Where did all this pitching come from?
In the last three games we’ve seen great pitching from Yoshimi, Shunsuke, Itoh, Yabuta, and Kobayashi. Tonight we added to that list with Bill Murphy, Kentaro Hashimoto, and Takuya Furuya. Aren’t we supposed to be limping, imploring our wounded arms to get better soon? Aren’t we supposed be losing with Ono and Karakawa out, Ohmine kicking it in ni-gun, and Kawagoe turning everything he touches to a pile of stink?
NO. This is a solid pitching staff – a staff with depth and resilience. Pitching coach Nishimoto has his charges ready for battle – how else to explain what has happened the last three games, no, all season? But especially the last three games. I’ve already written about the weekend series with Yokohama, about superb pitching, and about the consecutive shutout victories. Tonight the 2009 NPB Champion Kyojin sauntered into town, firmly in first, coming off a weekend sweep of Nishitetsu in Tokorozawa and having swept Our Marines in Tokyo Dome a few weeks ago. Tonight the overhyped Kyojin played like Shōjin as the Lotte pitching staff and the Lotte offense conspired with Yomiuri fielding to produce a complete laugher of a game on a lovely night in Chiba. How laughable?
Lotte 11, Yomiuiri 0. Tee-hee-hee!
I can’t say enough about Lotte starter Bill Murphy. As the season began he was expected to be middle relief and possibly a sixth or spot starter. In early May he finally made his first start – tonight was his 4th start, and in those 4 starts he is now a perfect 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA. I’ve yet to really discuss his last outing in Hiroshima where he carded 11 Ks in 7 innings of work, but tonight was just as good as that performance as he gave up no runs on 4 hits in 7 innings of rock solid work. How solid was he? The fans now LOVE him. As he came out for his hero interview (along with co-hero Imae – more on him in a moment) there were hundreds yelling “MURPHY!!!” As I walked around after the game excited fans looked at me and yelled “MURPHY!!!!” I of course reciprocated with a “MURPHY!!!!” of my own.
He was in great command all night. Not only did the Kyojin not hit him hard, they hardly hit him at all, only managing grounders, non-threatening pops, and the occasional soft liner right at a fielder.
And the offense! Almost everything good that needed to happen happened early – Lotte staked a 1-0 lead after the first thanks to a double by Tsuyoshi (starting a new hitting streak) a sac by Imae, and an RBI groundout by Tae Kyun. In the third Lotte would chase Kyojin starter Utsumi with three doubles (Minami, Tae Kyun, and Ohmatsu) and a 2 run blast into deepest left by Imae. Just like that, 4-0!
The fifth inning is the one that made the fans in orange and black shake their heads in disgust, and the Good Guys to bounce in ecstasy. Tsuyoshi drove in Kiyota with a single right up the gut off reliever Obispo. Obispo then seemingly got Imae to ground into an inning-ending DP, but in his excitement he wings the ball into center! Minami came in, and Iguchi brought home Tsuyoshi with a nice, deep sac fly. Tae Kyun came to the plate next without a dinger since the last time the two teams played, so promptly hits a HUGE shot to center field! 5 runs in, and it’s officially “kick up your feet and enjoy your beer” time. 9-0 Lotte after 4.
One of the things I like about Tae Kyun’s approach at the plate is his long balls are generally line drives – so he’s trying to knock the cover off the ball, but not specifically for a homer. Really, his double in the third and his later fly in the 6th all could have very easily been HRs if he had gotten them up in the air more. It’s appealing to watch extreme power come in the midst of a natural stroke.
Lotte tacked on another 2 runs to get to the final score in the 6th thanks to an RBI single by birthday boy Saburo (turned 34) and a rare doubly-awful bit of fielding by replacement 3B Furuki. He snagged a grounder hit at him by Satozaki, dropped it, picked it up, fired way offline and let the final run come in. You don’t see both ends of a play stuffed up all that often!
Another great side benefit of the series with the Giants is we get to see dishonorable turncoat Yomiuri rookie Chono continue to look like junk. So far he is a scintillating 0-12 against Lotte pitching, including the game they racked up 10 runs on us. Predictably he was met with a cascade of boos and obscenities every time he came to the plate, and those boos just got louder and louder as the beating progressed. Conveniently enough for this narrative, he recorded the last out of the soul-crushing loss.
With the dominating win tonight and a loss by Seibu (to Yokohama!) Lotte screams back into first for the first time in weeks! Lotte also takes command of the race to win the interleague title. Of course I’d rather the Pa-League title but the interleague title would be a nice prize as well. Up tomorrow night is another potentially great matchup as Naruse takes on Gonzales. Can the Marines keep their perfect home interleague record intact?
Incidentally I read a funny article about Lotte’s home field advantage today in Yahoo News (sorry it’s in Japanese and I don’t trust my ability to translate). Basically the article suggests Lotte has a home advantage not only due to the famously unpredictable winds and the notoriously dodgy turf (due to be replaced soon) but also to a really stinky toilet near the visitors bench! Home field advantage, gotta love it!