I present you two pitching matchups:
27 August: Yoshihisa Naruse (LOT) vs Hiroki Yamada (DAI)
28 August: Yuji Yoshimi (LOT) vs Toshiya Sugiuchi (DAI)
And I tell you that Our Marines lost one of those games in disappointing fashion while giving the starter in the other game an epic thrashing – you’d surely say we won the first and lost the second, right? After all, Sugiuchi is one of the aces of the game and Yamada is, well, not. But that is exactly what happened on Friday and Saturday, as Lotte dropped the first game 4-2 (and Naruse took the loss) and cruised to a 9-6 victory over Sugiuchi and Daiei in Fukuoka. The rubber match on Sunday was a highly disappointing affair as Daiei beat out two runs off Hayden Penn and held on for the win. A 1-2 road trip, and just like that, back to third in the ultra-tight Pacific League race.
Naruse’s big problem on Friday was exactly what you would expect Naruse’s problem to be (based on this year) – a 2 out, 3 run HR in the first by Tamura. The other problem was also a bit predictable – only 4 hits to score those 2 runs.
The reason I say it’s predictable is that in essence the Lotte offensive 8 is without 4 starters right now – Ogino (Ta-Ka-Shi!) of course, and Satozaki has been down with back problems for most of the month. (Now, I like Matoba as a catcher. He seems like a calming influence on his pitchers and he calls a nice game. It’s no coincidence that the pitching has been solid since he’s been starting. But he has no bat at all.) Now Saburo is out for a bit as well with a hamstring injury (at least 10 days as he was de-registered from the ichi-gun roster) and Kim Tae Kyun continues to not produce runs (though he had the only RBI on Sunday and had RBIs via bases loaded walks twice this weekend, but no HRs, no clutch hits except for the one on Sunday).
Saturday’s game was a nice confluence of a total breakdown by Sugiuchi and great capitalization on that breakdown by the Men of Lotte. Three bases loaded walks, a sac fly, and a 3-run HR by Ohmatsu shoved Sugiuchi in an early 9-0 hole. Yoshimi pitched well, I thought (despite the 4 ER, 3 of which were on a HR) and Furuya + Yabuta were a wee bit shaky (ahem!) out of the pen, but it’s hard to blow a 9-run lead. The closer score at the end reflected just a bit of late inning drama, but not enough to make you worried.
If I were Hayden Penn I would be a bit frustrated after Sunday’s game. Matching up against the eminently hittable Ohtonari, Penn pitched rather well early in the game and well enough late to win, but he got no offensive support. Lotte had an early 1-0 lead thanks to the Tae Kyun RBI mentioned earlier, but the offense did little the rest of the way despite having men in scoring position with no or one out several times later in the game. Even Penn’s second run (of two earned) was a result of a mistake in defensive strategy – with a runner on third and nobody out in the fourth, Tsuyoshi fielded a hard-hit ball, checked the runner at third, and didn’t make the throw to first to prevent the runner from scoring. My feeling is especially in the first you take the possibility of the run scoring from third to get the out, as 1st-3rd-no outs is a pretty awful situation. Sure enough, both runners scored, and the second was the winning run.
Anyway, 1-2 isn’t so bad, and after this series Lotte is still just a single game out of first. Only 4 games left against Daiei (before the Climax Series, at least!) so Lotte must take care of business against Rakuten and Orix, especially (the two teams against whom we have the most games remaining). We can do it!