The All-Star break is over, the second half of the season starts this week. The break actually could not have come at a worse time for Our Marines, as they won the first series in months vs Daiei at QVC behind some great pitching and a superb attack. Fortunately the next opponent is… Daiei, and the pitchers are largely the same.
Is it possible to win two series in a row vs the team with by far the highest payroll in the PL, twice as high as Chiba? A team loaded with pitching and bats? In a stadium where Lotte has lost 5 games in a row coming into this series? Of course it is – I believed at the start of this season that this team has the components to play with anyone in the PL, and last series showed that it could be done. Let’s do it again.
Lotte: Ayumu Ishikawa (6-4, 2.88 ERA) @ Hawks: Jason Standridge (6-4, 2.94 ERA)
1) Ishikawa was simply not sharp at all. 6 IP and no walks, yes, yes, but 4 ER off 11 hits doomed his outing. I have to wonder why he wasn’t pulled in the 6th inning after a pair of leadoff singles. A sac bunt advanced both runners and a Matsunaka sac fly tied the game, while a Nakamura double broke the tie. It’s easy to say in retrospect I realize but there was a distinct whiff of UH-OH after those leadoff singles.
2) Daichi & Huffman – lovely. Captain Daichi was the sole Lotte rep at the ASG and played well, that play carried over to a 3-for-5 night at the plate. As for Huff – give Huff-and-Hustle some consistent playing time and he produces. 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, yup. Yup.
3) Big wasted chance. Third inning, Huff drives in Imae, and after Ohmatsu walks the bases are loaded for Tamura, who strikes out on three pitches. Eek.
4) That $&!!! 8th inning. The scene, down 4-3, Igarashi throwing. Fukuura and Huffman lead off with singles, Ishimine pinch runs for Fukuura. Things are looking grand. But Okada PHs for Ohmatsu (OK so far) and is asked to bunt. I can’t understand this. Okada’s unlikely to be doubled up and he’s not a good sac bunter. Two strikes later he’s no longer trying to bunt, but he does strike out swinging on a pitch well out of the zone. OK, OK, just one out. Nemoto PHs for Tamura, he works a full count. Someone calls a hit-and-run, but nobody tells Nemoto. He tries to lay off a pitch on the edge of the zone but can’t and is punched out, Ishimine is easily out at third. The. Worst.
I read that after the game Itoh said the 8th inning “was everything”, and yeah, yeah it was. Sometimes these things are best left to be done at the plate and not thought on the bench. Hey, it’s just one game, though.
Game 1 digest from Pacific League TV
Lotte: Takuya Furuya (6-2, 3.73 ERA) @ Hawks: Yuya Iida (0-2, 6.39 ERA)
But a few things came together to change this situation. One, Furuya found the strikezone and the method of getting batters out. He retired the last 9 batters he faced in order after allowing a single to Nakamura in the 4th. Despite the extremely rough beginnings, that put Furuya in line for the win if the bats could just claw back a few of those runs.
And boy could they! Just a week after smashing a surprise dinger vs these same Hawks at QVC, “Koala” Kawamoto blasted another – a solo shot in the third off Hawks starter Iida that gave Our Marines their first run of the game. Then in the 5th inning with Chiba trailing 3-1, Huffman led off with a walk and Cruz singled to get a lovely chance going. Koala came to the plate again and was asked to bunt, but he couldn’t get one down, so with two strikes he swung away – and poked a double into left center. Huff in, just a one run deficit now.
Fast forward to Chiba’s Lucky 7. Huff-n-Hustle up with one out, the dulcet tones of his ouenka wafting through the Kitakyushu night – just as as the anthem wound down with the last “Chad Huffman Home Ruuuuuuun!” he swings: home run delivered, just as requested. A stunning shot off a high quality reliever (Okajima) – and a tie game.
Now the fans were feeling it. Shoved into a corner of the outfield, flowing into the aisles behind the seats, the Chiba fans roared. Despite the small numbers the Lotte faithful were louder than a stadium full of Hawks fans (as is typical, I should say). El Cochito Cruz stepped into the box to those frantic cheers, and on a 1-1 offering from Okajima, Cruz turned and just annihilated it. It looked like it might leave the stadium (and in fact did hit the back wall) – the only question was foul or fair, but you know, karma. With one swing Cruz inverted the game, erased the memories of the first three innings and the game 1 heartbreak – back to back shots for a 4-3 Lotte lead!
Let me repeat that – !
Masuda, Matsunaga, Ohtani, and Nishino took it from there, and while there was a teeny bit of drama to be had the victory was always certain.
-Your 6,7, and 8 hitters (Huffman, Cruz, and Kawamoto) went a combined 7-10 plus 2 BB and 3HR for all 4 RBI, all 4 runs scored. That’s, um, pretty decent.
-Unable to resist the allure of Chiba cheers, the animal magnetism of the bouncing black-clad devotees, many Hawks fans hung around after the game to cheer along with our songs. Because of course they did.
Game 2 digest from Pacific League TV
Lotte: Yuki Karakawa (1-6, 6.71 ERA) @ Hawks: Kazuyuki Hoashi (6-1, 4.30 ERA)
As has been the case many time recently, all the Lotte scoring came off the long ball. In the 4th inning, a one out Fukuura walk spurred hot hitting Huff-n-Hustle to pound a pitch from Hawks starter Hoashi into the left field stands – 2-0 Chiba after 4. And in the next inning, a Makihara error at third allowed Ishimine to reach, scoring when Iguchi said “Hey Chad, that homer thingy looks like fun!” and blasted a 2-run shot of his own into left. That’s a 4-0 Lotte lead!
Sadly that same inning is where it all went pear-shaped. Yuki coughed up three runs in the bottom of the inning and was pulled – Nakaushiro took over in the 6th and was, well, not good. An error (by Nakaushiro) and a walk sent Itoh to the pen for Ueno – another walk and a Akaishi single later, Hawks had the lead. To add insult to injury, the bats would create precisely zero offense the last three innings.
Game 3 digest from Pacific League TV
That’s three tight games that could have gone either way for Our Marines – certainly that last one SHOULD have gone that way but that’s how it goes. Up next is the first half of the very important Seibu-Chiba Rival Series at Seibu Dome. It’s a matter of life and death for the 4th and 5th place teams in the PL!