I ask you, Lotte fans – what do you want in a playoff game? Victory, yes, sure. Lots of offense? Great. Strong pitching? Uh huh. A close game? Well… Sorry, can’t help you with the last one.
That’s because Our Marines (leaking a bit of oil going into the Climax Series) went to Seibu Dome to take on the Lions (winners of 8 straight to crash the CS party), shut down the Seibu offense and beat up the Seibu pitching1 in a cathartic 11-1 thrashing to open the Climax Series First Stage. Close game be damned – this one was FUN.
1The cliche goes that we beat them up and took their lunch money, but I think it’s more accurate to say we stole their car, maybe plundered their pensions. That would take a hell of a lot of lunch money to be a fair analogy.
In a minor miracle, the lineups ended up exactly as I predicted in the preview (rare that I am right about something) – a veteran-heavy array of Lotte fielders and the same Seibu lineup that we’ve seen in recent weeks. That meant the starting pitchers were New Lefty Ace Furuya and veteran Kishi, who has had a pretty decent year but was kind of meh vs Our Marines this year. He was anything but meh today, as Chiba bats pummeled him throughout his 5 IP of work. Honestly, I am not sure why he wasn’t pulled earlier, for in those 5 innings Kishi gave up 5 runs on 8 hits, and those 8 hits were hit hard. Two of them were for homers and another three were doubles – Men of Lotte constantly on the move, repeatedly crossing the plate.
In the first, Iguchi hit a 2-out BOMB to deep left – a solo shot to get things started right. Imae doubled right after that, and Kakunaka also crushed a liner but it was at Kuriyama in deep left to end the inning. 1-0 Lotte after one inning.
Seibu got runners on to lead off both the second and third innings but failed to accomplish a thing as in the second Asamura was picked off first to end the inning, and in the third Seibu couldn’t get Sakata home. A pretty solid start for the New Lefty Ace, all in all.
Lotte bats were back for more in the third, as Satozaki led off with a double. After a failed Nemoto bunt2, Okada singled to move over Satozaki and Iguchi hit a high pop right to the fence to bring him in. Mr October (Gori) singled in front of Sakata in right to score Okada pretty easily – that’s a 3-0 Lotte lead, folks.
2Suffice it to say that had the game gone the other way this moment would have featured prominently in my post-game bitching. But it didn’t, so we’re all good, right?
Saburo hit a cute little homer in the 4th – I didn’t think it would be out, wasn’t sure it was even fair, honestly – but gently it dropped into the front row of Lions fans in left. One might call it a quaint dinger, were one so inclined to wax poetically. No matter what you call it – 4-0 Lotte after 4.
The Crucial Frame
You wouldn’t think an 11-1 game would be all that interesting but oh it was. There was a time in the fifth inning that things could have swung back towards Seibu, for sure.
Our Marines welcomed the world to the fifth inning by tacking on another run – a one out Okada double down the 1st base line followed up Iguchi hitting a timely single. The Gooch! You’ve read his name a lot in this post so far – that was his third RBI in his third at bat, good enough for today’s hero interview.
The Seibu half of the inning was where it got tense. Right after I gloatingly tweeted the following:
WIN PROBABILITY = 100% #西武には負けられない
— Steve@WeLoveMarines (@lovelovemarines) October 12, 2013
Seriously, not 10 seconds after I hit Tweet, Okawari-Kun hit a rocket to left field for Seibu’s first run of the game. Great timing there, STEVE. Geez.
But OK, 1 run, who cares. Still 5-1. But then Sakata singled, and Onizaki singled, and German went from an 0-2 count to drawing a walk – all of a sudden, it’s bases loaded, one out, and the heart of the order coming up. EEK. Itoh made a wise choice and went to the pen – not that Furuya was pitching particularly badly, just that this was a jam that required extrication. For that task, in came New Righty Ace, Nishino!
And all Nishino did was a) Freeze Kataoka on a third strike fastball and b) Coax Kuriyama into flying out softly to Okada. That was a fantastic job by young Nishino in his first postseason game, and pretty clearly to my mind the crucial moment of the game.
Ending It Strongly
No point to leaving things to the vagaries of the late innings despite the strong Lotte pen – more runs was the doctor’s prescription. Fortunately that run given up in the fifth was equaled in the Lotte sixth via a timely Satozaki double to score Saburo. 6-1 Chiba.
The eighth – oh, the eighth – now that was an entertaining inning and the death blow in this game. Daichi lead off with a double – Satozaki joined him on the bases after a HBP (hey!). That brought up Nemoto in the leadoff spot, and he belted a hard low liner to right center, splitting Akiyama and Sakata (who had a decent day at the plate but was pretty awful in the field all afternoon) – that’s a triple, and an 8-1 Lotte lead!
We’re not done, though. Imae drew a two-out walk to put runners on the corner with two outs. That brought up rookie Katoh Shohei – he of the one career homer (on his first pitch) and pair of ni-gun monthly MVP awards. Katoh came in as a pinch runner for Kakunaka and took over for Saburo in left. The young outfielder had one hell of an at bat, fouling off 4 straight pitches. On the 10th pitch of the at bat, Katoh turned on a hung slider from Seibu’s Masuda (not the superior Lotte model) and hit the ball really, really far. I mean, we were in the 11th row and that ball sailed WAY over our heads. I’d guess it to be somewhere between 135-145m (450-475 feet) – AWESOME. I kind of lost my voice then.
That was it for the Lotte scoring, and the Chiba pen was SO dominant that Seibu couldn’t get a thing going the rest of the day.
Up next to try to end this series on Sunday after the minimum of two games is rookie Matsunaga – a good choice, I think. He takes on fellow ex-reliever Okamoto – not as good a choice, I think. Which is fine, I like dodgy lineup selections from the other dugout!