Alrighty, we're a little bit behind schedule but here's the what went down on the weekend between the Dragons and the Giants. The Giants have been in good nick this season proving that their batting has more depth to it than last year and that the pitching staff are just as good as they've always been.
Those of you familiar with the 1980s Tom Selleck goes to Japan experience, Mr Baseball might think that the Giants are the Dragons biggest rivals, and while you'd be technically correct, the really, really correct answer is everyone hates the Giants and the Tigers share a more intense hatred than anyone else. It's hard to nail down a "rival" for the Dragons, but geographically, it probably is more likely to be Hanshin with Osaka being closer. The Giants of course have been possible larger rivals due to the tag and tow between to two in vying for the Central League over the past decade or so.
Whatever the case may be, we were in for a cracker of a game with both teams having a fair share of wins heading into the match up.
The biggest news in the lead-up to this one would probably be the continued absence of Ryosuke Hirata who has been sidelined with injury as well as the return of pitching duo Kazuki Yoshimi and Hitoki Iwase from their respective long-term injuries. Iwase in particular would be making his comeback after nearly 2 years out of the game.
Game number 13 of the season was a return to the opening day starters as Yudai Ohno and Kyosuke Takagi took to the mound to start things. There would be good energy from the first inning from Ohno as he ran through the top order in succession nabbing Chono through a ground out and striking out Tateoka and Sakamoto. Takagi would follow suit, but would give up a base to Araki before seeing off Takahashi and Viciedo.
The second inning would bring much more excitement for both teams as the first scoring plays of the game took shape. Ohno would grab Garrett's scalp before allowing Cruz a base. This brought to the plate the 26 year old, Taishi Ohta who quite frankly, bullied Ohno, sending the lefty pitcher over the fence to register the first two runs of the game, 0-2.
The strike back from Chunichi would be swift as in the bottom of the second the Nagoya team hit back. Ohta would catch Nanita's foul ball before Fujii and Donoue managed to find themselves on 3rd and 1st base respectively. Katsura would fall victim to Takagi's change-ups as he struck out. Ohno would be the man to take guard and it would the pitcher that would help draw first blood as his timely hit into left-field sent Fujii home and moved Donoue onto second, 1-2.
Araki could not help turn the score into a leading one as he flew out to center to end the inning.
Scoring would pick up again in the 4th. Fujii hit a double to lead off the inning while Donoue helped Fujii to third with a sacrifice bunt. Katsura would take up the bat for the next plate appearance and the young catcher would once again make a telling contribution with his bat as he ground out, but allowed Fujii to score to make it 3-2.
The game would close out without much incident as Ohno claimed man of the match honours for his RBI and winning pitching. Lots of credit too has to go to Naomichi Donoue who's fielding has been beyond reproach since replacing Issei Endo.
Game 14 would be, well at least for me, an exciting 0-0 (maybe that's the soccer fan in me) where the game took its tips and turns but unfortunately didn't pan out in the way either team had really hoped. Kazuki Yoshimi made his long awaited return to the mound as he started and finished 7 scoreless innings while a return was also made by Hitoki Iwase after his almost 2 years out of the first team.
The game was a very cagey one with both teams not doing their best with the pitches given to them and not converting when it was important. Mr Gibson of the J-Ball podcast pointed out to me that, while I was caught up with the excitement, both teams had a habit of swinging at bad pitches. He was probably right.
Young Kazuto Yaguchi kept up the pace with the veteran Yoshimi but it was the Giants pitcher who walked away with slightly better stats as he only allowed 2 hits and struck out 7 batters in his seven innings. Yoshimi however would have to settle for 5 conceded hits and 6 strikouts in his seven.
The most tense moment of the game was to come in the 7th inning when Yoshimi was replaced by Shinji Tajima. Usually one of the Dragons best relievers, Tajima did the unthinkable and loaded up the bases with walks following Kamei's short-fly out. Chono, Tateoka and Sakamoto walked to base and Tanishige was quick to yoink Tajima off the mound. He was to be replaced by the returning Iwase who was to come up against American slugger, Garrett Jones. Some tense moment followed as the veteran closer sized up his target, but it would be Iwase who would come out the savior as Jones hit into a double play to end the inning. Big sighs of relief from the crowd combined with a rambunctious roar for the triumphant return of the legendary pitcher.
Unfortunately there would be little else to write home about as the game entered extra time only for nothing to come of it. 13 combined hits in total from both teams; not great. Iwase and Yoshimi's return however made for happy watching for Dragons fans looking forward.
Yoshimi has since been de-registered from the first team as he continues his reconditioning to get back to peak fitness.
Another milestone would be reached this game as Masahiro Araki made his 2000th game appearance. Araki is also only 99 away from 2000 hits. Let's hope he can do it this season
Game 15, the last of the series would be an unfortunate loss due to some very poor relieving innings. The game had far more to it than the previous one, but still a lot of negatives for the Dragons who just didn't do well enough against an inconsistent but dangerous Giants team.
Drew Naylor would start things for the Dragons while Nobutaka Imamura was on the mound for the Giants.
Naylor would start things off well, striking out Chono and ripping through the first two hitters to finish the first inning. The Chunichi reply was threatening as Araki made his way to first an then second as Shuhei ground out at first. Viciedo would then take a walk, but the problematic #5 spot in the line-up continued to be so as Akasaka struck out to end the first inning.
Some nervous moments would come for the Aussie in the second as he allowed a double to Garrett Jones but removed Cruz. Naylor would then give up a walk to Kita and Murata to load the bases for the first real tense moment of the game. Naylor would however fight back courageously to strikeout Kobayashi and Imamura to end the inning.
Obviously fired up, the Dragons went out to make it count in the bottom of the 2nd. Fujii continued his poor form as he flied out but Donoue would continue his good form with a single. Katsura continued his streak with the bat as he moved Donoue to third before Naylor fell victim to Imamura. Ohshima with his second at bat of the day would be the hero as he sent Donoue in to score with a timely hit into the left field, 1-0.
Katsura would unfortunately be gunned down at the home plate, perhaps reaching too far, after a hit from Araki fell to right field.
The pitchers would trade notes for the next 3 innings or so showing good poise and purpose but it would be Imamura's turn to dig himself out of trouble in the 5th. After dismissing Araki, Imamura gave up a hit to Takahashi and a stroll to Viciedo. Akasaka's hit to the third-base allowed Takahashi to move to 3rd but sacrificed Viciedo at second to put runners on 1st and 3rd. Fujii would be the next to elect for a walk as Imamura loaded the bases. The sign was sent to the Giants bench and the starter was swapped out for Tsuchida who easily struck out Donoue to end the inning and escape a very pinch moment, scores still at 1-0.
The top of the 6th would see the equalizer from the Giants as a hit from Chono followed by a sacrificial bunt from Tateoka moved the former onto second. Sakamoto would strike out, but the American, Jones would make it all count by hitting a double to even up the scores at 1-1. Cruz would add himself to the bases but Naylor would once again strike out Kita to end the inning.
The score wouldn't remain the same for long however as Katsura made contact once again this series to move to first. Naylor would attempt a bunt but would ultimately fail to bring Ohshima to the plate. The multi golden glove winner hit a double into right field to put himself on second with Naylor on third. Recent record maker, Masahiro Araki would be the man in the spotlight as he converted his pitcher and centre-fielder's hard work by hitting a single down the ground to allow Naylor to score, 2-1.
Obviously foreseeing something bad on the horizon (pehaps a bad moon?) Giants manager, Yoshinobu Takahashi changed out his reliever to bring in Tone. Shuhei would fly out but allow runners to move to second and third. Two outs now gone brought Viciedo to the plate but he was walked to load the bases once again. The problematic #5 spot in the line-up reared it's ugly head again as Kudo, who had come in as a pinch runner for Akasaka, was replaced by Masahiko Morino who was making his first appearance of the season. The veteran has been turning it on for the 2-gun team, but unfortunately it wasn't to transfer to the biggest stage as he struck out to end the inning.
|Naylor got mad with|
There was a little bit of magic in the 8th as Donoue helped Chono on his way with this lovely piece of work.
Matayoshi was apologetic in the aftermath explaining that "I didn't put it where the catcher had set it up."Tanishige however was in a much more philosophical mood as he put down the loss to "We came out to fight and we went down fighting." He was however quick to highlight the positives of the pitching as he mentioned how solidified the starting rotation is now compared to the start of the season. With Yoshimi, Oguma and Jordan all coming in and doing well, things do look positive. He did however say he would give some thought over the problematic number 5 spot in the line-up as Nanita, Akasaka and others have failed to impress in that spot so far to give Viciedo the support he needs.
In other new, Drew Naylor has since had a pow-wow with his "Japanese Dad," pitching coach Shigekazu Mori and translator, Luis Francis. The three apparently had a two hour chat about possible new approaches for Naylor in coming games.
Next games are against Hiroshima with one out in the countryside of Kure. Wakamatsu, Jordan and Oguma should be set to record some wins against a team I certainly consider we are equal to.