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Street Fighting Days, Part 3

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This is it – my last game of 2009. Sad. I can’t make the 6 October grand finale and the Seibu games are all mid week and far away. So – fin. The blog’s not done for the year by any means but I won’t even be able to watch the last 3 games live easily, so this is pretty much the last hurrah. How did it end up?

A good start to the day for me – my favorite pitcher is on the hill, the one and only Baby-Faced Killer, Karakawa. He got beat up in Sendai (a game I took many pictures of but have yet to write up – argh!) but I knew he’d be better for this one. Right? Right?

The scene: after the thrill-o-rama Saturday afternoon I went out for drinks, dinner, and karaoke, so it took a vast wellspring of willpower to drag me out of bed early. But it’s the last game of the season, which has magical powers to negate all the drinking, singing, and dinner-ing from the previous night. Baseball: cure for anything you care to mention.

So the game was destined to be a complicated logistical beast. 2 tickets for two friends (front row, 3B side), 2 tickets for me and another friend (1B reserved A), friend with two kids (2nd story unreserved). Sure to be a blast! All things I’ve enjoyed were in order:

– Random conversations with people I never met, check
– Tasty grub from Texas Tacos, check
– Not-so-random conversations with people I have apparently met before but don’t remember, check
– Baseball, oh yeah

It was nice running into people I’ve chatted with all over the place this year. People from Sendai, Koshien, various games in Chiba. Really nice to enjoy one last game this year together.

As for the game itself, well, it’s a bit of a beast to describe. We tried a little switcheroo again to see if we could somehow move more of us into the third base field wing – success! So I was able to get a ton of nice pics as it was a bright, sunny day. As I mentioned, my guy Karakawa was hurling so nice weather + nice seats + great friends = good way to end the live viewing season.

The Baby-Faced Killer, slinging

The Baby-Faced Killer, slinging

Too bad the game couldn’t live up to all that. Karakawa might be a bit gassed this late in the season as he is still quite a young guy, but for the second game in a row he looked very shaky. In fact it was probably his worst game of the year, with the possible exception of the late June game vs Nippon Ham where he coughed up 5 and didn’t make it out of the 5th. He only gave up 1-run through 6 innings (though on 8 hits), but the 7th inning was a doozy. More on that later.

As I mentioned in the post on Saturday’s game the contentiousness from that game spilled over into this one. The outfield ouendan did not like being chastized by Tsuyoshi, and there were several anti-Tsuyoshi banners in the outfield (I assume the “You’re only pretending to be good” was directed at him). On top of that, as he came to bat to lead off the game, the outfield ouendan refused to cheer at all. Uh-oh.

A chorus of yelling began, and it coalesced into the rest of the stadium (the 98% not in the hardcore ouendan section) chanting “Tsuyoshi! Tsuyoshi!” loudly. It was probably louder than the average player cheer even though all the fans weren’t in sync and were missing the drums. Tsuyoshi, for his part, struck out to start the game.

The cheers started proper with Hori, who got the start at DH in the second slot. To celebrate, he clubbed a dinger into right! It was his 4th on the year in his 22nd – 22nd! – year for the Marines. Good stuff! A 1-1 tie after the first*.

Round the bases and enjoy that trot, Koichi!

Round the bases and enjoy that trot, Koichi!


*note that I conveniently forgot to mention the run Orix scored in the top of the first!

In the bottom of the second, Benny (who made the start in left) smacked one over the right field fences for his seventh of the year! He was immediately pulled for Hayakawa (who moved to center), and according to post-game reports had a bit of an injured knee. It’s safe to say it seems likely his tenure with Lotte will be over at year’s end, and quite possibly this was his last at bat for the Marines. If so, it couldn’t have ended better for one of my favorite players!

Benny makes the home run trot - hopefully not for the last time as a Marines player

Benny makes the home run trot - hopefully not for the last time as a Marines player

Bottom 3 – who comes to the plate but Tsuyoshi? Again, the outfield ouendan are silent, again the rest of the fans rise up to cheer. Tsuyoshi belts a double down the left field line and the place erupts! He moves to third on Hori’s ground-out, which brings up Fukuura. Fukuura hits a foul fly down the third base side – coming right my way, actually. Kitagawa is running over and makes a sweet sliding catch – but Tsuyoshi is smart, he sees that Kitagawa has to slide for the play so he tags up and races home, just beating a throw from Kitagawa! 3-1 Lotte on a pure hustle play.

As Tsuyoshi stood on third, the guy sitting next to me yelled “Tsuyoshi! The gaiya fans won’t cheer for you but we naiya fans will!”

Kitagawa gives a bit of an 'oh well!' smile after Tsuyoshi's heady play

Kitagawa gives a bit of an 'oh well!' smile after Tsuyoshi's heady play

As the Marines players come out to their defensive positions for the top of the 4th most of the fans give Tsuyoshi a huge cheer – much bigger than normal.

Tsuyoshi raises his hat in thanks

Tsuyoshi raises his hat in thanks

In the bottom of the fourth Lotte made a great show at putting this thing away. Singles by Imae and Minami with one out got the inning going, and Masahiko Tanaka brought in the first run with a clutch single!

Imae makes a nice slide to third as he comes from first on Minami's single

Imae makes a nice slide to third as he comes from first on Minami's single

Up next was… yeah, Tsuyoshi. The scene is much the same as the first two at bats, though the adhoc cheers of the 98% who are cheering him seem louder. He smacks a deep center fly that scored Minami – another run in! The ageless Hori pokes a double to score one more, as does Fukuura. It’s a 7-1 game after 4 innings, and it looks like the sweep can come on full cruise control.

Cool flips for joy at the big Lotte lead

Cool flips for joy at the big Lotte lead

Looks. Key word there. Unfortunately – uncharacteristically, for sure – Karakawa takes the game off cruise control and drives it right over a cliff, tumbling end-over-end, slowly erupting into flames…. OK, I think I’ve stretched that far enough. The lead was still 6 runs as the 7th rolled around, but in that horrible 7th Orix recorded 8 – 8! – straight hits, all with two outs. My daddy always told me it’s so difficult to keep runs from scoring when giving up 8 straight hits in an inning, and by gum he was right. Karakawa gave up the first 5 of those hits before getting pulled for Nemoto, who gave up two more without carding and out and was finally relieved by my guy Uchi, who also gave up a hit but mercifully got the 3rd out. The damage was most definitely done, though – 7-7 game after the top of the 7th.

Uchi finally puts a stop to all the madness

Uchi finally puts a stop to all the madness

Has Karakawa just gotten tired late in the season? That’s two poor starts in a row. Very surprising.

Meanwhile on the Lotte side of things, the Orix bullpen went into maximum-security prison lockdown mode, getting out ***22*** consecutive Lotte batters after Satozaki’s leadoff hit in the 5th. This was “highlighted” by Orix rightly Vogelsong striking out all six Marines batters he faced. One might think the offense was a bit shell-shocked by how it all came apart in the 7th.

The bad blood between fan groups really boiled over in the bottom of the 9th. The game was still tied at 7 each, and with one out Tsuyoshi came to the plate with a chance to win it. Once again, no cheers, songs, chants, or otherwise emanate from the outfield ouendan. The infield fans are now totally pissed. After the ad-hoc cheering and subsequent ground-out by number 7, the infield fans, pretty much en masse, start booing… the outfield fans. “Go away! Go away! Go away!” Thumbs down, the whole shebang. Even the left-field overflow fans and most of the fans in right were booing the main ouendan. Ugly stuff.

Perhaps realizing they might have pushed things a bit far, the ouendan cheered Hori with zest – and two outs in the ninth. Most of the fans ignored the outfield fans’ cheers and cheered on their own. Hori, for his part, struck out – perhaps unsurprisingly.

Extra innings. The bullpens clear – Ogino, Sikorski, Itoh all come in, all get the job done by not allowing Orix to score. As mentioned before, so does the Orix pen. So it’s the bottom of the 12th, the last chance to salvage something other than a tie. Heiuchi strikes out to start off the inning, bringing up Mr Controversy in another game winning situation. Over the last few innings noticeably fewer fans have been cheering along, and with number 7 up at the plate again, the same scene repeats itself. Tsuyoshi will not let it affect him – he smashes a drive down the left field line! Maybe more than any other time this year he digs very, very deep, rounding second like a man possessed.

The look of effort on the face of a man possessed

The look of effort on the face of a man possessed

It’s bedlam as Tsuyoshi makes that slide into third. Safe!!!! Everybody is screaming, high-fiving, TSUYOSHI!!!!

Safe in the bottom of the 12th

Safe in the bottom of the 12th

Only one out, very swift runner on third. What will Bobby do? SQUEEZE! Hori’s at the plate and he drops down a bunt! We jump from our seats as Tsuyoshi races home… but it rolls foul. 1-0, runner and batter reset – ANOTHER SQUEEZE! Tsuyoshi’s racing down the line but the pitch was more like a pitch-out. Hori doesn’t want to leave Tsuyoshi caught out coming home so he quite literally dives for the ball, barely gets a bat on it, uh oh, pops it up – caught – and Tsuyoshi is nowhere near third. Throw to the base, DP, game, set.

Hori lunges for the last pitch of the game

Hori lunges for the last pitch of the game

Damn.

I’m pretty bummed after the game. My favorite pitcher threw a stinker, we had a chance to win and it didn’t work out (though I loved the guts). I was most bummed by the turmoil in the stands for my last game of the year. I was really hoping for one last team effort – cheering at a Lotte game is most definitely a team activity, all hands in – and we just didn’t get that.

I understand why all the outfield fans were upset and protesting – I’m sure if you took a poll of hardcore Lotte fans you’d find 98% in agreement with the foul opinions on the front office. After all, over 100,000 of us signed the petition to keep Bobby here for 2010. I just don’t like the game disruption, myself. And I really don’t like the refusal to cheer Tsuyoshi. He’s a prima donna, and he’s always out due to “injury”, and he’s made a hell of a lot of errors at short this year, but he’s still one of our best players and still a part of the team. I dunno. It just seems to me for what was likely to be most people’s last home game of the year we all would have been better served by just savoring the game, the team, the memories – cheering for a great win for old time’s sake.

If I really wanted to protest, I would have reserved a bunch of seats, unfurled a banner at the beginning of the game, laid it on the seats, and left. Vote with your feet.

The good news is this post is written after the mid-week Seibu series, and as I watched those games on TV I saw the fans giving it their manic best like we usually do. Too bad I couldn’t be there to help.

I am going to fill in some of the earlier games with tons of pictures and stories from the road – better memories! And of course I will have more posts as the season winds down. For now, here’s some more photos from Sunday’s action.

Orix outfielder Omura warms up before the inning

Orix outfielder Omura warms up before the inning

Imae makes a nice catch

Imae makes a nice catch

Ogino keeps the Buffaloes from scoring in the 8th and 9th

Ogino keeps the Buffaloes from scoring in the 8th and 9th

Ikki, up close and personal

Ikki, up close and personal

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