The wait is over – it’s been a long season, a stress-filled September, and it went right down to the last possible pitch. The three-year wait is over: Tonight, Our Marines clinched the final spot in the climax series by the slimmest of margins, taking a tight 5-4 victory from visiting Orix, and seizing the last spot in the Pacific League post season by a mere 0.5 games.
It feels damn good.
I’m going to write more about the game later, and more about the Climax Series in the coming days. Here’s the short story:
Lotte’s ace Naruse took the hill looking to snatch his 13th victory on the season and drag his teammates into a few more games. He’s been great this year despite the awful 12-11 record coming in – his ERA and strikeouts are in the top 5 in a league that is flush with aces, and his WHIP leads all. Tonight he got into a bit of trouble early as Orix strung together three hits and plated two to start the first.
Lotte would strike back, and quickly. The cause was helped by an awful, awful throwing error by replacement SS Freddie Bynum. He basically winged a likely DP ball by Iguchi into right, even though the throw was a short one. Kiyota scored on a Saburo ground out, and Iguchi scored on a huge blast by Imae to deep left. Just like that, Lotte was in control, up 3-2, ace given new life.
We were making a bit of fun with T-Okada’s odd nickname when Katsu suggested Freddie should be E-Bynum. Make it so! (This is supposed to be a short story, but I need to say that I can’t believe how overmatched Bynum looked in both games. He looked like he had no chance at any pitch. He did single on Wednesday but it must have been a fluke.)
Our Marines put a 4th run on the board in the 4th thanks to a Ohmatsu timely single that scored Imaoka, who got the very rare start at DH. Imaoka played really well – 2-4 with this run scored. He scored from second, but as the throw came in to the plate he looked to be meat. The ball reached 87th string catcher Itoh’s glove before Imaoka reached the plate area. There looked to be a mean collision – but no! Imaoka makes a GREAT slide, headfirst, going under Itoh’s body and in saaaafe. It was beautiful.
Naruse pitched 4 perfect innings after the rough start, but got into deep trouble again in the Orix 7th. Nishimura-kantoku pulled him with one out and a runner on third for… UCHI! Maybe he reads my blog? (I was thinking on Wednesday I should chat with Nishimura’s family – I chat with his wife and daughters at the games on occasion – and see if I could get his daughter to convince him to pitch Uchi more. Seems like I didn’t need to!)
Uchi gave up a first pitch SF to make the game 4-3, but went strong for the next 1 2/3 innings without giving up a run (and only one hit). Another very nice performance!
Kiyota reached on an infield single in the 8th, and Saburo brought him home with a double deep to right. It was 5-3, top of the 9th coming, Kobayashi time.
PA Announcer: “Pitcher Uchi is leaving the game. Coming in, Itoh!”
Itoh? We have one closer for 143 games, and in the most super-duper essential game of the season we switch to a new closer? I mean I know Kobayashi has been a bit off (ahem!) lately, and you may want him available in case it goes to extra, but really.
Itoh coughs up a leadoff triple. Okada almost gets to it, but it’s off the fence, and batter Ikki is in to third. Bynum knocks in Ikki with a weak, chopping grounder to make it 5-4. Itoh buckles down and gets out Maeda (?) via the ol’ strikeout, and with the crowd on it’s feet – clapping, yelling, shaking, hoping – Itoh coaxes a grounder from pinch hitter Kida Go. Kime Tae Kyun has it, gets to the bag, and VICTORY!
As I said, it just feels GREAT right now.
More to come soon!