Fight the Fighting Fighters!

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What’s this I see? Not one, but TWO victories versus the Fighters? Indeed, what you have heard is true, as this week the first place Nippon Ham Fighters swaggered in to town but took two out of three on the chin from our plucky Marines. It is – quite obviously, as anyone who follows Lotte this year will know – the first series win for our guys against the boys from Up North.

In fact, the Fighters had taken the last 9 games these two teams had met, so Tuesday’s 9-2 victory was quite sweet. Yuta Ohmine won his second consecutive start and again got massive run support as the Lotte bats powered for 4 homers. Tsuyoshi led of the first with a solo shot, Iguchi hit his 14th of the year (he had 10 in early May – a massive power drought indeed) with Imae on in the second. Saburo and Satozaki each hit solo shots in the 5th and 6th innings – Sato’s blast so huge it went off the back wall in left. The other 4 runs were brought in by a 2-run Hashimoto double and a 2-run Ohmatsu single.

For Ohmine’s part, he game up run-scoring doubles to Itoi and Kaneko in the second but nothing else for his 7 innings of work. Ogino and Kawasaki each pitched a scoreless inning in relief.

All in all a very nice little beat-down, just enough to get some mojo back.

Wednesday was a different story. I came to the game totally unprepared, no camera, no uniform, no towel, no Team 26 card – nothing but my lungs to yell support for Lotte. It was a special promotion night as well, black uniform night. Recently the team has been selling repros of the pre-championship years road unis (the all-black with silver lettering) so all were encouraged to wear black unis for this game. Free 40th anniversary towels , too. I have a sentimental attachment to these old unis as in the first game I ever saw Lotte play they were wearing these, so to me they are what I think if when I think of “Lotte Road Unis”. (Doesn’t hurt that I wear an original uni from this period as my road uni).

Anyway, the game on Wednesday was the opposite of Tuesday’s blast-o-rama. Fighters starter Brian Sweeney shut down the Lotte bats over 7 innings of 4 hit ball. Nippon Ham got 2 in the second off of a Kaneko double and another in the third via a Koyano RBI single. Lotte starter Kobayashi pitched fairly other than that, giving up 10 hits but striking out 10 as well. On Tuesday that would have been enough to win but not on Wednesday, as Nippon Ham takes the second game of the series 3-1.

I got into a texting duel with Deanna from the Marinerds blog – she was in the Fighters gaiya and I was directly opposite her behind the Lotte dugout. It was like the modern equivalent of an early 80’s street corner rap battle – meaningless and fun. I think my buddy Patrick, with whom I was enjoying the fine late summer evening at the ballpark, wondered who the hell I was texting all game.

Lotte did manage to get a late run off a Saburo pinch-hit double in the 8th, but there was really nothing else doing as the Fighters staff kept an wet blanket on top of the offense.

Thursday’s game was supposed to be a possibly rainy affair but the weather was pretty good all day and the game went off without a hitch. (Well, there was a hitch for me as I was at work too late to show up as planned, grr) This was a very good thing, too, as the Lotte bats yet again came alive, racing out to an early 6-0 lead and cruising to a 7-1 victory. A very nice win to take the series!

It was A Tale of Two Pitching Staffs – Fighters started Tadano gave up three in the first off a Saburo RBI double and a a Benny 2-RBI gapper. In the second Lotte added two more with a timely RBI single by Ohmatsu. Tadano uncorked a wild pitch to score Saburo from 3rd and make it 5-0. In the 3rd Tadano dropped another WP with Fukuura on third – he scores to make it 6-0.

Lotte’s starter Naruse was simply amazing. He went the distance in this one on 154 pitches, giving up only 6 hits and one run while striking out an awesome 13 Fighters batters. The only run came off a solo shot by Fighters rookie catcher Ono.

Lotte added another insurance run with a timely single by Ohmatsu to score Tsuyoshi from third, but Naruse wouldn’t need the extra support.

Mark my words, if Lotte had put up 7 runs in more games and gotten complete game one-run starts more often, they might have won just a few more games this season. It’s great to see Naruse turn it on at the end of the season, too – he’s gone at least 7 in every start the past few months. He’s also won 4 of his last 5 starts, quietly dropping his ERA to 3.60 and notching his 8th win. Hopefully it bodes well for next year – it’s difficult to remember sometimes he’s still only 23.

Up next is a trip to Kobe and Skymark for a set with Orix. After this week’s breakthrough series I suspect the guys will keep up the good play and take the second series in a row!

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