Chiba Marine Stadium was awash with downpours tonight as Rakuten rolled into Makuhari for the first of a 3-game weekend set with Lotte. Tonight’s starting pitchers have had as dramatically different fortunes this year as their respective teams. Lotte starter Shimizu Naoyuki comes in with an 0-2 record and a 6.26 ERA, while young Rakuten SP Nagai Satoshi enters 3-0 with a 2.26 ERA. In a game beset by weather stoppages, errors, and sloppy play, Lotte’s pitching rose to the task of stopping the first place Golden Eagles, leading the Marines to a 4-3 victory.
In a rainy start to the game Shimizu got off to a bit of a slow start, giving up a triple to Rakuten CF Nakamura, who was later brought home by veteran Yamasaki’s double. In the Marines half of the first, Chase Lambin led off with a high pop to second that was misplayed by 2B Uchimura. Lambin ran like hell on the play and slid forcefully into second for a 2B error. He was brought home two batters later on Tsuyoshi’s line drive HR into the home gaiya, giving the 2-1 lead to Lotte.
The rain continued to fall, and Rakuten retook the lead in the third on Kusano’s 2-run HR to right. Imae almost tied it in the bottom of the third with an HR of his own – it didn’t quite make it out, but Rick Short was pushed to the wall and was unable to come down with it, leaving Imae standing at third. Lambin walked next then the skies opened up, necessitating a lengthy delay.
After play resumed, Fukuura walked, loading the bases for Iguchi. He drilled a ball to the warning track in center that would have been a HR anywhere else, but was good enough to score Imae. Ohmatsu fanned for the second time on a wicked inside pitch from Nagai to end Lotte’s scoring chance, but the game was now tied.
Shimizu really knuckled down after the delay and the passing of the rain. He gave up 3 more hits over the next 4 innings but no runs.
In the 5th, Lotte took the lead for good on a double by Iguchi. Shimizu pitched through the 7th; the 8th and 9th were pitched in perfect form by Sikorski and Ogino, respectively. Even Rakuten fans had to be impressed by the power of Sikorski and the wizardry of Ogino – Sikorski struck out 2 in his frame and Ogino struck out the side to close it out.
I’ve mentioned it repeatedly but it bears mentioning again how dominating Ogino has been this year. Tonight was his 11th appearance, and he has yet to yield an earned run in any of the games he’s pitched in. Due to the general sorry state of the season so far he’s only got 3 saves, but if his form holds the saves will come as the season turns around. Sikorski, for his part, has been no slouch either – he’s currently sporting a 1.26 ERA, which is a run below his previous career best. Now if only Kobayashi (6.91 ERA), Komiyama (6.57 ERA, but he is 43), Ohmine (6.75), and Ono (6.04) can get their seasons on track…
A very nice win tonight for the Marines!