The last round of interleague play would bring about old foes, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The Fighters are probably best known abroad for fostering the growth of Texas Rangers ace, Yuu Darvish as well as home of the man that may follow in the aforementioned’s footsteps, Shohei Ohtani. To Dragons fans, at least in recent memory, the Fighters were the team that they traded Japan Series blows with in 2006 and 2007, the latter series where the Dragons clinched their J-Series title in 53 years off the back of a Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase combined, sphincter clinching, 1-0, perfect game.
Game 1 at the Nagoya dome would see Jordan Norberto face off against Luis Mendoza. Both pitchers went pound for pound the whole game with Jordan pitching 115 balls in 7 1/3 scoreless innings for 8 strikeouts. The Dominican has put in some great shows of stamina recently and his accuracy as well has to be applauded. Mendoza went 7 innings pitching a comparatively economic 88 deliveries with 6 strikeouts and 3 hits conceded.
The deciding event of the game would be a combination between old hands, Yohei Ohshima and Ryosuke Hirata. Ohshima got to first only to be bunted ahead by Araki. Hirata stepped up to take a two base hit and send his lead-off hitter home to end the scoring at 1-0 in the 4th inning.
Commentators made mention of the vague similarity to Yamai and Iwase’s heroics 9 years ago, and apart from the 5 hits that Jordan conceded, it was pretty close to replay as Tajima took his 4th save of the season to end the game.
Game 2 would see another appearance from the re-born Yudai Ohno on the mound as he faced off against Mitsuo Yoshikawa to try and win the series for the Dragons.
Hirata would be the hero once again as his solo homer in the bottom of the first set the Dragons off to a winning start.
Takuya Nakajima however would take advantage of a wayward Ohno in the 5th inning after the bases were loaded up with a single to even the scores. The Dragons would however retake the lead in the 6th through that man, Hirata as he sent Araki home after his successful steal, 2-1. Nanita would add to the carnage through a two-base hit to allow Hirata to score and make it 3-1. Brandon Laird however gave the Fighters hope in the 9th through a solo homer of his own.
It was however to be of no consequence as Tajima settled and took out Asama and Ushino consecutively to end the game and claim the save.
Hirata was “da man” with his two game deciding hits while Nanita, Ohshima and Hernandez all chipped in with hits of their own to contribute to the victory. Ohno threw down 7 innings with 3 strikes and 3 walks or 1 earned run while Matayoshi held and Tajima made the save. Another even game that the Dragons just edged with a bit of individual brilliance to give the Dragons a series win.
Game 3 and the final game of interleague play would see a battle of aces old and new with Shohei Ohtani facing up against Chunichi’s ace in the hole, Kazuki Yoshimi. It would take until the 6th inning before the Fighters broke through with Brandon Laird’s timely two base hit to send Ohtani in to score, 1-0. Ohtani himself would contribute with the bat in the 8th after a bizarre substitution of three pitchers, Okada, Matayoshi and Ogawa loaded up the bases. Ohtani took a walk off Ogawa to give the Fighters some room at 2-0. It would take the 4th pitcher change of the inning in Daisuke Sobue to end the inning. Daikan Yoh would be the next to add to the lead as his single off Daisuke Yamai sent Taniguchi home, 3-0. The Dragons would try their best to rally in the bottom of the 9th as Masui gave up a walk to Hirata and a hit to Viciedo to put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Ricardo Nanita’s then ground out to first would allow Hirata to score to put things at 3-1. Hernandez’s base hit would then score Viciedo to bring the scores to 3-2 and a tense moment for Ham closer, Masui. Nomoto would then take a walk to bring the closer off the mound to be replaced by Chris Martin. Up against the former Fighter, Takahito Kudo, Martin fanned the veteran outfielder to end the game and claim the save. A tense ending to a great game.
Daikan Yoh was the pick of the hitters with his three while Hernandez and Viciedo both claimed two hits a piece for the Dragons. Yoshimi looked good in his 6 innings as he fanned 8 while giving up one earned run. The less perhaps said about the bullpen this game the better.
An overall series win for the Dragons in some very tightly contested but enjoyable games.
The Dragons finished the interleague standing in a respectable mid-table 8th with a 7-11 record, the weakest team batting average at .195 but conversely the best team ERA with 2.31.
Chunichi currently sits at 3rd on the Central League ladder after 70 games with a .478 winning average.
The team now has a rest until Friday when the play the Yakult Swallows at Jingu.
The good news to come out of camp this week however is that Shuhei Takahashi looks set to be on the return train as he was given the all clear to join the 2-gun team for practice. Juan Jaime made it through he first bull-pen practice since he was injured in pre-season and Drew Naylor doesn't look likely to return until at least after the all-star break.
As for the All-star fan voting, as of the 20th a few Dragons players have popped up. Wakamatsu is the main nominated starter with 19,224 votes but Tomoyuki Sugano is way ahead of the pack with 131, 239 votes. Baystars Shota Imanaga trails him with 101,879 votes while Hiroki Kuroda of the Carp sits in third.
Shinji Tajima however sits in the lead of voting for relief pitcher with 168,852 being trailed by Tomoya Mikami of the Baystars and Scott Mathieson of the Giants.
Viciedo is second with 121,470 at the moment for 1st base behind Takahiro Arai who's well ahead with 214, 646 votes. Mauro Gomez rounds out the top 3.
Tetsuto Yamada is unsurprisingly taking the lions share of votes for second base with 252, 631, Ryosuke Kikuchi trails him by around 100k votes. Masahiro Araki however sits in 4th 10,000 votes off 3rd placed Luis Cruz.
Shingo Kawabata looks set to take 3rd, but our boy Shuhei sits third in the ranking with 63, 341 behind Giants favourite Shuichi Murata.
Naomichi Donoue sneaks into the top 5 for short-stop with 59,123 votes, but Hayato Sakamoto sits on top with 183, 373 votes.
Meanwhile in the outfield Ryosuke Hirata is the only one that gets a mention in the top 8 as he sit is 5th behind Tsutusgo, Maru, Takayama and Eldred in the voting. No sign of Nanita; what a travesty.
I'll fill you in when the selections are made but for the time being you can review the current count here.
Hirata and Tajima are probably certain selections at this stage, apart from that we'll just have to see what happens!