Series Preview: After dropping two of three at home and further back of first place Rakuten, it appears Our Marines will be playing for second place down the stretch. Lotte leads SoftBank by two games for the second slot (and home position in Climax Stage 1) with 19 games to go, three of which are next weekend at home against those very Hawks. Meanwhile, the Lions are clawing and the Fighters are, well…fighting to get back in the race for the top three spots, 3.5 and 4.5 games back of SoftBank respectively. Excluding a make-up game in late September, this series is our last scheduled trip to Saitama in 2013. Hopefully, we can knock the Lions further out of contention as a parting gift.
By: Craig Roberts After surrendering three runs apiece, both starting pitchers were pulled after the 4th inning. The difference in the game would be the Marines bats and bullpen outdoing their Seibu counterparts the rest of the way for the 9-6 win. Clearly both teams showed up ready to slug it out with, Seibu out-hitting Lotte by a slim 12-11 margin. Add in a Marines error, a combined ten walks and a HBP and you get 4 hours & 9 minutes of Saturday afternoon baseball.
The Lions struck first with a run off Matsunaga in the opening frame, but Lotte didn’t wait long to counter with a run of their own coming in the top of the 2nd. With the bases loaded Kei Hosoya earned an RBI by way of a fielder’s choice grounder to tie the score at one. In a game dominated by offense, it was gutsy Matsunaga pitching and a Seibu missed opportunity to blow the game open in the bottom of 2nd inning that may have ultimately been the pivotal moment. An Emura error on a weak Sumitani ground ball put runners on first and second with one out for Seibu. Emura seemingly redeemed himself, abandoning his mask and catching a pop foul against the screen for what should have been out 2. However, the umpire ruled that ball was dead, contending that the ball had grazed the backstop on the way down.1 The batter Onizaki eventually drew a walk, leading to a bases loaded one out situation. The bad break could have easily thrown the rookie Matsunaga, making his third career start, off of his game. Instead of going on full tilt though, he bucked down and induced leadoff man German to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. Matsunaga ended up with a 4IP 3ER no-decision, a footnote perhaps overshadowed by the ensuing Lotte offensive display. Yet, I don’t think it can be understated how important it was to escape that extremely precarious situation, which could have potentially turned this game into a Seibu blowout early on.
1 The replay didn’t track the ball from its peak the whole way down, but it was clear at least that Emura didn’t trap the ball against the screen. Emura seemed genuinely surprised by the call, and Itoh-kantoku came out for an uncharacteristically lengthy argument
Seibu went ahead in the bottom of the 3rd on a Sakata double to make it 2-1, but Lotte answered back in the top of the 4th scoring two runs by way of a Kakunaka no-out walk, Saburo RBI double, and Daichi RBI single in succession to make it 3-2 Lotte. Seibu tied the game at 3 in the bottom half of the frame thanks to an Akiyama solo homerun. The fifth inning brought in both bullpens, and the only scoreless full inning of the game. Kakunaka got things going again in the top of the 6th by wrapping a high fly solo home run around the RF foul pole. After the back and forth for the first half of the game, the Kakunaka jack gave Our Marines the lead for good at 4-3.
Chiba really broke the game open in the 7th though. With Nemoto on first, a pinch hitting G.G. Sato (for Braz) sent a shallow 1-out bloop down the right field line. The ball landed in front of the right fielder Sakata, bounced off the turf and over his head sending the Seibu outfield chasing the ball down the line. Flying Nemo scored from first to make it 5-3 Marines on the G.G. double. A walk to both Kakunaka and the PH Ishimine (for Saburo) loaded the bases with still one out. Next up, Daichi sent a deep fly to center. The Lions CF Akiyama raced back and made a very fine catch to rob Daichi of extra bases. Akiyama stayed on his feet throughout the whole process, but his momentum carried him multiple long strides at full speed toward the right field wall. This allowed both G.G. Sato to tag from third, AND Kakunaka to tag all the way from second to home. The 2RBI sac fly put Lotte up 7-3.
Seibu answered with a run in the bottom of the 7th, but a fine diving Ishimine catch in CF with 2 out and a runner in scoring position cut short the Lions attempt of further retaliation. Lotte tacked on two more in the top of the 8th thanks to a Fukuura pinch hit double to notch the tally up to 9-4. PL saves and appearances leader Masuda came in to close the 9th, which makes perfect sense in a 5 run game. Perhaps in an effort to give the fans their money’s worth he gave up two runs, but finally managed to close out the game with the tying run at the plate. Hmmmmm. On the positive side, the rest of the bullpen held Seibu to 1 run in 4 innings: Ueno 1 IP 0ER Win, Nakagoh 1/3 IP 0ER , Hattori 2/3 IP 0ER, Ledezma 1IP 1ER, Uchi 1IP 0ER.
By Steve Novosel New Lefty Ace Furuya threw another great start, but it went for naught as poor hitting and a bullpen breakdown allowed the hated Kitty-Kats of Saitama to tie and then win this game in Sayonara fashion. Suddenly, the ship is looking pretty leaky in Lotteland.
Furuya looked lovely as always – only getting in to trouble in the 4th inning, when he loaded the bases via two singles and a walk before Okawari-kun hit a sac fly to score a run. That was the only run that Furuya would give up, ultimately going 6 innings with only 4 hits and that run on the debits side. Not bad at all.
The Chiba offense was more than a little anemic. Yes, there were 8 hits, but very little offense when facing key situations. The first Lotte run came on a Saburo (!!) solo shot in the second, which gave Our Marines an early 1-0 lead. After Seibu tied it in the 4th, Nemoto delivered a timely single in the 5th to score Hosoya (playing great in relief of injured Imae – he contributed a fantastic catch into the field seats in the third). There were plenty of other chances – Chiba put runners on base in every inning the rest of the way – but nobody could strike a timely blow.
Seibu could, though. The choice to pull Furuya after 6 proved immediately costly for Itoh-kantoku, as Rosa gave up the tying run in the 7th. This was actually (I hate to admit) a great bit of ball by Seibu – a one out walk by Akiyama, a sac bunt, then the decision to pinch hit with the slumping Carter, who hit a hot shot to Iguchi at first. Iguchi got a glove on it but not cleanly – he had to scramble for the ball, and when he did he rifled it home instead of to first. The throw was accurate, Satozaki was set, but Akiyama went out, around, and over Satozaki to get a glove on the plate. At least we were beaten by a great play.
The game went to extras, with Seibu ending it in the 11th via an unearned run off Ledezma. I had a very bad feeling once Heiuchi (in for defensive purposes and committing the only Lotte error of the game) fumbled the ball at first to make it first and second with one out, and sure enough Kaneko would come through with a game ending single.
Tough loss. A very tough loss.
Not sure when this will be made up.