And on the third day of the series the skies shone golden, and the men of Lotte fought doggedly for every run, contested every out, and ultimately – rightfully – triumphed over the Hawks 3-1.
Actually, the weather at the start and the end of the game wasn’t so hot. The first inning opened gray and dingy, super muggy. The wind blew in from dead center – not exactly unusual at Chiba Marine – but the ferocity was something else. All day long balls swirled in the gale, pop-ups to short drifted into the stands, and plastic bags meandered across the outfield. In the middle, though – eh, I get ahead of myself.
Ono Shingo took on the challenge of avenging yesterday’s heart-breaker vs Daiei’s Houlton. In the first Ono took care of business, inducing a leadoff ground-out by Honda. Kawasaki drew a walk and was gunned down by Satozaki trying to steal second. Ortiz grounded out to end the inning as Lotte came to the plate.
The flags on the scoreboard stood straight pointing in as Tsuyoshi came to the plate in the bottom of the inning. He’s used to these sorts of conditions though, and when he saw a fat first pitch from Houlton he demolished it, sending it clear over the left center fence! Just like that, 1-0 Lotte.
Ono coaxed another 1-2-3 inning out of the Hawks bats in the 2nd, and Lotte came to bat in the bottom of the second looking to add to their lead. Takehara drew a one-out walk, and after a Satozaki strikeout Fukuura belted a 2-2 pitch deep into the right field stands! Only his second homer of the season, and it gives the Marines an early 3-0 lead!
Ono kept making his pitches in the third and fourth – he didn’t allow a hit in the first four innings. Houlton, on the other hand, exacted the petty revenge of the classless and beaten by beaning Tsuyoshi in the back in the top of the third. It was obvious retaliation for Tsuyoshi’s HR and Houlton didn’t try to hide it. He didn’t even tip his cap. Tsuyoshi was furious, throwing his bat and staring down Houlton as he walked to first.
Perhaps Houlton would be better served by spending more time not giving up first pitch homers so he wouldn’t need to resort to cheap tactics? Anyway, Tsuyoshi tried to steal on the first pitch but was beat to the bag by Kawasaki’s tag.
In the 5th Daiei got their first hit off Ono, a single by Kokubo. Ono struck out Tamura, but the next batter Hasegawa ripped a double off the center field fence. Saburo hustled to field the ball and fired it into Tsuyoshi. Kokubo made the turn at third and kept on to home as Tsuyoshi whirled and made a perfect relay. Meat. Sato applied the tag, and Lotte kept their 3-0 lead.
Tanoue singled next and Hasegawa came home; shutout over, 3-1 Lotte.
In the top of the 6th the winds abated somewhat, the clouds parted, and the sun said it’s goodbyes for the evening. It was a lovely golden night in Chiba. Fans and players were all treated to a gorgeous view – honeyed skies over first base; a smiling rainbow over third. Players warming up, umps, everyone admired the moment.
After two quick ground-outs Ono got a bit rattled, giving up three consecutive singles to juice the bases. Bobby took no chances and called for the pen, bringing in Matsumoto Kodai. Matsumoto? Hashimoto yesterday, Matsumoto today – I had no idea either were back at Ichi-gun. I need to pay more attention to the transactions list. Matsumoto stepped right into the pressure cooker and did what he needed to do – inducing Hasegawa into a ground out and stopping the Hawks scoring chance cold.
The Lotte offense got nothing going the rest of the way but hey, that’s fine. They took care of business early on and asked the pitching staff to hold on to that lead, please. The pitching staff was totally in control as well after Matsumoto’s 6th. Uchi came in for the 7th, retired Tanoue and gave up a walk to Muramatsu. Kawasaki took over for Uchi and shut the door on the 7th and the 8th.
Sikorski came in to close out the 9th, and after a meaningless leadoff walk to Kokubo he took care of the rest of the side in order. A lovely 3-1 Lotte win, and a nice series win against the first place Hawks.
Lotte gets no Monday break – for the 20 July Marine Day holiday the team travels back to Sapporo for a three game set with Nippon Ham. Let’s hope they sweep them back as revenge for last weekend’s series!