The Silver Medal Push – Last Rakuten: 3 Oct 2013

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Game Preview: I want to get this out of the way up front: I love Sendai & Tohoku, and I am really happy for Rakuten’s success this year. A winning baseball team couldn’t happen to a nicer group of fans.

But that’s personal and this is business. They don’t need this game and we very much do. There’s 5 games left for Our Marines and the situation could not be any more tense. Daiei is just 1 game back with 3 to play (and is holding the tie breaker), and hot on their heels is Seibu, 1 game back of the Hawks with 5 to play and holding the tie breakers against both teams above them. Chiba only needs to go 3-2 down the stretch to clinch a Climax series berth and 4-1 wins the silver medal outright.

But I want to see wins, and a lot of them. New Righty Ace Nishino gets the call tonight in Sendai.
 
 


3 October - 7-6 Lotte WINS
Lotte: Yuji Nishino 9-6, 3.66 ERA @ Rakuten: Jim Heuser 2-1, 5.22 ERA

By Steve Novosel There was a time tonight when I couldn't take any more. The tension was too much. Our Marines, once holders of an early 4-0 in Sendai vs the PL champion Eagles (where have I heard that one before?) had coughed up the lead due mostly to some absolutely horrific defensive work and timely Rakuten hitting. I turned the game off and walked away. But ten minutes later I gave the game one more chance, and the Boys from Makuhari gave themselves one more chance, ultimately coming from behind to gain a tough 7-6 victory.

1003-kiyotaThis win was a critical win as it moved Our Marines to the brink of the first Climax Series appearance since 2010, and the first home Climax Series games since 2007. That’s a full year longer than this blog has been in existence – a long, long time. It was a good win. But it was by no means a good game. This is going to sound exceptionally harsh, especially for this blog where I try to be as positive as I can, but if that is the sort of lineup that Itoh-Kantoku is going to put on the field in a critical game, and that is how those guys are going to play defense in said critical game, we’re going to get bulldozed in the Climax Series.

They’ve simply got to play better than this. We know they can – they have done so all year – and they need to start doing it again, now.

Our Litany of Sins
I’m just going to front load this game report with all my criticisms of the team’s performance. It needs to be said, but I want to end the game report with the good, not the bad.

I stopped counting at 6 bad defensive plays. If you see the box score, you will notice there are no errors recorded, but there’s also two runs on Nishino’s ledger listed as unearned. Hmm. Very telling. How did this happen?

The proximate cause for the two unearned runs was (near as I can tell) the passed ball by Kanazawa in the 3rd – the pitch was not difficult; Kanazawa simply closed his glove before the ball got there. One run directly scored on that play as well as the next runner advancing and subsequently scoring. Kanazawa also botched an on-time and on-target (though on a bounce) throw from Katoh in CF to allow the go-ahead run to score for Rakuten in the 7th.

Katoh? Starting in center? No, Ishimine started in center but was pulled for Katoh after two missed throws to cut-off men. The other outfielders? Kiyota was his usual solid self, but Saburo made one of the worst non-plays I have seen in left, completely missing an easy pop fly because he didn’t run for it. That allowed another run to score (and cost Nishino the victory). All in all, at least 4 runs by my count scored directly as a result of crummy defense. Nishino’s line was 5 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 5 K with 2 ER (should be 1 ER, in my opinion) – he wasn’t great by any means but he sure was better than his defense made him look.

I’ve gotten that off my chest now so I’ll leave it alone.

At The Plate
7 runs! Nice! It WAS good to see a bit of an offensive explosion. The somewhat frustrating thing is Our Marines could have hung even more runs on Rakuten but missed a few opportunities. For example, 2 men on and no out in the third, no runs scored. Bases loaded in the 5th with one out – one run scored on a walk with the bases loaded, nothing more. Bases loaded with one out in the 7th, no runs. Another bases loaded chance in the 8th – 2 runs scored, but a ground out with the bases loaded ended the inning.

Point is, Our Marines sure could have put a smack down on the Eagles. With the looming potential of the next game being in Sendai during the Climax Series final stage, it’s probably a good thing Chiba didn’t run up the score, though.

In the end, Lotte put 20 men on the Sendai sacks, 11 via hit and a whopping 9 via walk – you’re going to win a whole lot of games putting 20 men on base. Believe it or not, there was only one big hit off a Chiba bat – a three run line drive jack from Kiyota in the second, which put Lotte up 4-0. The other runs? An Imae sac fly in the first, a Nemoto sac fly in the 8th, a Saburo bases loaded walk in the 5th, and the go-ahead run was another bases loaded walk, this time to Imae (2-3, 2 RBI). Iguchi also drew 3 walks and stroked a pair of singles for a perfect night.

The key play of the game happened in the 8th for Iguchi’s last at bat. This was just after the Nemoto sac fly that tied the game. Iguchi hit a little squib grounder at pitcher Katoh, but Katoh fumbled at the ball and couldn’t get an out. The walk to Imae to win the game was right after.

Much like Freddie Bynum back in 2010, Rakuten’s Katoh probably should be the Lotte player of the game. In 1 2/3 innings of work he gave up 3 hits and the two final runs combined with a mind-boggling 5 walks. Suffice it to say we would not have won the game without his beneficence.

We’re almost in the Climax Series now. A single win in our last 4 games or a single loss by Daiei in their last two seals it. Seibu has leapfrogged the Hawks into third place now, so Our Marines just need to keep Seibu at bay to wrap up second and a home playoff series. We can take care of it this weekend at QVC vs Orix.

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