So the clouds decided to go away, the teams returned, and the second game of the Hanshin-Lotte series (though technically the first game) got underway. We made our way back to Koshien again for Monday’s game hoping to make it through 9 innings and get out with a Lotte victory. That we did, but the Marines didn’t, losing 4-3 to Hanshin in a very exciting and passionate contest. In fact, despite the loss I’ll say it was the most fun I’ve had at a game in quite some time.
Tigers fans were out again in force, pretty much filling the outfield stands and most of the infield stands, which is pretty impressive for a Monday night game. Less impressive was my first exposure to Hanshin’s slogan for 2009.
Hmm, not quite. Koshien stadium has undergone the first part of a massive face lift, and it’s pretty much unrecognizable as the same stadium I visited several years ago. Very nice new outfield seats, very, um, interesting ‘temporary ivy’.
Well, it’s temporary – I hope. Upon entering the stadium we were given foil wrapped Hanshin cards. When the girl gave me my card I asked:
Me: “Hey, is this a good player?”
Her: Looking at me weird as it’s a sealed card, “Um, I don’t know?”
Me: “Could you check?”
Her: Puts it to her eye, “It’s OK, I think.”
Me: “Good, I hope it’s not Mench.”
Her: “I don’t think so!”
Not as many of the Tiger Cosplayers were in attendance for Monday’s game as Sunday’s game, but the fans were still pretty raucous, and honestly, quite curious about Lotte fans. Before the game the Tigers faithful came over to mix with the Lotte supporters, and some even stayed in the Lotte sections throughout the game. Usually there’s pretty strict separation between home and visiting fans in the outfield so I was surprised at the mixing. It added to the flavor of the game for sure – though there were a few unruly idiots that didn’t understand the concept of a visitor cheering section – and unfortunately they were the only other foreigners in the Lotte section. They showed up late in the game, sat in the middle of a bunch of Lotte supporters wearing Hanshin gear, Hanshin towels on their head, and jumping around when Hanshin was at bat. I got the impression it was their first game in Koshien, and it looked like several of the Lotte fans tried to convince them nicely to sit with the Hanshin fans.
We had a couple of great Hanshin fans sit with us for most of the game. They were wearing full Hanshin gear (unis and pants) and sunglasses at night. They figured Lotte was only in town for two games a year so they wanted to see what it was like to be a Lotte fan. We taught them songs, they bought us drinks – a symbiotic relationship.
Me: “It’s ‘Benny, Benny, Benny let’s go!”
Hanshin fan: “Who?”
HF: “Benny, Benny, Benny let’s go!”
Curiously enough, I happened to sit next to a couple I met last year in Nagano for a Lotte/Seibu game. What a happy reunion! That game was memorable because Lotte starter Shimizu got drilled to the tune of something like 10 runs in 1+ innings including if I recall 7 RBI by Seibu’s Bocachica. It was a total disaster. I passed the time sitting on the grass drinking with the couple next to me – the same couple I sat with on Monday. The score ran to 16-0 in the 9th, we only had two hits. We got a runner on with a walk and two outs, and Takehara came to the plate. we sang Takehara’s song, hoping for something, anything. He delivers with a 2 run blast, we slide down the hill, falling all over each other as if we had won the Nippon Series. Good times.
Monday’s game was very much the opposite of that one. There was no score through the first 5 innings as Lotte starter Shimizu (again!) did a good job keeping Tigers off the base paths. Hanshin starter Kubo was a bit less in commmand with a pair of hit batsman and 2 walks, yet allowed no runs. That changed in the 6th as Lotte erupted for a pair. First, Saburo reached on a single and Iguchi walked, and Saburo was brought home on a timely hit by Saturday’s hero Ohmatsu. The 2 days of pent-up celebrations boiled over as we jumped around like fools. The fans in the lower section of the Lotte outfield even hoisted one of their own in the air for a bit of celebratory crowd surfing, which brought a quick and panicked response from Koshien security. Satozaki hit a sac fly to score Iguchi, the celebrations began anew, and Lotte came out of the top of the 6th with a 2-0 lead.
The long-ish inning seemed to throw Shimizu completely off his stride, though. Hanshin erupted for 4 runs capped by a 3-run smack by Arai to center. Not good, not good. Bobby couldn’t pull Shimizu for Kawasaki fast enough.
The man sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder, put his hands to his head and said “Oh my God!!!!” The kids behind him put their hands to their head and also yelled “Oh my God!!!!!!” Indeed.
Lotte got some of the deficit back in the 7th on Chase Lambin’s 1-out smash over the right centerfield wall. Here we go again – fans, chastened by security for the crowd surfing incident, decided to start a mosh pit instead. People were falling down the aisles, security rushed even more people over saying “No no no no no!” Nobody cared, it was baseball, man!
Lotte played some solid defense to back up Kawasaki and Itoh to keep the score at 4-3.
Hanshin brought in Fujikawa to close the deal. Hanshin fans got noisy, smelling victory, trying to drown out us small band of Lotte fans. We were having none of it.
Fujikawa got two quick outs on Burnham Jr and Lambin. He opened the door with a walk to Nishioka. Fukuura kicked it open a bit further with a single, and we ratched up our noise level with our “Skinhead Running” rally song. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a continuously hopping song cheering the team on to a big inning, and it doesn’t stop until the inning ends. We began it with Fukuura at bat, all hopping as much as we could, screaming at the top of our lungs, trying to drown out all the noisemakers of Tigers fans. Saburo comes to the plate – hop, hop, scream, scream – a walk. Two out, bases loaded – Iguchi in the box. Louder, louder! It’s been going for ages, we’re tiring, our voices are going, we need to keep going. Hop, hop, IGUCHI! He runs the count full – can he do it? Hop, Hop, IGUCHI!
…a pop to right. We hope, but you can tell it won’t carry. Gloved, game over.
The young boys behind me tap me on the shoulder, all put their hands to their head – “Oh my God!!!!!”
A disappointing result to be sure, but a very, very fun game and a good weekend. It’s too bad we have to catch the overnight train back to Chiba as I would have loved to stay for the replay of Sunday’s game. I will most certainly be back for next year’s Lotte games in Koshien, though.