Quick on the heels of last night’s gloomy disappointment was today’s afternoon game, the second with Orix. The pitching matchup featured Watanabe Shunsuke (who was 0-2 on the season to date despite a 2.40 ERA) and Kanako Chihiro (1-2 with a 5.30 ERA). Watanabe has always pitched well at Chiba Marine, so optimism was running high. Kanako, however, resembled Iwakuma today until the 9th inning in a 5-3 Orix victory that wasn’t nearly as close or interesting as the score might indicate.
As I mentioned in my last post I was curious to see how last night’s mopey atmosphere translated to a holiday game, and I’m happy to say that the atmosphere seemed much more like normal than last night. The petition takers were back in full force, the food stall lines were long, as was the queue for people wanting to buy game day tickets (though curiously, the Team 26 line was almost non-existent). Inside the stadium the fans were just as raucous as ever – at least as much as today’s uninspiring game would allow them to be.
Quite honestly, this was one of the more uninteresting games I have been to recently. Watanabe was off his game today, giving up 9 hits in 6 2/3 innings of work and 5 runs, including 3 hits in a row (2 doubles and a single) in the 2nd for 2 runs and back-to-back HRs to Ohbiki and LaRocca in the 7th.
Kaneko, on the other hand, was inducing fly ball after fly ball by the Marines’s batters. According to the official scorer’s sheet he induced 13 flies of all types. One could look at that as good pitching; I tend to look at that as missed opportunities for the Marines.
The only real scoring chance for Lotte came in the bottom of the 9th, as a tiring Kaneko (135 pitches on the day) put Hashimoto and Saburo on for #6 hitter Burnham Jr, who pasted a fat pitch into the Lotte gaiya to make it 5-3.
Benny hit a double immediately after to give the fans hope – hope that was snuffed out by Ohmatsu’s weak pop to third and pinch-hitter Iguchi’s grounder to end it.
So the team is now 0-5 vs Orix on the season, and sitting in 6th at 8-13. I’ve discussed at length in previous posts the pitching issues that have plagued Lotte this year – though that has improved in the last week or so. The 800-lb gorilla in the room now has to be Ohmatsu’s awful slump over the past 2 weeks. His last hit was on 16 April – 2 weeks ago – over which time period he’s gone 0-22 with countless left on base, including today’s missed chance in the 9th. On top of that he looked pretty lost in the field today with an error on a misplayed ball to right. Let’s hope he can relax, work through what’s bothering him, and return to the form that made him an up-and-coming star last year.