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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Regular Season: Games 4,5 & 6 vs Hiroshima Carp @Nagoya Dome, March 29th-31st

It was to be an emotional train ride for Dragons fans upon their first round of games at home in the pitchers paradise that is the Nagoya dome. It would not however help the pitchers of either side too much as 34 runs were scored over the course of the 3 games. Out of those 34 runs however, there was only one home-run, a grand slam no less and a dramatic one at that, but I'll get to that later. 

Lets start off with game 4 of the season. The first game of the year at the Nagoya dome is always a big event and the occasion was crowned with foods selected by the players being sold in the stands. A nice little touch. A lot of the lads picked foods from their various places of birth.

The opening ceremonial pitch was sent down by a man of great significance to the Dragons, 90 year old, Shigeru Sugishita. Nicknamed, "The god of the Fork," Sugishita, the three time Eiji Sawamura Award winner, took 1,761 strikeouts in his career with winning percentage of .636 and an ERA of 2.23. He would very much keep his dignity as well, launching his pitch on the full from the mound. Not bad from a 90 year old.

The game was started Yusuke Nomura of the Carp who was able to see off the first of the Dragons attack, looking very composed. Nomura lost more games than he won last year and was clearly looking to get his first win of the season nice and early.

The Dragons would open proceedings with Shunta "Mr Change-up" Wakamatsu. He did look a little shaky in his pre-season appearances and that impression would not be easy to remove as the Carp took an early lead in the 2nd. Hector Luna, the former Dragons man, was singled out by Wakamatsu previous to the game where the young pitcher claimed that Luna was weak to in-course balls. Luna would tell the youngster to put in your pipe and smoke at he reached first-base in his first at-bat. The second foreign slugger on the line-up, Brad Eldred struck out against the change-up but veteran Takahiro Arai would hit long claiming 2 bases for himself as a surprisingly fleet-footed Luna ran home to make the first scoring play of the day. After three innings, Shuhei Takahashi would be the first to make base before he was forced into a double play thanks to Issei Endo. Ohshima and Hernandez would push the boundaries once again in the 4th, but find the lack of power behind them frustrating as Endo, Viciedo and Nanita failed to take advantage of the scenario.

Things would get worse in the 5th as Wakamatsu gave up a two base hit to Gifu native, and childhood Dragons fan, Tsubasa Aizawa. Aizawa would then be sent home by Carp sophomore, Kousuke Tanaka to make it 2-0. Another game where the Dragons had failed to take the lead and were chasing once more with less than half the game left. A dramatic turn around however would be around the corner.

In the bottom of the 6th, Hernandez would get ground out to start, but Endo found himself in the way of a pitch before his canter to first. The man of the moment, Dayan Viciedo would then send his number 3 batter to third base while El Tank got to second. Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Ricardo Nanita who came in to replace Hirata for the game, hit a long one to right field, sending Endo and Viciedo into score to level things up at 2-2. Fujii would fly out, but the other in-form player in the batting line-up, Shuhei Takahashi would help Nanita on his way as he hit 2 bases through the centre to overturn the scoreline to a 3-2 winning margin. The scoring was not to end there as Shota Sugiyama showed what he could do with the bat as he too joined in the double hitting fun, sending home Takahashi to make it 4-2. The rally of runs would stop there however as Akasaka ground out.

Wakamatsu, Chunichi's "Doctor K," would be relieved the following inning after taking 10 strikes in 6 innings. Certainly a valuable contribution despite leaking a couple of runs. No walks either which tells you he was putting them in the zone when it was important. Tajima and Matayoshi would take an inning each of relief before Koji Fukutani stepped in at the 9th to make the save.

Wakamatsu was the winning pitcher today while Shuhei Takahashi took home the man of the match accolades for his winning hit.

Here's some key moment highlights:

Game five would be far less memorable for Dragons fans as worries over the quality of the starting rotation came to fruition. Tatsuro Hamada started this game for the Dragons and quite honestly didn't look like a pro-pitcher. The man once named as one of the "Big 3" pitchers at Koshien alongside Shintaro Fujinami and Shohei Ohtani has not lived up to the tag since his move into pro-ball. While looking shaky but serviceable in the open games, he looked completely out of his depth against the Carp. Conversely, Hiroshima's rookie pitcher, Hiroki Yokoyama looked like a seasoned pro by comparison and performed well. Had the Carp manager has more wits about him, Yokoyama might have walked away with better stats at the end of it as well.

Why me?
Hamada survived the first inning without giving away a hit and Yokoyama hit Viciedo in his opening inning to get things underway. Hamada wouldn't keep the Carp out for very long though as his 2nd inning quickly saw Eldred onto base while Takahiro Arai helped the American get to third base with a double. Souichiro Amaya would seize the initiative to send Eldred home and move Arai to third with another Carp double. Things would get worse for Hamada where a wild pitch allowed Arai to score to make it 0-2. Hamada would continue his wayward ways as he walked Ishihara. Yokoyama, the pitcher, then enacted a squeeze play allowing Amaya to make it 3-0. Hamada would walk lead off-hitter Tanaka before Ryosuke Kikuchi skied one to third base to end the inning. Nightmarish stuff.

Yokoyama did will in his first pro-win
Yokoyama would continue to pitch well, keeping the inconsistent batting line-up at bay but the Carp would open up a can of whoop-ass on Hamada to knock him out of the game in the 5th. Kikuchi would advance to first base after a hit into the outfield and Maru hit one into the corner pocket to send Speedy Kikuchi on his way home to make it 0-4. The misery would continue to pile on as Hamada would walk two and allow two more hits to blow the scoreline out to 0-6. Tanishige had enough of the scattergun lefty and sent out Okada to relieve. While finding success with a strikeout against Ishihara in his first battle with bases loaded, Okada would walk Yokoyama to allow one more in 0-7.
Chunichi would start some semblance of a comeback in the bottom of the 5th as a tiring
Yokoyma gave walks to Sugiyama and pinch-hitter, Kudo. Ohshima would then load the bases with a hit. Anderson Hernandez could not however make the best of the situation and grounded into a double-play but allowing Sugiyama to score, 1-7 Endo would go out with a whimper to end the inning. Okada would give up a further two runs in the 6th to make the score 1-9.

The Carp skipper's reluctance to sub his rookie out of the game allowed Chunichi to have a sniff in the 8th as Hernandez got himself a hit before Viciedo moved onto base to join his Carribean brother in arms on the bags. Ricardo Nanita, the hero of the previous game, made another telling contribution by hitting his Dominican compatriot, Hernandez back into the shed to make it 2-9. Hirata would then pinch hit for Ogawa, electing to take a walk and load the bases. Yokoyama would then make his final contribution of the game, walking Sugiyama to allow Viciedo a saunter into home to make it 3-9. 

Carp would continue to rub salt in the wounds by adding another 2 runs against Matayoshi in the 9th inning. Hirotaka Egusa would see out the last inning scoreless to close-out a big win for the Carp, and an embarrassing loss for the Dragons. The only real positive to take out of the game was that the batting line-up produced something at least and Ogawa continued his relatively impressive start to the season remaining scoreless.

Unfortunately for Hamada, following the game he was de-registered from the roster and has since been sent to the 2-gun team to work on his control.

Game 6 would be a winning slice of the 3 game sandwich as key contributions from Shuhei Takahashi, Dayan Viciedo and the bull-pen pitchers to turn what looked to be a certain defeat into an unlikely victory.

The game would start off strange enough as rookie pitcher, Hiroto Fuku was given the ball to stat proceedings. The left-armer has barely played a starting role in the lead-up and was firstly included in the team as a relief arm. His total pro-experience was 1/3 of an inning against Hanshin in the 2nd game of the season. With more than a few heads turned by the decision, it was no surprise to see the youngster start of nervously. 

Fuku would start off in earnest taking Tanaka out on a fly ball to right field, but Carp star Ryosuke Kikuchi found himself on base early in the game. With the speedy Kikuchi on base, and solid hit would produce a scoring opportunity and it was the outfielder, Maru who sent the diminutive fielding genius into score. 0-1 

Things would get worse for Fuku, the man dubbed the "handsome Gorilla,"as Kikuchi would come back to haunt him by taking his turn to drill home 2 batters to make the score 0-3. Fuku had previously let Amaya walk before letting Ishihara to get to base. Johnson's bunt put runners on second and third and a walk given to Tanaka loaded the bases. Hands were on heads from Chunichi fans who had see their team go behind every game this season. Memories fresh of Hamada the night before had many, including myself, fearing the worst. It wouldn't get much better. Fuku has a good 3rd inning before throwing 2 outs and 2 walks before being replaced by Yuta Mutoh. Mutoh however would not be able to repair Fuku's mistakes as he allowed a double to the on-fire Kikuchi to see the score tick over to 0-5. Mutoh would however go on to take three strikes in his 1 and a bit innings ending a decent comeback to the first team. Ryosuke Oguma, who was thought by some to maybe be starting that night, continued the good work as he took 6 straight outs in his 2 innings. By this time, Carp pitcher, Kris Johnson was starting to tire and it showed as Chunichi were steadily building more hits against the American. The plug would be pulled on Johnson in the top of the 7th inning as he was replaced by Oscar. It would be the beginning of the end for Hiroshima however as the rot set in.

Tetsuya Tani who has been tearing up the Western League with the 2-gun team, had his first involvement with the first this season, pinch-hitting of Oguma. Tani impressed straight away and hit the first ball on offer to grab a single. Ohshima would also join in with a single to get on base while Araki flew out to centre allowing Tani to move to third. The start of a pinch situation for Oscar would not be well dealt with, with Endo taking to the task at the double and sending Tani home to make it 1-5. With Endo now on second with Ohshima on third, Oscar was pulled to make way for Ren Nakata. The new Carp pitcher's first contribution would be a dead ball to send Viciedo to 1st and load the bases. Nakata would fail to deal with the pressure as he consecutively walked Hirata and Fujii to make it 3-5. Now with the in-form Shuhei at bat and a feeling things were going the Dragons way optimism started to creep in. It was for good reason as well as Nakata, proving he could do nothing right today, let Shuhei clear the long fence at Nagoya Dome to for a massive GRAND SLAM to turn the game right on it's head. 7-5. 

The golden boy, Shuhei had done everything expected of him and more to claim his first home run of the season and to spare the blushes of Fuku in his debut. Nakata, having done all he could to help the Dragons get back into the game was then sent back to the pen to think about what he did as Takeru Imamura took back control despite allowing two hits. 

Insult would be added to injury in the 8th. Another pitcher change brought Jumpei Ono to the mound. He would proceed to give up a walk to Endo, a hit to Viciedo, and walk Hirata to load the bases. Ono would strike out Fujii and get rid of home-run hero, Shuhei, but would find staunch opposition in the pinch hitting Ricardo Nanita who repeated his heroics in game 4 with another double to give Endo and Viciedo a chance to score. 9-5. 

A significant turn around in the score. Koji Fukutani would close out the 9th inning to cap what was a wonderful turn around from a much improved batting performance and a fantastic relief. Viciedo, the big man, drew 2 walks and cleaned up with 2 hits in his 5 at-bats to show his significant value to the team since joining. Shuhei as well found a hit and a walk outside his home run. Worries however over Fujii as all he could do was claim one walk and struck out 4 times. An alarming amount for someone not in the power hitter class. 

A good 3 games with some big highs and big lows. But this is still the start of the season, and winning 66% of a series is better than 0%. 

While I can't find a highlights package this time around, the full game was broadcast on the Dragons UStream account and you can find the the full-game split into two pieces. Innings 1-6 can be found here while 7-9 can be found here.

Apologies with this one being late, it's been hard to keep on top of things this week!

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