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If It’s Lotte Golden Year, We Must Go Through Fukuoka

From marines.co.jp

From marines.co.jp

I have no voice, nothing left in me at all right now.  But I must tell you this, fellow traveller in Lotte fandom – Our beloved Marines sent Nippon Hamu to an early bedtime on this Monday with a tense, thrilling 2-1 win in Sapporo.  The streak of first round victories in the playoffs is intact, the Golden Year dream lives on.  It’s a wonderful day to be a Lotte supporter.

Climax Series is about struggle – a team that does not win the league faces a huge uphill climb. After game 1’s total blowout in Sapporo Chiba fans might have been excused for thinking the road to Fukuoka was easy, especially so on Sunday afternoon when Our Marines went to bottom 8 and the fearsome duo of Otani and Uchi with a 2-1 lead, but no, its just not that simple, Otani imploded and Hamu clawed back a come from behind 4-2 win.

Fortunately Chiba kept an ace in the pocket for such an occasion – Wakui brought years of playoff experience to Monday’s match vs fellow former Sawamura award winner Yoshikawa. In bottom 1, all the fears about Wakui’s 137 pitch, 10 inning outing on Tuesday came into play as he really, really struggled to get anything past the hungry Hamu bats. A shocking 39 pitches, 2 walks, 2 hits, and 2 uniforms (thanks to a uniform tear on the first play of the game) later, Chiba was lucky to be down just 1-0.

That deficit stood for just .37 seconds (approx) as the first batter of the second inning, not-so-grizzled veteran Iguchi, hammered a Yoshikawa fat pitch deep into the left field stands. Suddenly, tie game!

Wakui recovered nicely after the first inning struggle, recording a quick 1-2-3 second (facilitated by a helpful Yoh GIDP), but in the third inning he found himself in the pickle of pickles – bases loaded and no outs after a pair of singles and a walk, and the middle of the order looming. This was Chiba’s day, though, not Hamu’s – groundout to Wakui by Kondoh ( should have been a DP actually), swinging K of Laird, and shallow pop out by Sunday’s hero Yano, Wakui escape.

No hyperbole – some of the finest pitching I’ve seen as a Lotte fan came in this game from Wakui and Uchi (ooh, preview!), and for Wakui it came on a day where clearly he did not have his best command. Truly an ace performance. In fact, despite Wakui sitting on 98 pitches after 4 innings I thought there was a good chance that he would go the distance. Alas, he “only” managed 6 1/3 of 1 run ball on a stunning 143 pitches.

Pulling Wakui was a decision made much easier in top 7. Rookie starter Arihara came in in relief in top 6 and seemed untouchable, but on the first pitch of the seventh the massive bat of DESPA showed he was touchable indeed, sending that first pitch a solid 135-140m to center, pushing Our Marines to a 2-1 lead!

Matsunaga took over for Wakui after a single and a walk, but he shut that chance down like it was nothing. Otani got another chance in the 8th but much like Sunday, he seemed rather terrible (though less so than Sunday (though anything would look less terrible than Sunday)). Unlike Sunday, however, Itoh made the smart move and went to his closer with 5 outs to go. A punch out of pinch hitting Otani and a ground out by Ishikawa later, Uchi fist pump, Uchi roar, lead preserved.

Uchi proved in 2009 that he is a big-game pitcher, and he confirmed it in 2010 with his epic 7ks in 3 innings in Nipppon Series Game 7; this game ranks right there with those. No drama in bottom 9, just power and dominance as Uchi quickly sealed this win and the trip to Fukuoka with a perfect inning. Fighters fans left stunned; the thousand or so Lotte fans at Sapporo Dome and the many thousands more watching at QVC went crazy. Amazing.

The dream is still alive, folks. It’s Golden Year again! All that is needed to bring the Nippon Series back to QVC is 4 wins in Fukuoka. We’ve seen this before. We’re doing it again.

Comments 7

  1. We should also mention Tamura erasing Nakashima’s lead off hit in the 6th by nailing him on a stolen base attempt in what was still a 1-1 game.

    Wakui, awesome. Uchi, awesome. Iguchi & Despa HR’s, also totally awesome.

    To think we were 6 outs away from sweeping the Fighters on Sunday, only to see our regular season’s most reliable reliever blow the series cinching hold. Oh, and then we thought we were going to lose Wakui to an injury after the very fist batter in game 3. Then if things weren’t tense enough, there was heart attack inducing 3rd inning. Although we kind of expected it, after all that we still had to hang on tight to see Wakui throw his 394th pitch this October.

    We’re doing all of this with Samurai Japan’s closer out for the season, our best hitter nursing a sprained shoulder, our second best hitter fresh off two broken fingers, and our All-Star second baseman hobbled by a hamstring injury.

    1. Oh, and a pair of 40 year olds platooning at first base. Both of which have made huge plays at the plate and in the field.

  2. Honestly I don’t have enough space to comment about all the awesome p!ays made by our veterans, especially. Fukuura played first like he’s made of putty, and even Iguchi made that great play in the first inning yesterday.

    I’m a bit worried about Ohtani, I wonder how much Itoh will rely on him next stage…. We didn’t see Fujioka, Katsuki, or Rhee at all this last Series so there’s a good chance we will see any or all of them soon.

  3. What a game! As nerve-wracking as they come but they somehow held on. I was about to lose it when Wakui had a beautiful strike 3 called a ball with 1 out in the third, thought that might be it, but he just went and got the K anyway. Gutsy, gutsy performance from everyone.

    1. Wakui showed me everything I needed to know about his ability to PITCH in that inning. What a great way to wrap up the series.

      And not to get too far ahead – but how awesome is it to have TWO dominant closers going forward once Nishino’s back? I was critical of Ochiai’s management of the pitchers earlier in the season but man he’s done some fantastic work getting these guys prepped for the stretch run and now Climax.

      1. Pitching seemed like a big question mark going into the season, yeah. Looks fine now though and even better with Nishino.

        1. The last thing I expected either would be that our starting pitching would anchor us down the stretch. Lo and behold:

          Ishikawa’s last 6 regular season starts: 4-1, 2.78
          Chen’s last 6 regular season appearances (5 starts): 3-0, 0.96
          Wakui’s last 7 regular season starts: 5-1, 2.42
          Ohmine’s last 4 regular season starts: 1-0, 1.52

          Climax S1 Game 1 Ishikawa: Win, 5IP, 2ER
          Climax S1 Game 2 Chen: ND, 5IP, 1ER
          Climax S1 Game 3 Wakui: Win, 6 1/3 IP, 1 ER
          Combined: 2-0, 2.20

          Climax FS Game 1 Ohmine: ???

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