It took seven games, and 12 innings in the seventh game to decide a winner – that winner, finally, decisively, is Our Marines. Can you believe it?
This was just an amazing game (and I am not saying that just because of the result) – it was truly an epic way to end the series. This game was everything game 6 was not – great managerial decisions, super clutch hitting, and a trio of fantastic pitching performances out of the pen led by the thoroughly awesome Uchi. It’s fitting that the unlikliest of champions is led to victory by a very unlikely hero, the unassuming Okada.
To even get to the stage where heroes could step up Our Marines had to make a big comeback from an early 6 – 2 hole. Starter Shunsuke Watanabe was having arm troublesnand was pulled after two innings of work having given up 4 runs. Shingo Ono filled in but he had pitched many innings late in game 6 so he wasn’t really effective at all. Lotte had taken an early 2 – 0 lead in the top of the first via four hits off of Chunichi starter Yoshimi, but after three innings that lead was long gone – Lotte had some serious work to do to get back in this.
Our Marines hacked away at the big deficit starting in the fourth inning. Satozaki, denied glory the previous night due by Oshima’s great catch in center, doubled, and Okada drove him home with a timely single. The Chunichi lead was down to three runs.
Cutting into the lead would do no good if the Dragons continued to score at will, so someone in the bullpen needed to step it up. First to do this was Yabuta. He came in for Ono in the fourth and did nothing less than shut down the Dragon attack in two perfect innings of work. Perfect pitching at the perfect time.
Lotte fifth: Yoshimi is out, Kawahara is in. The top of the order is up – Tsuyoshi flies out to start the inning. Rookie sensation Kiyota singles to get things started, but Iguchi strikes out to make it out two. This team has been amazing with two outs, though – what about tonight? Saburo singles to put two on, and series MVP Imae singles up the middle to bring in Kiyota! We go crazy, it’s down to a two run lead and Kim Tae Kyun is up.
Our much maligned first baseman still has a bit of a power drain but he has been solid at getting on base this post season. This time he does it the hard way – getting plunked to load the bases. There were three fans near me, middle aged Koreans with Marines jerseys and Hanhwa Eagles hats (one with a KBO hat) – I wonder if they were his family? They didnt seem to speak either Japanese or English so I couldnt ask.
Bases juiced, we are breaking out the chance theme and screaming out heads off. Sato is up, can he deliver? AND HE DOES IT AGAIN! Saburo in, Imae in, TIE GAME! These Miracle Marines cannot lose!
Breakthrough & Heartbreak
All knotted up. It’s down to the pens and the clutch hitters. Yabuta has done his job, it’s up to Uchi now. If you’ve read me at all you know I have a serious man crush on Uchi. I’ve always referred to it as a hit of irrational man crush because after all, he’s only been ichi-gun for a year and a half and only part time at that. I’ve always thought he’s had a ballsy streak, though, unafraid to make the tough pitch to the best hitter. What will he do?
How about 3 innings pitched, 7 strikeouts, no runs?
7 strikeouts! 7!!! Talk about delivering your best on the biggest stage! In related news, along with Kiyota and Oshima, Uchi was named one of the special players this series.
Lotte seventh: With two outs Imae crushes a ball off the left field wall for a single. This ball was the flip side of Tsuyoshi’s ball in game 4 – juuuust barely inside the fair line (I didn’t realize how close it was to foul until I saw the recording I made of the game. Whew!). Wada picks it up, fires it in to Araki, and it skips wide! Imae is in to second. Chance! It’s up to Kim Tae Kyun – and he POKES ONE UP THE MIDDLE! Imae races around to score! All the way back to take the lead! This is the moment!
I get texts from many people – “9 more outs”. Yup.
Jubilant is the word – Uchi is still on the hill and getting it done. He allows two baserunners in the 7th but you get the feeling he won’t let them in – and of course he doesn’t. Nishimura makes a prescient move to keep him in for the 8th so he lets him bat, essentially sacrificing an out to keep the hot arm in the game. I like it! It pays off, too – 2 more strikeouts, 1,2,3!
Lotte gets two men on in the 9th but can’t deliver an insurance run, so it’s off to the bottom of the 9th – 3 outs from the title! Kobayashi is IN. I am a bit nervous, he doesn’t have the best of history in this stadium. We are ready to celebrate, though! Everybody is on their feet – Chunichi fans, Lotte fans. The atmosphere is a sharp roar. It’s honestly probably the first time all game Chunichi fans were louder than us – when I rewatched the game tonight I got the same feeling as in person.
The absolutely terrifying Wada is up. Quote a friend of mine after the game: “I HATE him. He’s such a great player.” Agreed, and agreed. After a few fouls Wada just belts one to left center. The stadium explodes. You can hear the collective “Oh, s…..” from the fans in black. I thought it was long gone, but it’s dying at the track. I couldn’t see what happened at the fence live, but it’s not caught, and Wada is on for a no-out triple. Uh oh…. (The play was closer than I thought when I rewatched it. Okada almost snagged it.) Naturally Blanco, the next batter, belts a sac fly and ties it. Hoo boy. Let’s sit back down.
It didn’t feel real good right then, I will tell you that.
Not much going on in the 10th. Kobayashi is still in, as is Asao, and both do their jobs. Into the 11th we go, Itoh in and mows down the side, Asao still in for his third inning, still effective.
On to the twelfth.
Doesn’t this sound like game 6, except well played?
Asao is in for a 4th inning! I would like to criticize this and I guess I could, except he’s pitching well, and if i were king I would have kept Uchi in for the 9th, his 4th inning. So, yeah. Imae works Asao’s pitches for a leadoff walk. Chance! Nishimura works his way further into my heart by leaving in Itoh and having him bunt over Imae to second. It’s a nice bunt, and Imae is in scoring position with one out. Satozaki has been great this game, but he grounds to short to make it 2 outs. Again. Up is our speedy CF, Okada. Lightly regarded Okada. Good defense, great speed, no bat Okada.
How about HERO OKADA! He smacks a beautiful ball into the air just before 11pm, almost 5 hours after the game started. Nomoto and Oshima were playing in, they are real fast but we can see what they must know in their hearts – they are NOT getting to this ball! It bounces on the warning track – Imae is in easily, Okada is all the way over to third! 8-7 Lotte!
WOW. Okada! OKADA! OKADA!!!! We are so damn happy we launch straight into the happy song, almost always reserved for the end of the game after a victory. Victory was certain! We could not lose!
When I rewatched this play this evening, saw the joy on Imae and Okada’s faces, the despondency on Asao’s, the hush in the stadium other than the fans in black, singing as one, swaying in the Nagoya night – I teared up. I’m tearing up as I write this. To see my team do this, in such dramatic fashion, surrounded by my fellow fans – I will always remember this.
Itoh comes back for the 12th but you, I, and everybody know it’s all over. A Tanishige fly and an Ibata K bring it to the last out – pinch hitter Fujii at the plate. He knocks an easy grounder to Tsuyoshi who flips it to Heiuchi and VICTORY!
I have no more words. I just have video of Okada after the game. You may have heard he performed backflips for the crowd – earlier in the season he mentioned he likes performing backflips but wasn’t going to do it until Our Marines won the title. Well they did, and he did. Enjoy.