The Dragons and Swallows shared 38 runs in the three game series at Nagoya Dome in some big scoring, big hitting innings that included 7 home runs. The two teams made a joke of the "pitcher paradise" tag the Nagoya dome has to serve up a great meal of baseball fit for an Italian extended family visit. The Swallows have been very up and down this year but they are still an outfit not to be trifled with. We lost two games fairly convincingly at Jingu early this year and only sweet revenge would do in the first reverse fixture.
As there is so much action in these games, I'm going to save my sanity a little bit and only talk about the scoring innings. I've already put this report off for too long as it is!
Game 21 of the season would be marked with the new bluish alternate "Shoryu" uniforms given out to all members of the crowd and worn by the team. The dome was a wonderous wash of blue as Shunta Wakamatsu took to the mound in the first. Unfortunately Manager Tanishige was out of the game with the flu. The addition of the day was the return of Ryosuke Hirata. Would he be able to make an instant impact on his return?
The batting didn't go to plan for the Swallows in the first, but it certainly did for the Dragons. Ohshima would lead off in the regular way and hit a single to start things off positively. Araki's hit into left would allow Ohshima to skip to third while the veteran approaching (slowly) 2000 hits sat on first. With Ohshima now in a scoring position, Takahashi would oblige and smack a single into the left field to make it 1-0.
Now with runners on 1st and 2nd, Ishikawa on the mound for the Swallows must have got the nerves coming up against Viciedo as he walked the big man to load bases. In the purplest of patches, Ricardo Nanita stood up to the plate to single to make it 2-0.
Hirata's first plate appearance back from injury would be an easy one as he too was walked to allow Takahashi to score, 3-0. Donoue would then connect with one to nick a single to allow Viciedo in to make it 4-0 in the first.
With bases still loaded, Sugiyama, Wakamatsu and once again, Ohshima, couldn't inflict any further damage.
Yakult would get back into the game in the 3rd as after a Sakaguchi single, Wakamatsu gave up consecutive walks to Kawabata and Yamada to load the bases. Vladimir Balentien wouldn't waste time putting his stamp on the game as he hit a single to send two home, 4-2. The scoring would continue with a center sacrifice fly from Yuhei to allow Yamada to score to make it 4-3. Imanami would fall victim to Wakamatsu to put two outs on the board but a single from Ohbiki would even up the scores at 4-4. Nakamura would be the last to fall to end the inning and begin the sucking of teeth among the Dragons staff.
The batting line-up and Ishikawa would help save Wakamatsu's blushes in the next batting stanza. Nanita would start things off with a double while a ground out for Hirata allowed the Dominican to move to third. Donoue took a walk to put runners on 1st and 3rd and it would be Sugiyama who would restore the lead with a single of his own to send Nanita home and make it 5-4. A sac bunt from Wakamatsu allowed runners to 2nd and 3rd while another walk to Ohshima loaded up the bases once again. That was enough for the Swallows skipper, Manaka, as he pulled Ishikawa from the mound to be replaced by Matsuoka. It wouldn't stop Araki though, as he hit to put two runners home but found himself out as he overreached in bizarre fashion getting tagged out on the way to second base, 7-4.
Chunichi's attack would continue in the 5th as Hirata got straight to work, teeing off on Kazahari, sending him over the fence to make it 8-4.
Donoue's single would take him to first before Sugiyama obliged once again with a triple to send the short-stop home to make it 9-4.
Wakamatsu, Ohshima and Araki would unfortunately leave the catcher hanging on third base as they all failed to register a hit.
Yakult made a return in the 6th as Ohbiki started things off with a double. Nakamura would be given a walk and that was enough for Shigekazu Mori, the head coach and stand-in for Tanishige tonight, to replace Wakamatsu with Takuya Okada. A fly out from Tanaka would allow Ohbiki to third and a sacrifice fly from Sakaguchi would allow him to score to make it 9-5. Okada would then help Kawabata on his way as he ground out to end the inning.
Perez would take the next inning for the Swallows, but the reliever would face a stiff start. After dismissing Takahashi, Viciedo took a walk before Nanita went out to a short-liner. With Viciedo on second Hirata made his next big contribution with a double to send the big Cuban into score to make it 10-5. Donoue would then fly out to end the inning.
Yakult would score once more in the 8th as Sobue started off the inning for the Dragons. The former Toyota man allowed two runners to base before he was replaced by Hitoki Iwase. The veteran ground out Takeuchi, but with a runner now on third, Sakaguchi made contact with a hit at the second baseman to allow Ohbiki to score for the second time on the night, 10-6. Kawabata would end the inning once again as he holed out to second.
It would not be the end of the story as the Dragons immediately replied. A triple from Takahashi to lead-off the inning made it easy work for Viciedo, as he sent the youngster from Kanagawa home to make the scores 11-6.
Fukutani would have some nerves in closing out the game but ultimately ended things without issue.
A fantastic return for Hirata including a homer, 2 RBIs and a walk that lead to a team mate scoring capped off a great night for the captain. Wakamatsu would barely walk away with the win, but you would normally expect a better performance. His radar was off a bit today but his team bailed him out this time.
Game 22 of the season was once again highly contested. The Swallows bat well when on song, but their pitching doesn’t run too deep. The opposite could probably be said for the Dragons who have a pretty good bullpen and a decent starting rotation with an on/off batting line-up but given some recent form there has been room for optimism.
Another Saturday night back at the Nagoya dome and the team was back in their regular jerseys. Yoshimi was thrown back into the rotation following his rest after last pitching against the Giants and it would be Swallows ace Ogawa who would start things off for the Tokyo side.
The Dragons would draw first blood in the bottom of the first. Donoue, batting at 2 today, scored a double after Ohshima grounded out at short stop. Shuhei’s ground out to first base would then allow Donoue to move into a scoring position at third. With Viciedo now up to bat, the odds of a scoring play increased but the big Cuban was given a walk by Ogawa to put runners on 1st and 3rd. It would however be the in-form, all round good guy, Ricardo Nanita that would send home Donoue on a 2-2 count with a hit into left-field,1-0.
Hirata would unfortunately strikeout to end thing, stranding Viciedo on third.
Yakult would get one back in the top of the third as Yoshimi gave up a homerun to none other than last year’s “Triple-Three” man, Tetsuto Yamada, 1-1.
The scores would not remain the same for long as at the bottom of the same inning, Ohshima tripled to move to third which allowed Donoue to score him with a single to make the scores 2-1. Things wouldn’t stop there as after Shuhei struck-out, Viciedo took a liking to an Ogawa pitch to slam a double and send Donoue home, 3-1 runner on second. Nanita would once again prove decisive as he clobbered his first homer in Chunichi colours into the right stand to make it 5-1.
Hirata would hit to get on base to follow, but Hernandez ground out into a double play to end the inning.
Life would be sucked out of the game for a short while but it would rev back into the swing of things in the top of the 6th with Yoshimi pitching to Balentien. While the wiley pitcher removed the Netherlands international, he gave up consecutive hits to Yuhei and Ohibiki to put runners on 1st and 2nd, 5-2. Takeuchi would step up and his hit combined with Ohshima’s poor return allowed Yuhei to step home. Nakamura would now step up to the plate with Ohbiki on 3rd and Takeuchi on 2nd and the catcher hit a sacrifice fly to Hirata in right-field to allow Ohbiki to score., 5-3. Ogawa would be switched out for Tanaka and Yoshimi allowed the pinch-hitter a walk to first. A consecutive walk to Sakaguchi led to Yoshimi’s replacement by Takuya Okada who coaxed a strikeout from Kawabata to end the inning.
Still in control, the Chunichi bullpen kept things quiet going into the final inning. So too the Yakult pitchers.
Into the top of the 9th and Fukutani would be given responsibility to clean up and seal another win. A strikeout of Yamada set things to a good rhythm to start off, but a very nonchalant solo homer from Balentien put a bee in the bonnet as the score crept up to 5-4.
Yuhei would be the next batter up, and with a fly out, the count was at two outs. Only one more to go; a walk to Ohbiki however convinced Tanishige that this was the moment for an experience arm as he called Iwase up to the mound to relieve the encumbent closer. Things wouldn’t improve however as Iwase gave up a hit to Araki to put 2 runners on base. Still good. All calm, only one more. Nakamura would be the next to walk up to bat. A big swing from the catcher rose, and rose and rose….finally into the right hand stands to nestle with the green-clad Yakult supporters. A homerun to turn things around in the 9th, 5-7. Iwase, in complete disbelief, finished off the inning but was obviously shell-shocked.
Ondrusek would be the saviour for the Swallows in the bottom of the 9th however as despite valiant efforts to get back into the game from Morino and Kudo, the big American closed out what was to be an unlikely win as he struck out Takahashi with a fork-ball to end the game.
What a game. The Dragons have won in similar circumstances this season a few times already and it’s never fun being on the wrong end of it. Viciedo took two walks and an RBI today to end another good performances and the 2 RBIs for Nanita, including his first homer in Japan, was a delightful takeaway from the game as well. Yoshimi looked okay coming back but will be obviously a little disappointed with the result, but the most disappointed will be Iwase who has the NPB record for saves, who blew his chance to close out the game and add to his legendary tally. Peres would be the winning pitcher for the Swallows with Ondrusek claiming the save.
Game 23 would see the likes of Drew Naylor, the Swallow destroyer, to the mound for the final game of the series. The Aussie has never lost to the Swallows in 5 outings, would he be able to maintain that record? Rookie, Hara, who came up against Naylor at Jingu earlier this season started for the Swallows.
The only change for the Dragons today was the addition of Achira as a long-term reliever to replace Yoshimi.
Things would not start well for Naylor as after removing Sakaguchi, he gave up a hit through centre to hit leader, Kawabata. With the ever dangerous Yamada up at the plate, it would take only a mild lapse in control to see the ball sail over the fence. With the count at 2-2, Naylor would be the less happier of the duellers as Yamada sent the Australian’s pitch into the stand to make things 0-2.
Naylor would strike back against Balentien with a strikeout, but gave a walk to Yuhei. Ohbiki couldn’t make it count this time as he had in previous games as he struck out as well to end the inning.
It wouldn’t be long for the Dragons to reply as in the bottom of the first Ohshima struck a triple to move into a scoring position at third. Donoue took a walk to bring Shuhei to the plate. The youngster would unfortunately ground out at short stop, but Yohei “Speedy Gonzalez” Ohshima took off home to make it 1-2. Viciedo would however ground out into a double play to prematurely end the innings.
Yakult would take the initiative again in the 3rd inning as after striking out Kawabata, Naylor, now wary of Yamada, walked the Yakult 2nd baseman. A wild pitch from Naylor would however allow Yamada to move to 2nd. Imanari, in to replace Balentien who went off with an injury, would not profit from the situation, but Yuhei would as he hit Yamada home. However, underestimating the outfield arm, he found himself out at second to end the inning. Naylor seems to have good spurts, but his penchant for giving up early runs isn’t an endearing quality. Naylor would however see out 7 innings in the end as Takuya Okada once again came into to relieve in the 8th inning and duly took 3 straight outs.
Akiyoshi would be brought to the mound for the Swallows in the 8th inning and Fujii would be brought in to pinch hit for Okada. Fujii won the first battle of the inning as he managed an infield hit to get to first base. Ohshima would not endear himself to Fujii as a ground ball to short stop saw the latter out at second base. Donoue elected to walk to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Shuhei would then follow Donoue’s lead and take a walk of his own to load the bases with Viciedo coming in to bat. One can only hope for the best with Viciedo. He leads the team in RBIs, homers and average. When he steps up to bat, you know something special will happen. Reasonably fresh off a walk-off homerun against Hanshin, could he work some similar magic against the Swallows? The answer? Yes. With a 3-1 count, Viciedo lunged into a tasty looking pitch and sent that little white spherical good thing into the centre-right stand to claim a game turning, grandslam homerun, 5-3.
The ball was once again thrown to Fukutani to make the save. Thankfully, the closer would find his range tonight as he ended the inning to complete the save and claim a fantastic 5-3 turn around win.
Viciedo was the hero once again and his only telling contribution with the bat today was the big one. Hirata was the best of the batter today as he picked up 2 hits and a walk in his 4 plate appearances.
Another win eluded Naylor, but it was a win 2 years in waiting for Okada. Most importantly, or least, depending on your perspective, was the loss-less streak against the Swallows for Naylor. 6 straight games against the Tokyo team for no loss. Not a bad record to have!
We had three fantastic games this week with a lot of drama, a lot of runs and some good heroes. Hirata’s comeback series was superb and the line-up looks all the more impressive with him in it. Yoshimi continues his return to full fitness but he’ll be unhappy with the loss, albeit not going against him.
Now perched at 2nd on the table, things are looking good from up on high. If some key personnel, namely Yudai Ohno, can make a comeback quick smart, there will be not much wrong with the team that’s supposedly in transition. A very unpredictable Central league has helped things, but so far so good early on!