Running, hitting Men of Lotte! Throwers, fielders, base stealers! Go forth, Men of Lotte, go forth as the number one team in all of the Pacific League! Go forth with your 8-1 May record, press on with your crafty attack, head out to the stadiums of the Central League and bring back the Interleague Crown!
I cannot help but wax poetic after a day like today. The last game for Lotte was filled with woe – this one was in strong doubt up until the deciding moment but ultimately, Our Marines squeezed out a dramatic, come-from-behind, sa-yo-na-ra 5-4 victory over the Rakuten Eagles! And with a loss by Seibu Chiba Lotte is sitting pretty atop the Pacific League standings.
I didn’t anticipate this sort of drama early on. Who would? Naruse was on the mound! And while our ace didn’t give up a single run and struck out 7 he was in trouble in every inning and racked up a huge pitch count early on. Itoh-kantoku had to go to the pen in the 7th inning, and that’s when things got very dodgy indeed. But I get ahead of myself.
A Fresh Face
The starting lineup today was an interesting one due to injuries in Friday’s game to Kakunaka (removed from the roster with a hamstring strain) and Iguchi (not starting but came in as a pinch hitter) so Fukuura got the call at first and rookie Shohei Katoh started in right. Katoh was drafted in the 4th round out of Jobu University last year and is considered a bit of a project. I am no expert on Japanese University baseball but it seems Jobu University’s baseball team is pretty far from top-flight competition. But in ni-gun this season Katoh-san was really raking it – .303 average, 4 HR, 6 doubles, 1 triple, 9 stolen bases. Still, it’s a long way from low-level amateur competition to top-level pro competition, right? Right?
Perhaps not for young Katoh. He came up to bat for the first time in the 3rd to hearty applause from Lotte fans and promptly smashed the first pitch from Rakuten starter Nagai into the right field stands. WOW. Just like like it’s nothing at all, Katoh gives the game its first score! I don’t need to tell you what our reaction was, you can just look it up in the audio version of the dictionary under “excitement”. You can see Katoh-kun’s reaction as the ball is in the air in the lead photo (I was taking a bunch of photos until my battery died). 1-0 Lotte at this point.
Chiba’s second big scoring chance came in the very next inning as Saburo (starting in the cleanup spot as the DH) stroked a two-out single followed immediately by Imae doing the same. That set the stage for Fukuura, who has had a miserable homestand at the plate. But not right now – Fukuura lines one to center, Saburo is in, Lotte is up 2-0! And who’s up next but Mr I-Only-Need-One-Pitch Katoh… And he grounds one to McGehee at first. Too bad. Except McGehee is a bit slow getting to it and Nagai is also a bit slow getting to the bag, and WOW Katoh beats out the sure out for a single! We love Marines, but we LOVE this kid! Kanazawa grounds out to end the inning immediately after, but who cares? We’re so excited for the debut of Katoh!
Lotte got another in the 5th thanks to some great baserunning by Nemoto, a good hit by Ogino (Ta! Ka! Shi!), and fantastic hustle by Saburo to force a bad throw from Takasu at third and allow Nemoto to score. That made it 3-0 Lotte, and with Naruse on the hill 3-0 might as well be 8-0, right?
When 3-0 Isn’t Good Enough
As I mentioned earlier Naruse didn’t really have his best game going. Sure, he had 7 Ks and no runs but he sure left a lot of hittable pitches over the plate, and while Rakuten batters did hit him they couldn’t plate anyone. But with the 107 pitches through 6, Naruse was gone, and in an interesting experiment Ohmine came out of the pen to relieve him. I admit I praised this move on Twitter, and I do think it was a good move at that time. It would give the usual pen a bit of a rest and give Ohmine some work since it was unlikely he would be in the rotation in interleague play. But oh did it not work. Ohmine couldn’t find the plate at all – three walks to three batters – Hattori and Nakagoh had to clean up the mess. They tried – Hattori was strong, Nakagoh was OK – but the hole was deep and two Rakuten gents scored as they climbed out of it. 3-2 Lotte after 7.
Itoh took over in the 8th and was… Not good. Three base hits including the capper by Friday’s hero Fujita and suddenly, it’s a tie game.
Katoh came up again in the 8th with a chance to do something heroic, but he grounded to short… And beat that throw out AGAIN! How about that for a debut? 3 hits including a homer and two infield hits. I look into the future… And see… Katoh in Tuesday’s starting lineup….
It’s the 9th, and Masuda’s in. I’m kitted out in my new Masuda jersey, he’s smarting after his hard appearance on Friday. Can he bounce back? Masuda gives up a leadoff single to Andruw Jones, but gets two quick outs to bring the end of the inning within reach. Moriyama bats one to Imae, who scoops, throws to Hosoya (in for Fukuura) at first, out. But NO umpire Hashimoto says he’s SAFE which is completely unbelievable! It was clearly an out when watching it live and even more clearly an out when watching it on replay. Oh no oh no don’t let another run score but OH NO Shima singles to put Rakuten ahead. Oh my. Poor Masuda, jobbed by the ump. 4-3 Rakuten. Oh no.
This isn’t a bunch of quitters, though. Our Marines are fighters. They’re not going to win every game but they’re not going meekly.
Nemoto gets a little something going after an Okada fly-out thanks to a walk off Aoyama (“He’s nothing but a blue mountain!!!” says friend Chie on Twitter). That brings up my buddy T Ogino. T-kun. I have unwavering faith in Ta! Ka! Shi! – and of course he delivers! A looping double down the line, Nemoto to third, Hoshino-kantoku getting verrrry nervous. He demands a walk to Daichi to load the bases. He wants no part of him. He wants Aoyama to get Saburo instead, which he promptly does via strikeout. Hmm.
It’s up to 2-time Nippon Series MVP Imae to do something. 2 outs. 2 strikes. Do something. Come on Imae. He makes contact on a slider and it’s deep and down the right line. Teppei’s in pursuit but he’s not getting it! Nemoto in, Ogino in, Marines win 5-4!
What an exciting finish! What a great way to end the first section of the Pacific League season. We’ve all got to be feeling good about how this season is starting now.
Up next is Gomiuri at the Big Egg on Tuesday. I think it is Nishino getting the call in the first game. Let’s hope Lotte can keep this hot May going and bring home the interleague title!
I took a bunch of photos today before my battery died (and my backup battery was also dead, well played, Steve) so I hope you enjoy.[slickr-flickr search=”sets” set=”72157633461812655″ type=”gallery” thumbnail_size=”small” thumbnail_captions=”on” size=”original”]