It was a battle of the pitchers on Friday night for Game 1 against the Seibu Lions in Saitama.
Former Giants and Fighters outfielder, Takahito Kudo was elevated to the starting 9 as Ryosuke Hirata was put on ice due to back pain complaints.
Jordan Norberto started on the mound and did all he could to keep the Dragons in the hunt for honours. His quick motion kept the Lions on their toes as the Dominican, apart from one hiccup in the 2nd inning where he loaded the bases, on top to keep his team in the game. Jordan threw down 130 pitches in 7 innings fanning 9 and walking 5 for 3 earned hits. Massive numbers for the southpaw.
Shinsaburo Tawada for the Lions as well was well in control showing magnificent accuracy and form with his pitches in what commentators dubbed as his best performance out of the farm. He pitched 107 in 8 innings fanning 8 and only walking two for the same amount of hits as Jordan.
Relievers on both sides would do their jobs as Yamai and Okada held for the Dragons while Masuda and Makita held for the Lions
The decisive run would come in the final extra inning off Shinji Tajima’s pitching as Akiyama’s RBI single sent Uemoto home to seal a walk-off win.
A very close game that was decided in the worse way possible for the Dragons but that was the ball game. Top pitching from both sides made for a great spectacle.
Game 2 would be a much higher scoring affair with Yudai Ohno his second start since recovering from injury. The Dragons ace would be up against Yasuo Sano in his first start of the year.
Ohno would be the first to break in the 3rd inning as a sac-fly from Asamura allowed Kaneko to open the scoring. It wouldn’t be held for long as in the bottom of the inning, Hirata was scored by Nanita from a sac-fly of his own to even things up. Katsura would take the lead for the Dragons in the 5th through another sac-fly as Donoue wandered home to make it 1-2. Ohno unfortunately however hit a bad run in the bottom of the inning as he gave up a walk to Kaneko, a hit to Onizaki and another walk to load the bases; the rot would continue however as Mejia elected to walk to put Lions back on an even footing. It would be however Hirata the hero in the 8th as the captain mashed a 2-run homer, his 8th of the season, to give the Dragons the lead.
Ohno would pitch out a complete game and close out a well -deserved win.
Hirata and Ohno showed why they were chosen for the Premier 12 with their performances today. Both showed just how important they are to the Dragons with match winning contributions.
Game 3 against the Lions would have a different complexion again. Kazuki Yoshimi started for the Dragons while Ryoma Nogami started for the Lions.
The mightly Lions would strike metal first as Mejia took the bat to Yoshimi and sent him over the fence for a solo homer, his 21st of the season, in the 1st inning.
The Dragons would quickly reply however through Sugiyama as his single allowed Viciedo to score. Chunichi would take the lead in the 6th inning after a pitcher induced lull as Donoue struck a triple to send Nanita in to score, 1-2. In the 7th inning, Yamai was introduced to replace Ogawa and a poor throw from Kamezawa to Viciedo at first would allow Mejia a base hit and send Akiyama home to even the scores. News would get worse for Yamai as he gave up a hit to Asamura who scored Mejia to grab the lead for the Lions. Masuda was brought in to end proceedings and did a good job of it giving up just the one hit to Kamezawa before closing out to claim the save.
Shota Takekuma grabbed his 3rd win of the season as Yamai lost his 7th game, ranking him as the least successful pitcher in the Central League.
A bittersweet series to end the road tour on, but they were hard fought on both sides. The pitchers prevailed during the series with both Seibu and Chunichi lads fronting up great performances.
For the Lions perspective on the games, be sure to check out the lads at Graveyard Baseball for all things Seibu. The boys over there do a lot of good work.
Our second last inter-league match of the year (barring play-offs; HAH) would be up against the Chiba Lotte Marines. Now I have a soft spot for the Marines, the first game of baseball I ever saw was an inter-league game between the Marines and the Dragons at QVC stadium plus I live in Chiba so it’s hard not to like them at least a little bit (plus I really like Kakunaka).
Anyway, the first game would be in Gifu as the Dragons took one of their home games to Nagaragawa ball park. This is another personal little thing for me as I fell in love with the Dragons while living in Gifu!
Shinnosuke Ogasawara was in my mind scheduled to start this game, but Tanishige had other plans as he started the most veteran of the pitching staff, Raul Valdes. Ayumu Ishikawa would be the opponent and a tough one at that as the Lotte pitcher has already won 6 of his 9 games this season.
Lotte would be the ones to take an early lead in Gifu as Kakunaka’s single sent Hosoya home to score. Yamaico Navarro would then step up and stamp his authority on the game by rifling a homer into the upper tiers of the stands to make it 0-3.
Valdes would go some way to atoning for his pitching in the 3rd inning as his base hit sent Donoue into score, 1-3. Hirata’s heroics would then get Dragons hopes up with his solo homer in the 6th to make it 2-3.
However it wasn’t to be as a Kiyota solo shot in the 9th ended all hopes of a fight back to end the game at 2-4.
Hirata was the best of the Chunichi bats with 2 in 4 but there wasn’t enough about the team to overcome a very good Ayumu Ishikawa.
Back to the Nagoya Dome for game 2 and it was Shunta Wakamatsu back on the mound while a thus far undefeated Ryota Sekiya starting things off for the Marines.
Lotte would once again not hold back early on as they hammered Wakamatsu from the off with a lead-off homerun from Hosoya.
Navarro would continue the scoring in the first with a base hit to send Alberto Despaigne home to make it 0-2. Nanita hauled one back in the bottom of the inning as he scored Araki, but Hosoya would be at it again in the 2nd inning with a two base hit to restore Chiba’s lead to two. Things would get worse for Wakamatsu in the 5th as he loaded up the bases only to walk Sekiya to cause an overload bringing Suzukihome. Hosoya the grabbed his 3rd and 4th RBIs of the game with a hit to bring Kiyota and Tamiura home to bust the game open at 1-6.
Donoue would restore some respectability to the game with his 3rd homer of the season in the 5th.
But it wouldn’t be enough to beat the Marines as the superior fire power of the Pac League side blasted 12 hits to the Dragons 5.
Hosoya was clearly the man of the match with his 4 RBIs with just about everything he touched turning to gold. Wakamatsu has to sort himself out as I really don’t think the Central League batters are going to be kind to him when we go back to regular season games. Sugiyama was the only real batter of note with his 2 base hits while, apart from Donoue, the others failed to really contribute postively
Heading into Game 3, the Dragons were looking to avoid a sweep at home and up to the mound came the junior, Shinnosuke Ogasawara to take on Kouta Futaki.
Giving up leads early on has been our specialty this series and the inevitable would only be delayed by one inning as Tamura’s sac-fly scored Marines captain, Daisuke Suzuki to make it 0-1. The Dragons would however find a way back through Donoue’s RBI double to make it 1-1 but the Marines would take the lead back through a Suzuki sac-fly with loaded bases as he scored Kakunaka to take a 2-1 lead. Kiyota would further extend the lead immediately after with 2-base hit to send Alberto Despaigne home, 1-3. Ogasawara was then withdrawn for Shinji Tajima but neither team would budge from the 1-3 score line as Nishino claimed his 17th save of the season (what a pace is that!?).
A sweep to the Marines and a first career loss to Ogasawara marked a pretty dismal day. Despaigne was on fire for the Marines with 3 hits while Kakunaka struck two and claimed a walk. For the Dragons Ohshima and Yusuke Matsui both claimed two hits a piece in a very even game where both sides hit 7 base hits each.
A pretty poor performance overall, but the Marines are just a level above what we can offer at the moment. Injuries are taking their toll as well as we’re still waiting for the return of a host of players including Ryosuke Oguma and Shuhei Takahashi. Hirata was out of the third game with back issues as well.
Check out We Love Marines for all the Chiba Lotte news you need and the Ouendan as well as all the Pacific League news you didn't need!
Last of all, this week John Gibson and Jim Allen's Japan Baseball podcast this week will have our very own Ricardo Nanita on the show for a chat. Definitely check it out when it drops!