Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza Day 4: Lions Classic @ Omiya Stadium 08/04/09

Hello again everyone. So, before heading out on the second leg of my “Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza Tour”, I would like to pass along my thoughts on the recent “Lions Classic” series I attended against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. As you all know, the Lions have been hosting games in which they have been wearing their 1980’s era throwback uniforms. But for this series against the Ham, things were a little different this time around. For this series, they played the first game of the series at Omiya Stadium in Saitama City which is located in the eastern part of Saitama Prefecture. The games in Omiya always draw really big crowds as the total attendance for the game was 20,473. That’s even more than Seibu Dome does for weeknight games. I applaud Seibu for reaching out to the other side of the prefecture and hosting games in Omiya as it is really smart business.

Seibu shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima showing the fans in attendance some love by throwing a ball in the stands during practice.

Unfortunately, the result of this game was not the one that I and the many other people jam packed into the seats on the 3rd base side had expected because we ran into a brick wall named the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. You see, the Ham have been unstoppable this season as they just keep winning and winning without showing signs of slowing down. The Ham has “it” so to speak which in my book means that they have great pitching and a great offense. It’s what Seibu had last year (more so on the offensive side in my opinion) and despite the fact that I think Seibu is going to ride this magical cloud to a second championship this season, I have to be realistic and recognize that the Ham will probably end up in first place in the Pacific League and therefore will get home field advantage during the second stage of the Climax Series this year. Seriously folks, could you imagine a Ham/Giants Nippon Series? Just imagine how high the tension would be as both teams used to share Tokyo Dome for a number of years and the Ham was forced to live in the shadow of the Giants somewhat despite being in a totally different league.

But, onto the game in Omiya, shall we? The starters for the day were Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui and Tomoya Yagi for the Ham. So with Wakui being on the mound, I naturally had high hopes. But to the Ham, it really doesn’t matter who is on the mound as they started things off slowly and eventually nailed Wakui (with a little help from Karma too, I believe).

Nippon Ham Starter Tomoya Yagi warming up before the bottom of the 1st inning starts.

Yagi stretches on the mound before making his first pitch of the game.

Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui in the top of the 4th.

Wakui in the 6th. You can tell that he's pretty much out of it by this point.

Eichi Koyano started things off for the Ham with a solo home run to center in the top of the 2nd to give make it an early 1-0 lead. After that, Kensuke Tanaka hit an RBI double with one on in the top of the 3rd to make it 2-0 for the Fighters. But not to be outdone, Hiroyuki Nakajima clubbed his 15th home run of the year to right center field in the bottom of the 4th which cut the Ham’s lead in half to 2-1.

I actually have slowly taken a liking to Nakajima ever since I went to my first Pacific League game at Seibu Dome nearly 2 years ago. Now that I live in Saitama where the Lions get more press coverage, I really have begun to see why Nakajima is so awesome. The energy he brings to the team is like nothing else and he seems to be a genuinely nice guy from what I’ve seen of him.

Nakajima crossing the home plate after hitting his solo home run in the bottom of the 4th.

But again, the Fighters were able to exploit Seibu’s main weakness which is pitching and eventually win the game. Again, I chalk up what happened during this inning to bad Karma. The top of the 6th started off with Wakui drilling Atsunori Inaba in the left foot on a 1-1 count. Then, DH Shinji Takahashi singled to center which moved Inaba to 3rd. After that, Termell Sledge walked to load the bases and then Eichi Koyano drew a bases loaded walk to bring in Inaba to make it 3-1. Yoshio Itoi then grounded out to 2nd which brought in another run and made it 4-1. Then, Nippon Ham catcher Shinya Tsuruoka hit a sacrifice fly to right field which made it 5-1 and that was all the Ham needed as Seibu could do no more in terms of offense.

Wakui wasn’t his normal dominating self for this game despite throwing over 100 pitches (109 according to Seibu’s website) through 6 innings and striking out 4. Yagi on the other hand, had about the same number of pitches (91) but was more effective only allowing 3 hits and 2 strikeouts. He did walk 4 batters though so while that is a small concern, it didn’t really affect things as his only mistake was Nakajima’s home run. All in all, Seibu is going to have to do much better if they are going to defend their Nippon Championship title but as each game passes, the window gets smaller and smaller and I guess come October, I may have to head to Fukuoka this year for some playoff action.

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