Plenty of people thought Yomiuri would be leading the Central League at the start of interleague play, but who are these guys in first in the Pacific? Weren’t they supposed to be horrible? Shouldn’t the Lotte-Kyojin series in game 1 & 2 of interleague feature the first vs last teams?
Our Marines have played way above expectations in these first 6 weeks of the season, enjoying the same 1.5 game lead that their well-financed Kanto rivals have with a few older veterans and bunch of young guys who haven’t been told they are supposed to stink. And with the never-say-quit attitude of the underdog, Our Marines crashed through the gates of the Big Egg and beat Yomiuri in comeback fashion 5-3 to take the interleague opener.
Youth in Abundance
The starting lineup for Lotte was one of the younger ones that could be fielded. 22-year-old Nishino was the starting pitcher, and catching him was 21-year-old Emura. At short was 23-year-old Daichi and in center was 22-year-old Katoh. T Ogino (starting in right) is practically a grizzled vet by comparison at 27!
Nemoto poked the first pitch of the game to right but otherwise Lotte went down quietly in the first. Despite a few bumps Nishino handled the pressure of facing Yomiuri quite well, I thought. Sakamoto drew a 2-out walk off Nishino in the bottom of the first. As he has done to so many other pitchers over the years, Abe made him pay and drove home Sakamoto to make it a quick 1-0 Giants. This didn’t shake Nishino at all, though, as he sent the next 7 batters back to the bench in order.
Lotte had a golden chance to strike in the third as Emura poked a single off Yomiuri starter Sugiuchi. Nemoto drew a one out walk, and eternally awesome T Ogino beat out a fantastic infield single to load up the bases for Iguchi. However, Iguchi and Saburo couldn’t bring in a run and this chance was wasted to leave Lotte down 1-0.
Sakamoto and Abe again teamed up to get something going in the bottom of the 4th with back-to-back singles to start off the inning. A ground-out by Lopez, another by Kamei (and a fine play by Iguchi at first on the ball) and a fly out by Murata snuffed that threat.
Nishino was not so fortunate in the 5th, though. A single by Fujimura and an RBI double by SUGIUCHI (repeat: SUGIUCHI – though what the box score doesn’t tell you is that Saburo played a fly ball very, very badly) and a triple by $#&%##!!! Chono – all with no outs – put the Giants up 3-0 and Nishino in a very tight spot. He got out of it with just the two runs, which was actually a nice bit of pitching.
The Roar of the Jet Engine
Lotte fans hate the Giants. We love filling our allotted seats in left at Tokyo Dome and being louder than 40,000+ Giants fans. Up 7-0, down 3-0, doesn’t matter. The volume is always at 11. I think especially in the domed stadiums the sheer force of Team 26 can start to wear down opposing teams a bit. Right? Maybe I take a rose-colored glasses view of fandom but I’ve seen time and again Lotte fight hard and opponents wilt when we all keep the pressure on.
The 2013 Lotte squad is a good fit for that sort of onslaught. The batters have really been getting on base, forcing opposing pitchers to work hard on not making mistakes. But enough of that pressure and cracks start to form. In the Lotte top of the 6th, the first cracks appeared.
Saburo led the 6th with a single and Imae ju-u-ust missed a homer off the top of the right field fence. First and second, nobody out, Katoh at the plate. He hits a grounder and they’re trying to get Saburo between third and home. But the tag is missed, nobody is covering home, and Saburo (?!?!?) wins a footrace with Murata to home plate. The Yahoo play-by-play actually wrote it up as “Strange play, fielder’s choice”. I wrote it up as 3-1 Giants.
Kiyota pinch hit for Nishino as we needed a hit and Kiyota murders left handers, but he drew a walk instead to load the bases. Another chance. The Lotte fans whip out Chance 1. Louder. Louder. Nemoto’s up. He quickly drops into a 0-2 hole but he’s not quitting. He takes the next three pitches for balls – Sugiuchi really wanted them to be strike 3 – and proceeded to foul off the next 4 pitches off a tiring and clearly frustrated Sugiuchi. Louder. Louder. Louder. Next pitch – ball 4! Lotte has drawn to within a run and it’s now 3-2. T Ogino flies to short right but it’s OK, the game is much closer now.
Into the Pens
Yet again the Lotte pen delivered when it was needed. Carlos Rosa, Minami, Matsunaga, and Masuda pitched the next 4 innings, giving up a combined 4 hits and a walk and absolutely no runs. Tough, really tough. The best part is the Giants pen couldn’t do what the Lotte pen could.
Matheison did a fine job as the first pitcher in for Sugiuchi but Yamaguchi was gloriously awful as the next pitcher in. In the 8th, Ishimine pinch hit for Daichi (struggling a bit at the plate as of late) and dropped a single to left. Katoh bumped him over with a sac grounder and Hosoya walked to make a nice little chance. Kiyota up next. Kiyota, murderer of lefties vs lefty Yamaguchi. Kiyota, first pitch from Yamaguchi – BAM! down the right field line, much like Imae’s hit on Sunday. Ishimine in, Hosoya at third Kiyota at second one out, and Lotte sitting even at 3-3.
Nemoto up next – a hit and a pair of walks so far. We can’t waste this chance, not with a reeling Yamaguchi still on the hill. 1-0 pitch, smacked up the middle bringing in both runners and pushing Lotte to a 5-3 lead! Fighting!!!
That’s all that was needed. The pressure was too much, too many Men of Lotte on base, too many Men of Lotte throwing great pitches, too many Fans of Lotte screaming their guts out. This one was over with Nemoto’s hit – doesn’t matter that Yomiuri had their chances after. You could feel it.
It’s a great start to interleague for sure. Up next is the second game vs Yomiuri, Greisinger with his first start of the year vs Sawamura. How nice it is that we’ve played so well so far and our number 2 starter has yet to even pitch in a game!