work.
Into the Pen
Itoh-kantoku went to Uchi first out of the pen and then Rosa. Uchi was megahot, burning through Hawks bats like lava for a perfect frame. Rosa got into a wee bit of trouble with runners on first and second with just one out, but he buckled down and got Uchikawa and Matsuda out to prevent any runs. The last play by Daichi was particularly nice.
That brought up our tired and somewhat maligned closer Masuda to finish it, and finish it he did. A leadoff HBP to Pena went for nothing as Masuda gunned down Egawa via K-force, getting Honda to ground to Daichi (in a play that could have ideally been a DP, but wasn’t), and finally pinch hitter Yanagita swinging for a game-ending punch-out. What a game, and what a nice finish!
Our Marines have a great chance to sweep with Karakawa facing highly regarded rookie Higashihama. Higashihama hasn’t pitched at ichi-gun since April and doesn’t have the best ni-gun resume, so it’s a very odd choice by Akiyama-kantoku in such a key game. If we can grab a win and a sweep, that will be a three game lead for the second spot with just 12 Lotte games and 10 Daiei games to go. We want this win.
I took some pictures with my busted camera (including the Furuya one) – I’ll just link them in a gallery if you are interested.
By Steve Novosel A series win? Oh yeah. A sweep? Nope. That may not be everything we wanted but it's the minimum of what we needed, as unfortunately Daiei solved the case of The Baby-Faced Killer and took the series finale, 5-4.
A Frustrating Moment
But first, allow me some righteous indignation. See, in the bottom of the first – a time where Our Marines found themselves behind by a run – T OGINO drove a ball high and deep down the left field line. He didn’t seem all that impressed by the ball, watching from our perch in the 2nd deck I wasn’t expecting more than a fly out off the bat, and clearly the cameramen thought nothing of it as they failed to catch the ball in flight at all, but lo and behold that ball just kept carrying. It was high – above the top of the pole – but based on where it landed, from my view it pretty clearly looked like a homer. But the third base ump? Foul. They looked at it on replay but as I mentioned the camera crew didn’t get it at all, not even where it landed, really, so not much to overturn it. But I’m telling you, really, it was a dinger.
So it goes in baseball sometimes.
It’s hard to completely dismiss the lost run with a sho ga nai as that run turned out to be crucial to the final score. Sure, Chiba took the lead with Braz’s 2 run jack, but the Hawks took it back with Uchikawa’s in the 5th. And yeah, Iguchi belted a liner into the left corner of the outfield stands – NOT a foul this time – but Matsuda would deliver a 2-run single to get the lead back again. And sure, the odd decision to pinch hit with GG Sato while Daichi was on third led to a single and a narrowing of that lead to one run, but Our Marines could score no more.
Yeah, the extra run would have been nice.
Best Laid Plans
Regarding the offense – one might say the offense was not very productive – after all, the bats got just 5 hits and 2 walks off rookie starter Higashihama and Co – but those 5 hits were ALL meaningful. Two were homers, two others scored after those hits, and the 5th hit drove in a run. Yup, that’s a pretty efficient use of 5 hits.
To me, though, the key moment was the inexplicable – no, indefensible, especially in retrospect – decision by Itoh-kantoku to put in Nakagoh of all people in the 7th with two outs and runners on second and third. Why, in such a crucial moment, would Itoh not go to one of his three best right arms – Uchi, Rosa, or even Masuda? Why Nakagoh? And sure enough Nakagoh gave up a walk and a single, and Daiei took the lead for good.
Hey, we can’t complain about winning the series. Really, we cannot – as Craig pointed out to me Hawks fans can just as easily play the What If game with Sunday’s result. But that’s them and we are us – we wanted this win.
It just makes the last 12 games of the regular season that much more important now.