Before I get into the report I would just like to thank all of you, my readers, for doing what you do best, read. Since I started this blog a little under a month ago, I have received over 1000 views. That's a big complement to me and I really appreciate those of you reading what I write. I enjoy writing and I love talking about the Dragons so it's great to have so many to share with. Thank you all. I hope I can continue to keep the updates as frequent as I can, and maybe with a bit of luck, I might be able to make some improvements and throw up some feature articles when I get a bit of time off work.
Game 18 of the Dragons season started on a fine Friday night in the Nagoya Dome. Dominican Jordan Norberto made his second start in the rotation as Atsushi Nohmi started on the mound for the Tigers. Jordan wasn't able to grab a win in his starting debut as a draw against the Baystars was all the team could muster, but the lefty pitcher looked good in that outing and if the batting fired, he would get a win.
It was a solemn night however as Japan was rocked with a series of earthquakes in the southern island of Kyushu where the prefecture of Kumamoto was particularly affected. Masahiro Araki is a native of the area and it is possible that he was left out of the side on compassionate grounds. His family is okay for the time being as the prefecture continues to be rocked. Hiroto Fuku as well, a member of JR Kyushu last year, sent out his regards and well wishes to his former teammates and co-workers.
As for team changes; Toshiya Okada and Daisuke Sobue came in for an injured Yudai Ohno and a misfiring Ryuya Ogawa. The blow to Ohno is a big one as the Chunichi injury list grows, but the team would have to do without him as it was planned to move Daisuke Yamai back to the starting rotation to replace the influential lefty.
Now for the action:
Jordan worked through the first of the Tigers batting line-up grounding out two. The final out would come from a greedy Egoshi who was gunned down at second base by Katsura as he tried to steal.
The bottom of the second inning would bring the Dragons out for the first attack. Yohei Ohshima would start off well as he hit into the left to pick up a single. Taiki Mitumata, the former Buffalo, took one for the cause as he bunted to allow the speedster, Ohshima to get to second. Takahashi struck-out for what would not be the first time tonight to bring Viciedo to the plate with 2 outs and a runner on second base. The big Cuban rarely disappoints in these situations as he hit a single to put Ohshima into a scoring position at third base. Ricardo Nanita would step up to the plate as the 5th batter. I've become a bit of a Nanita fan as I really like his swing. It has a quick action and he uses a short bat, but it looks cool. That swing would come in handy as the 34 y/o outfielder knocked one into right field to allow Ohshima to score, 1-0.
Tetsuya Tani would come in behind the Dominican and the infielder would take to the first pitch served at him as he knocked it into a gap in the right field to allow Viciedo to score, 2-0.
Akasaka would however not be able to continue the scoring as he grounded out to second to end the inning.
Jordan would continue his own assault on the Tigers batting lineup as he went through three batters very quickly to turn over the reigns to the Chunichi attack once more. The innings would start of similarly to the last with two quick outs to begin the inning. Katsura struck-out while Jordan lackadaisically tried to put his bat in the general zone as he struck-out as well. Ohshima came up to bat once more and it was the same result as his previous at-bat, as the outfielder nicked another single through left-field. Mitsumata, this time without the luxury of an out up the sleeve to move Ohshima around again, grabbed a single of his own to put runners on first and second. Nohmi, still unable to get that last out, then faced young Shuhei Takahashi. Another pinch moment player, Shuhei took advantage of the off-tempo Nohmi and thrust his bat to guide the ball to the centre field to help Ohshima on his way home, 3-0.
With runners in front of him, Dayan Viciedo walked in to the situation he is made for. The tank did not disappoint as he whalloped a high and straight one into left field bleachers to rest triumphantly among the deflated Tigers fans, 6-0.
Nanita would add to his collection of hits but Tani couldn't recreate his first inning magic as he flew out to Egoshi in right field.
With the game all but won in the first two innings, Jordan could afford to be a bit more relaxed in his approach but still put in a great shift to lock the Tigers out of the game.
Nohmi found himself knocked out of the game after two innings as the Tigers went through 5 pitchers to finish out the game. For Jordan's first win, he served up only a single strike, gave up two walks and two hits in his 7 innings. Daisuke Sobue and Katsuki Matayoshi would fill in the last 2 innings to close out a big 6-0 win.
Ohshima had a great game with the bat and apart from scoring twice, he picked up 3 hits and a walk from his 5 plate appearances. Viciedo did similarly well. Aside from his 3-run homerun, he also added 2 hits to his 4 plate appearances. The lack of strikeouts for Viciedo so far is very impressive as he has been making contact extremely frequently. While he seems to excel at hitting the higher balls, his ability to dig out the lower ones has been a joy to behold. Special mentions too for Nanita (2H 1RBI 1W) and Tetsuya Tani (2H 1RBI 1W) who both added to the selection headaches for Tanishige. Tani and Mitsumata played well in the central infield positions which had been previously occupied by Araki and Donoue. The team looks good defensively at least. A massive 14 hits as well marked a watershed moment for the batting line-up that has struggled to put together anything substantial recently.
A great big win to start the series, and Viciedo showed that he likes the Tigers pitching, a lot, with his 4th homer against Hanshin in as many games.
Game 19 was to be another night to remember for all the right reasons. Daisuke Yamai stepped out of the bullpen tonight to start as he was called up to replace the injured Yudai Ohno. Yuta Iwasada would start on the mound for the Tigers.
Only one team change for the game as Jordan Norberto was put to rest and was de-registered from the team. Junki Ito, who has been regularly starting in the 2-gun, was added to the roster for the games against the Tigers. One interesting caveat to the line-up this game was the placement of Nobumasa Fukuda in left-field. Tanishige, obviously unimpressed with Akasaka's performance, decided he wanted to add kick to the line-up and place someone who is normally a first or third baseman out in the great deep green of the outfield. Mitsumata and Tani would retain their positions after their good performances.
Yamai started things on the Saturday afternoon and looked uncharacteristically in control of things as he only gave up 3 walks in his scoreless first 4 innings. Conversely, the Dragons batting line up looked uncharacteristically dire as Iwasada kept the line-up to only one hit (to Nanita) in the opening 4 innings.
|Nanita's first double in the 2nd|
Umeno, the Tigers catcher, latched onto one to register the first Tigers hit and the second hit of the day. Iwasada was brought to the plate but failed to trouble anyone as he went out bunting. Umeno would steal his way to second base while Toritani was walked by Yamai to put runners on first and second base. Up stepped former Minnesota Twin, Tsuyoshi Nishioka to assess the situation. Nishioka hit a double to bring Umeno home, 1-0. Egoshi would follow and he continued the scoring as he hit a sacrifice fly to allow Toritani to score, 2-0. Mauro Gomez would end the scoring stanza with a single of his own to put Nishioka through home base, 3-0. It all changed very quickly as the Tigers took advantage of some average pitching with some good hitting to set a good platform moving forward.
A counter-attack was launched in the bottom of the 5th as Tani and Sugiyama both hit singles, but another disappointing at-bat from Akasaka, pinch-hitting for Yamai, ended any hopes to immediately pin back the Tigers.
Okada would take over from Yamai and pitch well to keep the scoreline at 3-0. The counter-attack from the Dragons would continue to struggle as only one hit, a double from Nanita, could be mustered until the bottom of the 8th.
|Nanita's 2nd double of the night in the 7th|
While Tajima continued Okada's good work of keeping the Tigers out at the top of the inning, it was now getting to crunch time. Many times have the Dragons faded out toward the end of the game, but it wouldn't be the case this time. As Iwasada was withdrawn for Fukuhara, the pressure seemed to lift as Sugiyama started the stanza with a single. Tajima was then withdrawn for Atsushi Fujii. The much maligned outfielder has been nothing short of awful this season. The strikeouts, the very little production, the everything. Fujii just hasn't been with it. It was then a surprise when the same man hit a triple to score Sugiyama and bring the scores to 1-3.
Fukuhara was then quickly exchange for former Dragon, Akifumi Takahashi as the Tigers went into damage control. It worked momentarily with the dismissal of Ohshima but it would be Morino, pinch-hitting for Mitsumata, The veteran would ground out to second, but it would be enough to allow Fujii to slink into home to make it 2-3. Shuhei would unfortunately strikeout to end the inning. The game now in the balance, Iwase was brought to the mound and after claiming two victims, Koji Fukutani took over for one batter who he also sent on his way with an outer course change-up.
Now, at the bottom of the 9th inning with 2 runs to get to claim the win, it would be Mateo charged with saving the game from the hungry looking Dragons. Viciedo would take the first at bat and continue his great run of contact with a double.
Nanita would take a walk to get runners onto first and third. Tomonaga came on as a pinch-runner for Nanita to end the Dominican's night. Tetsuya Tani would unfortunately blow a bunting opportunity to be declared out. Next, up stepped Donoue, who had been subbed in earlier in the previous fielding innings. The #63 was given order to take a stroll to load the bases with 1 out. Mateo was reportedly having trouble getting his slider to work properly and the closer now had his work cut out for him. It was now Sugiyama's turn to step up to the plate to see if he could force a win or at least a draw out of the game. The catcher caught a hold of one to send it over the centre-fielders head, Viciedo came to home plate, scoring and now beckoning Tomonaga to come in for the win and it was the pinch-runner who would seal the victory 4-3 thanks to a walk-off double from the always reliable Sugiyama. Scenes. Tanishige had the biggest grin on his face as his team pulled of a momentous victory in the closing moments of the game.
Fukutani would be credited with the win for his 1/3 of an inning (baseball is weird isn't it?) and Mateo was credited with the loss and probably rightly so.
One would struggle to say this was a "deserved" victory. I certainly felt we got away with it but it speaks volumes that the team was willing to dig deep and try and bail Yamai out. 3 runs is a very chaseable total and it was great to have the batting lineup respond. It helped that the pitching wasn't on point either. The unlikely hero was Atsuhi Fujii who has looked like he couldn't hit the broadside of a heifer with a banjo recently, but it was a telling contribution from the Toyohashi native to get the ball rolling on the comeback trail.
Sugiyama and Nanita had the pick of the statistics with 2 hits and a walk a piece.
You can watch the 9th inning here:
Anderson Hernandez made his return to the team following Jordan's de-registering as Akasaka dropped from the first team to spend some time with the seconds after his average performances so far in the series.
Naylor opened proceedings in the first inning showing good pace and allowing one hit and striking out one to end his inning.
The Dragons attack started early as while Ohshima failed to get off the mark, Donoue, restored to the starting line-up, cracked a double to start things off. Shuhei, coming in at now his trademark 3rd spot in the line-up joined in the fun and smashed a double of his own that reached the right field fence and maybe should have been caught by Egoshi. But nonetheless, the Dragons were on the board, 1-0.
Viciedo's ground out would allow Shuhei to get on third, but Nanita couldn't make it count as he struck-out to end the inning.
Lots of action early on! The parries and thrusts would continue until the top of the fourth inning as Egoshi picked off a single to start things off. Gomez grounded out but that allowed Egoshi to gain ground and move to second base. Now, here's where it gets interesting. With Hague now up to bat, Egoshi had the guile to make a play to steal third base. While Sugiyama picked up on the run, a poor throw that Takahashi couldn't deal with allowed Egoshi to safely get into third and with ball passing the 3rd baseman and floating into the crowd, the Hanshin man took order to walk off to the home plate to even up the scores at 1-1. Naylor had been watching his man, but 9 times out of 10 a catcher will pick off a steal at third. Credit to Egoshi for having the courage to give it a go and for succeeding.
The next scoring play would come in the 6th inning and it was to be the Dragons to take the lead for a second time. Takahashi and Viciedo both took singles to begin the innings and who else but Nanita was there to hit a double to send home the big Cuban to take a 2-1 lead. It would spell the end of the night for Iwata to bring Ando to the mound. Tani would mess up another bunt as a mishit from Fukuda ended up grounding into a double play to end the inning.
The Dragons would come close to extending their lead in the 7th inning as Daiki Enokida replaced Ando and immediately allowed Sugiyama a single. Tomonaga came in as a pinch-bunter for Naylor to allow Sugiyama to second. Ohshima then took a dead ball to walk onto first while Donoue topped one to send the ball into the catchers hand. Takahashi would however take a scenic walk down the dirt road to load up the bases but uncharacteristically, Viciedo failed to make the best of the situation as he foul fly ball was caught to end the inning. A very tense ending was to be upon us. Tajima took down Nishioka, Egoshi and Gomez while the Dragons batters once again tried to push through to no avail as the former Dragon, Akifumi Takahashi took Fujii and Sugiyama out of the game with consecutive strikeouts following a sacrifice bunt from Araki earlier on to end the inning.
At the top of the 9th, it was the Tigers last chance to get something out of the game. Either a leveler to take it into extra time or a winner to snatch an unlikely victory. Koji Fukutani would once again take up closing duties. Things started well for the pitcher as he ground out Hague to start things. Toritani would hit a single before Yokota forced his captain into a ground out at second while moving to first base. This brought out Imanari to pinch-hit for Takahashi. Imanari hit into right field giving time for the speedy Yokota to get to third. Kanemoto, the Hanshin skipper then decided to go for broke as he brought in Kosuke Fukudome, who had been under an injury cloud, to pinch-hit for his last catcher, Okazaki. Whether it was the stature of the former Dragons star, the heat of the moment or just general nerves, Fukutani was sweating buckets for what was a mild, early Spring evening. The young closer stepped up, threw down his pitch and there was a sound of wood on ball as Fukudome somewhat miraculously split first and second to register a hit and even up the scores at 2-2.
Naylor was now denied a win in any case and Fukutani had blown his save. Amazingly, Fukutani was one of 4 pitchers on the day in the NPB to blow their saves. A poor day for closers!
The inning would end with a ground out on Takayama. Now without a recognized catcher, the Tigers threw the gear on Imanari to see out what was left of the game.
Takamiya took over from Takahashi in the bottom of the 9th and he was able to rip through Hernandez, Ohshima and Donoue to ensure that we would need extra innings to decide the game.
Matayoshi would have the honours to take the 10th inning and the man who looks a lot like Lupin III, dismissed Nishioka and Egoshi, gave a hit to Gomez and took credit for the centre-fly out of Matt Hague.
Takahashi would be at the head the bottom of the 10th inning and the prodigal son would keep doing what he does best, finding a way to base, as he elected to walk to first. Takamiya was then withdrawn to allow Fukuhara to try and restore parity. Viciedo would be the man to take guard. At a count of 3 balls and 1 strike the eyes of the Cuban glistened like sunlight reflecting off a cube of ice in a glass of Havana Club Reserva, it was coming. Here it was. a 140km straight ball on outer path. A big, hearty swing from the Tank and a longful gaze after the ball as it sailed into the right outfield bleachers to end the game with a walk-off homerun. 4-2. Who says baseball isn't exciting? A point to the dugout and a bit ol' smile on Dayan's face capped off another brilliant end to a game that honestly looked like it was getting away from us.
Tanishige apparently wasn't all that optimistic going into the final innings. He commented that "Whatever (Viciedo) did, he was going to be forgiven. It wasn't thought he'd get the excitement up, but he done did it."
A 3-game sweep of the Tigers would be a just reward for the fighting spirit of the team. They took advantage of poor pitching when it was presented and they backed up those that didn't perform. Ricardo Nanita has to be close to the player of the series as no one could stop his hitting. He has looked much improved this year and is certainly a valuable player with his present form.
In other news, due to the earthquakes in Kumamoto and Oita prefecture, the regional games scheduled against the Giants in Kumamoto and Kagoshima have been cancelled. All NPB teams have been collecting donations for the disaster stricken region and my heart goes out to them as well. The team has already decided on helping things with a 2 million yen donation ($20,000ish).
Tanishige has been ruled out of the weekend games with the Swallows after he was diagnosed with type-A influenza. Shigekazu Mori, the head coach, is expected to stand in his place. That's about all he needs to do anyway. Stand and watch. I wish Tanishige a speedy recovery.
As of Monday, Junki Ito has been de-registered by the team which makes one wonder why he was registered at all as he failed to play any part in the two games he was available for.
It has also been announced that June 18th will be "Girls Day" at the Nagoya dome and all the ladies will receive a snazzy jersey for turning up.
There's also something else that I picked up on twitter that I thought that I would translate and share. It's the Dragons injury list. It's quite a long one when compared to the other teams and it is worrying in particular the amount of pitchers we have missing.
|Chunichi Dragons Injury List|
|6||OF||Ryosuke Hirata||Left groin/pelvic pain|
|18||P||Shota Suzuki||Side pain|
|20||P||Ryosuke Nomura||Right shoulder pain|
|22||P||Yudai Ohno||Left elbow discomfort|
|23||IF||Issei Endo||Right shoulder inflammation|
|26||OF||Mastaka Iryo||Body pain (unspecified)|
|36||IF||Ryota Ishioka||Slipped disc hernia|
|41||P||Takuya Asao||Right shoulder inflammation|
|42||P||Juan Jaime||Right shoulder pain|
|44||P||Raul Valdes||Left shoulder pain|
|51||P||Masashi Yamamoto||Back pain|
|58||P||Tomoya Yagi||Left elbow pain|
|68||C||Ryuichiro Akasaka||Fractured right thumb|
|203||P||Seiya Nakagawa||Right calf pain|
|210||P||Kaito Goya||Left shoulder pain|
I can say however that Ryuichiro Akasaka appears to be on the mend as he appeared as a pinch-hitter against the Hawks in Tuesday's farm game, as did Ryosuke Hirata. Still, the amount of pitchers out injured is a worry with Endo and Asao in particular leaving holes. Jaime was very unlucky to get injured in his Spring training and is still recovering. He was brought in as a closer to cover for Fukutani, but with Iwase now back in action it looks unlikely that he'll be needed. Still a pitcher that can supposedly hit over 160km/h might be worth looking at if he can get back on his feet.
That's it for a big day of news and big 3 wins for the Dragons!