The 6 game road trip continues for Lotte; today was game 2 versus last year’s Nippon and Asia Series champion Seibu. Naruse was making his second start of the season today. He was a bit shaky in his first start against Rakuten last week, giving up 4ER in 5 innings, but Lotte won that game on Iguchi’s Sayonara Slam in the bottom of the 10th. No such struggles for Naruse today, as he went for 6+ strong innings to give the Marines a chance at victory.
Today also marked the first road trip of the year for the We Love Marines crew – and it was my first trip to Seibu Dome as well. I had planned on taking quite a few pictures but as anyone who poked their head outside in Japan today knows, it wasn’t exactly photography weather. So, the bulk of the pictures will need to wait until a more pleasant day, and another road trip to Tokorozawa.
Even though the trip to Saitama is less than 60km from my home in Chiba, it took damn near 2 hours to reach the stadium due to the multiple train changes. It was a nice change of pace to travel down different tracks than usual, though. I was actually a bit unprepared for how nice the environs are for Seibu Dome. For some reason I thought it was a bit more urban setting, but arrival at the stadium takes place in the middle of a lovely park with the entry gates right near the train turnstiles.
Seibu Dome itself is a rather interesting place to watch a game. The visitor outfield configuration is flipped from most Japanese parks, with the visiting fans sitting in right instead of left. Also, there are no seats in the outfield at all, so it’s a bit of a picnic atmosphere. The open sides sure kept it cold today, though.
The visitor gaiya was quite stuffed with Lotte fans as one would expect on a weekend, though our little corner of the outfield near the foul pole wasn’t too crowded at all.
Or so we thought.
As the Lions came to bat the area was quite empty, as you can see by the picture.
When the Marines came to bat, the scene changed dramatically. All the fans who were watching from the outer rim of the outfield poured into the area where we were sitting, turning the outfield into a high density, hop-crazy mob. Just how I like it!
The close quarters made it a bit interesting to try to bounce during the player songs, but of course we managed.
As for the game itself, it was an extremely tight, well-pitched affair on both sides. Matching up with Naruse was veteran Seibu starter Hoashi. The game was scoreless through 6 innings as both starters got into little trouble, and what trouble they did into caused no damage. That changed in the 7th, as the wheels came off Hoashi’s performance, much to the delight of the outfield denizens.
Benny got the rally started with a grounder to Seibu shortstop Nakajima, who bobbled the ball and the throw, allowing Benny to reach safely. Utility man Hayasaka came in to pinch run for Benny, and catcher Satozaki sacrificed him over to second. From there the next batter, Saburo, brought him home with a clutch double to left – causing complete bedlam in the outfield stands.
I am not waxing hyperbolically when I call the scene bedlam — there were bodies flying everywhere as exuberant supporters flung themselves into each other celebrating Saburo’s go-ahead knock.
Fukuura came to the plate next and was promptly walked setting up Imae. The 3rd baseman crushed one to deep left but just got a bit too much under it, and it was reeled in at the warning track. Leadoff hitter Hayakawa was pinch hit for by very-seldom-used backup catcher Shinzato, prompting much confused muttering in the crowd. The confusion was short-lived as he laced a fat pitch down the right field line past outfielder GG Sato for a triple. 2 runs came in to make it 3-0, and to make the outfield yet again a scene of utter chaos – beer and backpacks flying everywhere, decorum and reserve rightfully left off-site.
The Lions made it tight in the bottom of the 7th, chasing Naruse after he put two runners aboard. Itoh came in in relief – after getting Bocachica to strike out, he gave up a 2-run single to Kataoka to bring the score to 3-2.
The Marines pitching held the rest of the way, with Sikorski getting out of the tight jam in the bottom of the 7th to keep it 3-2, coming back to work a scoreless 8th frame, and Ogino shutting down the Seibu bats in the 9th with a pair of strikeouts to close out the victory! After the final strike was recorded and the Marines declared victors, mayhem ruled the outfield again.
Shinzato gets the hero interview with the first RBIs of his career, which has got to be one of the better feelings around, I’m sure.
I gotta say, the scoreboard for our first road trip of the year looks pretty nice as well.
There’s one more game in the series tomorrow with Ohmine taking the hill. Let’s hope the guys can pull out another one and come home with the first road series victory of the year!