The start of inter-league play! One of the more interesting caveats of the season to break up the monotony of playing the same 5 times over and over again! The Pacific League has been the better between the two leagues of late and the inter-league competition would be another proving ground to see how teams on either side are fairing.
The Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka would be the first challenge for the 2nd placed Dragons. The Hawks are of course the reining Japan Series and Pacific League Champs and after a rocky start to the season, sit perched high on the table with no signs of slowing down.
In Game 1 Shinnosuke Ogasawara was in the limelight for the lead up as the first draft rookie had been hyped up for his first start on his pro debut against the Hawks. Ogasawara would make a minor record on his appearance becoming the first high school rookie to debut on the opening day of inter-league play. A very specific record, but a nice one to have nonetheless. Rick Van den Hurk would be the starter for the Hawks and the lanky starter would prove to be a tough challenge to overcome.
Ogasawara pitched with great poise, control and balance in the opening 2 innings as his change-up wreaked havoc on the Softbank line-up. He didn’t wait long for his first career strike-out as he took care of Makihara in quick time. After seeing Imamiya ground out, Ogasawara then struck-out Hawks star, Yuki Yanagita to end the inning. A very promising start.
The Dragons opened the score first in the 3rd inning through Ricardo Nanita as he belted his 3rd homerun of the season making it 0-1.
The Hawks would return fire in the bottom of the 3rd through Imamiya who got the first hit against Ogasawara on the evening and the first RBI as he split the centre, 1-1. It was however to be former Hawk, Kyouhei Kamezawa that would strike back in the top of the 4th to give the lead to Chunichi once more with a sacrifice fly, 2-1. Ogasawara would keep the Hawks out of the game as he pitched a total of 5 innings for 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts and 7 walks. Hiroto Fuku took over for one inning with Daisuke Sobue taking the other to keep a hold of the Hawks attack and give Ogasawara the best chance possible to get his first win on his pro debut. In the 8th inning, Fukutani was given the chance to keep the good work going but after taking two outs he gave up consecutive hits to Uchikawa and Hasegawa. Matsuda then evened up the scores with a a single while Nakamura rifled in a 3 RBI double to stretch the winning score to 5-2. Fukutani had absolutely blown it. With only one out to get he let it slip away. Possible mentally unprepared for such a battering, the Chunichi counter-attack was rendered useless by Dennis Sarfate who ripped through Nomoto, Ohshima and Kamezawa to end the game, claim the save and most importantly the win.
One can only feel frustrated for Ogasawara who had a debut win in his sights. It all came down to Fukutani though and the poor lad was devastated in the post-game barely being able to look at his team-mates. Needless to say, Fukutani was sent down to the 2-gun after his performance. Tajima looks set to be the closer for the time being.
Ogasawara however fulfilled and exceeded my expectations. His first few innings were absolute dynamite. He looks to have gotten a bit bigger since being drafted and his 140km+ straight balls and his change-up looked really good. He seems to have a decent curve ball on him as well which he didn’t quite get working on the night. The weapons seem to be there he just needs to put them to good use. My benchmark for him in the game was to remain at 1 earned run for 5 innings and he did that with gusto. I’m very proud of the young man. I hope we get to see more of him this season.
Game 2 of interleague play would see Shunta Wakamatsu take to the mound to try and reverse his bad luck of late, losing his last 4 games on the trot. Tsuyoshi Wada would be his opposite number on the mound with the veteran Hawks pitcher only losing 1 game and winning 6.
Donoue started things of brightly in the second as he hit Viciedo home to open the scoring in the 2nd. Hirata would then chip in with some of the good stuff at the right time as in the 3rd inning the Chunichi captain cracked three run homer into the stands to make it 0-4.
Viciedo would end the scoring in the 5th inning with an RBI single to send Ohshima home. Wakamatsu pitched out the game very well as the Hawks struggled against his wizardry. Wakamatsu claimed 8Ks in 8 innings giving up 2 walks and only 3 hits. A tremendous return to form. This writer however is a tad pessimistic as he things the Pacific League boys just haven’t had the time to figure him out like the Central League batters have. Hirata and Viciedo both had two hits a piece today and figured prominently in the reckoning. Good win for the Dragons to bounce back from the previous evenings unfortunate loss.
Game 3 against the Hawks would bring with it a bit of nostalgia for the Dragons fans as former starter Kenichi Nakata started for the Hawks. The Kyushu-born pitcher had some good years with the Dragons but was still looking for his first win of the season. Raul Valdes would take the ball to start the Dragons pitching.
These kind of match ups interest me. Do former players, particularly pitchers, have an inside knowledge that helps them against their old team mates? I can only think there has to be something to that line of thinking.
Anyway, it was to be the reverse of my thinking to start off as former teammates Nakata and Fujii did battle in the 1st inning only for the latter to come out the winner as he whacked a solo homer into the stands to start things off for the Dragons, 0-1.
The Hawks would reply immediately however as with only one out taken, Valdes loaded up the bases. Hasegawa would take the opportunity to but the Hawks into the lead with a 2 RBI single followed by Matsuda’s sac-fly to make the scores 3-1. Nanita’s second solo homer of the series in the fourth but the Dragons back in reaching distance.
But the Hawks would taketh away through Imamiya’s solo homer in the 4th to make it 4-2 and restore the two point gap.
Hiroto Fuku was brought in to replace Valdes but the youngster couldn’t stem the tide; he didn’t get much help from his teammates either. Honda looked to be on his way to grounding out but a poor pick up from Kamezawa got the veteran home as well as scoring Tsuruoka. Uchikawa would then rub salt into the wounds with an RBI single to blow the score out to 6-2.
The Dragons failed to rally and only mustered 3 hits from their 9 innings, two of which were homeruns. So concluded another poor showing from the batters that were shown up by their former pitching staff.
A 1-2 loss over the series was a result I probably would have taken at the beginning of the series but if not for Fukutani’s head explosion in the first game, we might have been celebrating a series win. Wasn’t to be and now we’ll have to redeem ourselves against Rakuten in Nagoya.
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