Our Marines went 3-2-1 versus SoftBank during a 6 game home-and-home stretch, with the Chiba portion occurring before the All-Star holiday and the Kyushu set coming after. The four days off in between the games provided some time to reflect on the 2014 Marines, and it seems entirely possible that we hit rock bottom at ten games under .500 in mid-July. Sure a 3-2-1 stretch doesn’t exactly inspire thoughts of unabashed optimism, but the tide seems to be shifting in a more competitive direction. The tied game was the only game of the six in which we didn’t claim the lead at least once. Keeping in mind, this is versus a team that’s preparing itself for a late summer pennant race.
Another boost for Our Marines came off the field with free agent signing Alfredo Despaigne earlier in the week. We’re four games out of the post-season heading into this weekend. Maybe the slugger from Cuba is just the man we need to help us catch the 3rd place Fighters, but first we must get past the 4th place Lions. That brings us to this weekend’s rival series with the Lions at the Seibu Dome. The Lions jumped a half game in front of us on Wednesday, but this weekend we have the chance to leap frog them back into 4th place before Despaigne’s debut. We’re not going anywhere though without some more reliable pitching, perhaps the potential returns of Wakui and/or Naruse this weekend can provide that. Fingers crossed.
Lotte: Takahiro Fujioka (5-5 3.86) @ Seibu: Ryohei Fujiwara (2-3 3.79)
Imae got the scoring started with an opposite field home run to right field leading off the 2nd inning to make it 1-0. Cruz followed with a base hit to center, and on a 3-0 pitch Tamura sacrificed him over to second. Ohmatsu was hit by a pitch, putting runners on 1st and 2nd and 1 out for leadoff man Katoh. Katoh smoked a ground ball past the diving 3rd baseman Asamura and down the left field line. Cruz scored to make it 2-0 on the Katoh RBI double. With Daichi up next, Seibu starter Fujiwara uncorked a wild pitch that brought Ohmatsu home from 3rd. 3-0 Lotte! Daichi and Iguchi both grounded out after that, failing to bring Katoh home from 3rd.
Seibu came back with a couple of runs of their own in the home half. Asamura drew a lead off walk, and the next batter Ernesto Mejia destroyed a Fujioka offering and sent it very deep to left field for a 2 run home run. 0 outs and the lead is cut to 3-2. Asamura came up next and struck a base hit into left. After a Morimoto sac bunt, Fujioka retired the next two batters to end the inning. We’re out of the inning, but at the time it seeemd all the early scoring wouldn’t bode well for either starting pitcher. Little did we know, the home run to Mejia would basically be the only Fujioka mistake of the game.
We know now that Fujioka wouldn’t allow another base runner until the 6th. Our Marines did have some chances to add to the lead, but ended up stranding a total of 12 base runners in the game. The game started with a couple of stranded runners in the 1st inning after a Daichi 1-out double and Iguchi 1-out walk. Other chances included a 1-out bases loaded chance in the 3rd and a 1-out 2-on chance in the 5th. Both innings ended with the number 8 & 9 hitter Tamura and Ohmatsu making the last two outs. We got into the Seibu bullpen when Fujiwara was pulled with 2 out in the 5th. After Takekuma finished off the 5th, former Marine Hiroyuki Kobayashi made an appearance and threw a scoreless 6th after walking 2 with 2 out.
The Lotte bullpen handled the rest, but not without some Seibu chances. Masuda gave up 2 singles, but also got 2 strike outs for a scoreless 7th. Ohtani allowed a 2-out single, but nothing more in the 8th. Finally, Nishino closed out the game on a Sumtani ground out to 3rd, but not before a 2-out single and uncontested stolen base put the tying run in scoring position.
Game 1 digest from Pacific League TV
Game 1 Box Score in English
Lotte: Hideaki Wakui (3-8 4.52) @ Seibu: Greg Reynolds (0-5 5.52)
Wakui was far from sharp early on, a 31 pitch first inning being an indication of that. If not for two Huffman plays – The first a running over-the-shoulder catch near the wall in left center. The other a diving catch to take 3 runs off the board with the bases loaded and 2 out. – Wakui may not have gotten out of the first inning. He settled down a bit, going 1-2-3 in the 2nd and allowing just a walk in the 3rd, but was still at 56 pitches after 3.Lotte finally struck off Lions starter Reynolds in the 4th inning. Iguchi led off and got on base via a soft liner to 2nd that was dropped and booted by Kaneko for an error. Fukuura got aboard via a bloop hit into shallow left, and Huffman loaded the bases on a base hit to right. Cruz was up with the bases loaded 0-out chance and grounded a ball between 3rd base and short stop. The SS Watanabe reached and got a glove on the ball, but couldn’t secure it. Everyone advances a base and Cruz gets credit for an RBI IF single. 1-0 Lotte. Nemoto followed with a deep drive to center that was barely tracked down by a retreating Akiyama. The ball is plenty deep to score a tagging Fukuura to make it 2-0 Marines on the Nemo sac fly. Cruz advanced to 3rd on the play, setting up a Kawamoto RBI squeeze bunt to notch the total to 3-0 Chiba. That’s two games in a row that Our Marines jumped out to an early 3-0 lead.
The Lions answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the 4th on a very close play at the plate, an RBI single by Sumitani that made it 3-1. A Nakamura solo home run in the 5th inning brought them even closer at 3-2.
It was in the bottom of the 6th that the ticking Wakui time bomb finally went off. He allowed a single, sac bunt, and walk to start the inning. Next up, the number 9 hitter Kaneko drove both those runners home with a two run triple to right center. Lions take the lead 4-3. Wakui thought he had strike three when the next batter Akiyama swung at a ball in the dirt. The umpire immediately called it a dead ball foul as Kawamoto went to pick up the ball and fire to first to complete the out. They didn’t show a clear replay, but it appeared it was a swing and a miss. Itoh comes out to argue and gets tossed. Adding insult to injury, Akiyama takes advantage of his second chance and slaps a base hit past a diving Daichi at short and into left to score Kaneko from 3rd. 5-3. Wakui is pulled after 109 pitches in favor of Ueno. After Ueno allowed a hit, the inning mercifully ended when Matsunaga came in and induced a double play.
All the scoring is done at this point partially thanks to some nice defensive plays by the Lions. Huffman was robbed of his 3rd straight hit and possibly 2 RBI on a line drive leaping catch by 3rd baseman Asamura with 2 on to end the 5th. Seibu left fielder Kuriyama timed his jump perfectly against the left field wall and robbed Katoh of an extra bases RBI to end the 6th. The 8th ended on a play at the plate when Cruz was thrown out trying to score from 2nd on a Nemoto base hit to left. Give credit to the Lions for making the plays and getting Greg Reynolds his first NPB win.
As a side note on Reynolds*, his control was on-and-off during and after the big 3rd inning, with a lot of 3 ball counts. Itoh really let him off the hook after a lead off walk to Okada in the 5th. Instead of letting his number two batter and captain hit, Itoh called for a bunt, electing to give a free out to a pitcher that just allowed a lead off walk to a historically nonthreatening Okada. The move led to another quick out, a walk, and eventually the 3rd out.
*But, mostly on Itoh
Game 2 digest from Pacific League TV
Game 2 Box Score in English
Lotte: Yoshihisa Naruse (5-6 5.21) @ Seibu: Takayuki Kishi (8-3 2.61)
Things did not start so well for Our Marines. Naruse was back, but once again he was paired with Kanazawa to catch. The statistical disparity between Naruse’s starts with Kanazawa versus any other catcher has been well documented by Steve on Twitter.* The first inning saw more of the same: 4 hits, 2 walks and an early 3-0 Lions lead. The inning ended with the bases loaded, but the damage had been done.
*3.60 ERA, 3 HR, 1.35 WHIP in 9 games with other catchers. 9.43 ERA, 7 HR, 2.05 WHIP in 4 games with Kanazawa.
Things turned around after that. Naruse threw 5 more innings, allowing just 3 more hits, 2 more walks, while striking out 5. The 3rd and 4th innings ended with a man in scoring position, as did the 6th. Naruse’s efforts to keep us in the game paid dividends in the end. Naruse’s final pitch was a force out to short with runners on the corners to escape the 6th with the score still tied. Wait, still tied?
Yes, after 5 innings of 1 hit ball versus Kishi, the Lotte bats finally woke up for a 3 run 6th. Kanazawa broke the spell with a leadoff solo home run to right. 3-1. Katoh hit a soft liner over the 2nd baseman to get aboard with 1 out. Daichi then put runners on the corners with a base hit through the right side of the infield. Imae delivered with a base hit through the left side to score Katoh. 3-2. Saburo delivered in much the same way, a base hit through the left side of his own to score Daichi. Tied at 3! Huffman and Nemoto fanned to end the inning, but that’s all right as we went from being 1-hit to tied at 3 in one inning.
Masuda came in for Naruse and pitched a 1-2-3 7th. The combination of Ohtani and Matsunaga got us through the 8th after a lead off single. Lotte went hitless through the 7th & 8th, so we headed to the 9th.
Saburo led off the 9th, just checking his swing on a 3-2 pitch to get aboard with a walk versus Kishi. With Kishi now at 104 pitches Chad Huffman came to the plate. Huff (8 for 18 with 2 HRs, 2 2Bs, 3 BB in his last 5 games) smoked a ball past the lunging left fielder and into the gap. Saburo scored from first, and Huff is in safe at 3rd with a go ahead RBI triple. 4-3! Huff is lifted for a pinch runner, as he gets a warm ovation from the Lotte faithful and an enthusiastic greeting from his teammates in the dugout. Lotte legend Fukuura is in to pinch hit for Nemoto, and with the smooth Fukuura swing he one hops a ball into left. PR Ishimine scores from 3rd. 5-3! The Lotte bats made 3 straight outs after that, so we headed to the bottom of the 9th.
Nishino was in to close versus the top of the Lions order. Akiyama led off with a high chopper over Imae and into left. Akiyama advanced on a pitch that bounced in front of home and off Kanzazawa. Next, Watanabe grounded out for the 1st out. Next up, Kuriyama rolled a ball toward third base. The only play was to hope it rolled foul, but it didn’t. Uh oh, runners on the corners, 1 out, go-ahead run at the plate in the form of cleanup man Nakamura. Nakamura, already with a HR in the series, popped out foul to Imae for out number two. Up next was Mejia, also with a HR in the series, but Nishino struck him out on a 3-2 pitch to end the game. Lotte wins!!!
Game 3 digest from Pacific League TV
HUFFMAN HERO INTERVIEW
Game 3 Box Score in English