On this damp Monday evening at QVC young righty Yuji Nishino was handed the ball with a tall task: go head-to-head with arguably the best pitcher in Japan – Hiroshima’s Kenta Maeda – and keep Our Marines in the game in the hopes that Itoh’s small ball could scratch out a run or two against the visiting Carp. The Carp are not a dangerous offensive team but no matter – when Maeken is pitching they are always in the game. Nishino did more than his fair share of the lifting tonight, delivering a masterwork of control and power, nearly silencing the Carp attack and boosting Our Marines to a stirring 3-2 victory.
Ace Under Pressure
I’ve mentioned before the slowly-igniting awesomeness coming from young Nishino. Nishino, he of humble origins in NPB, was pushed into a starter’s spot from the Ikusei world and into the clearly second best starter this year on the first place Marines. Nishino, youngest pitcher on the team yet he’s gifted with a veteran’s poise. Nishino, looking in the other dugout and seeing Maeken, out Maeken’ed Maeken by simply mowing down 8 batters via strikeout in the first four innings alone. First 10 batters – see ya. Hiroshima finally got the first runner on via Nakahigashi single in the 4th but Nishino wasn’t going to give up runs so easily. He gave up a single to Hirose then calmly took Nick Stavinoha and Fred Lewis via K. Lewis couldn’t believe the strike three call (though it was clearly a strike) and, to use a medical term, lost his shit. He immediately started jawing obscenities at umpire Yamaji. Yamaji-san may not be fluent in English but pretty much everyone knows what being called a “M$&#!$F#$&!!” means, so bye bye Lewis.
Nishino wasn’t quite as sharp after that but he was still damn fine. Over the next 4 innings Nishino scattered three hits and a walk, the only Carp chance coming in the 6th with 2 on, 1 out, but Nick helpfully grounded into a double play to send Our Marines back to the dugout happy. Much appreciated.
Nishino was pitching so well that he stayed in for the 9th inning even though he was pushing 130 pitches. How’d that go? ….
One thing I’ve noticed over the past two games is the Carp defense is, well, stinky. Maeda gave up a lead off walk to Nemoto in the first, and after coaxing a ground out from T Ogino managed to convince Iguchi to pop up to deep left center. But Lewis and Nakahigashi just kind of stared at each other as if trying to decide who should order the pizza and plop! In for the cheapest double in all recorded history. Tough for Maeda, great for Lotte. Imae grounded in Nemoto and Kiyota opened up some early breathing room by calmly slapping a single to left. A quick and surprising 2-0 Lotte lead in the first.
And… Well honestly, that’s about all for Lotte chances for a long, long time. Maeken, he of the 0.64 ERA and 7/1 K/BB ratio coming into the game, just pummeled his way through the Lotte bats for the next 7 innings. Sure there were baserunners, but Maeda just picked them off, almost picked them off, shut down the next batter with a whimper, and just generally intimidated his way through the bottom of each inning. Quite impressive to watch, honestly.
Our Marines got another chance in the 8th. With two outs, both Iguchi and Imae singled – Katoh came in to pinch run for Iguchi (and almost got picked off not once, not twice, but three times). Fukuura drew a walk on some very nibbly pitches from Maeda to bring up Kiyota. Kiyota waited, waited, and waited some more – finally drawing ball 4 and making it 3-0 Lotte!
As I mentioned Nishino came back out for the 9th. He looked utterly gassed from the very first pitches, though. Hirose grounded out after 5 pitches but Nick fought for a walk. Still, in stayed Nishino. Gutsy call by Itoh to keep Nishino in, but he wanted to get the second complete game shutout in a row. Mukae at the plate, up 2-0 early, then 3-1, then fouling, fouling, fouling – and lining a double down the left field line…. Nick is over to third and with that, Nishino is pulled for Masuda.
Masuda is tasked with getting two outs and hopefully preserving the shutout. He’s looking good – he’s got Matsuyama down 1-2 early but Matsuyama really battles. Foul, foul, foul, foul that Daichi almost gets to, and on the 10th pitch NO A DOUBLE TO RIGHT. No no no. Nishino’s shutout is gone. 2 runs in. Matsuyama is at second and Masuda is in a whole pile of trouble again. He’s got to face Soyogi – and Soyogi immediately dribbles a grounder to Masuda. NICE. So Masuda vs Dohbayashi now – and on a 2-2 pitch Masuda gets him swinging! It’s not a shutout but it’s a 3-2 Lotte win!
Nishino’s final line: 8 1/3 IP, 143 pitches, 6 hits, 2 walks, 2 runs (sadly~~~!) and simply mind-boggling 12 Ks. Guau! And that was a streak of 20+ innings with no runs allowed by the Lotte staff. VERY nice.
The win keeps Lotte in first by 1.5 games. Up on Wednesday – a visit from the hot Hanshin Tigers and their always boisterous fans. If you don’t like loud games, don’t bother tuning in to this one!