Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza Day 8: Nippon Ham vs. Seibu @ Sapporo Dome 08/15/09

Nashida kantoku and Watanabe kantoku before receiving ceremonial flowers.

Hello once again fellow Yakyu fans. Many people view the game in many different ways and feel that some things are more important than others when it comes to the game itself. I tend to think that pitching and defense are the key elements to winning a baseball game with offense coming in a close second. It takes 2 to tango so to speak and you can’t win a game by having just one or the other I feel. And that’s what’s been troubling most teams in NPB this year I feel. Let’s take my 2 favorite teams for example, which are the Yokohama BayStars and the Saitama Seibu Lions in the Central and Pacific Leagues respectively. It’s no secret that Yokohama needs pitching and needs it badly while their offense is underrated I feel. While their offense was sluggish to start the season and has been at times throughout the season, more often than not it’s been the pitching that’s been the main culprit of them losing. From the games I’ve seen from Yokohama recently (see my Hiroshima entries) they’ve had to out hit their opponents to win games and you can’t always do that. Recently, I see something similar emerging from the Lions. Their pitching has been inconsistent it seems and lately, their offense has been struggling as well. So, it came as a big surprise to me when Seibu starter Takayuki Kishi delivered a great pitching performance but the offense could not deliver which totally ruined the game for me.

Takayuki Kishi in the first inning.

Kishi in the wind up before throwing a pitch.

This was the first time in quite some time (5 months or so to be exact) that I had seen Kishi pitch in person. Kishi has really been coming into his own as a pitcher and winning the Japan Series MVP last season has only helped with his development in my opinion. Kishi started out strong by pitching no hit ball through his first 3 innings of work. He even struck out the side in the 2nd much to my delight and the dismay of the Fighters fans at Sapporo Dome. But eventually, Kishi started to wear down and by the bottom of the 8th, the Ham decided to strike.

Kensuke Tanaka started things off with a double to right center field. And after being moved over to 3rd on a sac bunt by Yoshio Itoi (isn’t it odd that Kensuke used to be the one to bunt people over and now he’s the one getting bunted over), Atsunori Inaba was intentionally walked for obvious reasons and Seibu decided to make a pitching change (Koji Onuma). After a grounder to 3rd by Shinji Takahashi lead to a force out at 3rd, Terrmel “Sledgehammer” doubled to deep center to bring in Inaba and Takahashi to make it 2-0 Ham and those were the only runs of the game.

Nippon Ham starter Shugo Fuji minus the shaggy hair.

Fuji again without his trademark hair. I'm not so sure I like the new look to be honest with you.

Kazumasa Kikuchi picked up the win in relief for the Ham while Kishi took the loss and Hisashi Takeda picked up the save for the 2nd time in as many games. Overall, a disappointing game on Seibu’s part as Nippon Ham starter Shugo “Shaggy” Fuji looked hittable but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Well, that was 2 out of 3 done and there was only the rubber match of the series left to play. And if you thought this game was bad (which it was in my opinion), just wait until you read about the final game of this series. Thanks again for reading everyone and I hope you keep reading and supporting the game.

Oh, since it was "Visitor Cheering Day" @ Sapporo Dome, in addition to my Seibu fan club points I received, Lions mascot Leo came from Tokorozawa for this game. Here he is cleaning his shoes before the game.

One of the grounds crew taking the brush away from Leo. :(

Finally, it was Okawari-kun's birthday as well. So, Happy Birthday to Okawari-kun. Unfortunately, he didn't give us all a birthday present, and by that I mean no home run. :(

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza Day 7: Nippon Ham vs. Seibu @ Sapporo Dome 08/14/09

Hello again everyone. For the second leg of my Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza, I decided to get away from the greenhouse that is Kanto and Honshu and decided to head north to Hokkaido where it is much cooler. And while here, I decided to catch a great deal of Fighters games at Sapporo Dome and Asashikawa in the Dohoku region of Hokkaido. I came to Hokkaido once 2 years ago and saw a couple of games at Sapporo Dome but I really didn't enjoy them cause I didn't know much about the Pacific League at that time. But this time around was different. I actually knew who the players were and knew the teams a bit better so I was able to enjoy the games more and overall had a great time. And also too, the Fighters were facing the Lions so that helped out a lot as well. So for my first game I was in for quite a treat. Now, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words so can you guess what this picture means:

That's right. My first game in, I got to see this guy on the mound for the Ham. Now on the one hand, I was extremely excited to see one of the best pitchers that I'll probably ever see in my lifetime. But on the other hand, you know the one that roots for Seibu, I was cursing up a storm because it seems that you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning these days than you have of beating Darvish at Sapporo Dome.

Darvish was his normal dominant self for most of the game only allowing 5 hits over 8 innings while giving up 2 runs and striking out 12 while Kazuyuki Hoashi was just not good. Although Hoashi gave up only one run in the contest, he allowed 6 hits over his first 3 innings over work and by the time he departed in the 4th inning, he had already thrown 86 pitches. Not good for a team that desperately needs pitching.

As for the scoring, it seemed that the Ham found their groove early in the game with their hitting and scored runs at various times throughout the game. Atsunori Inaba put the Fighters on the board first with an RBI single to center with one on in the bottom of the 3rd to make it 1-0. But the Lions continued the "Lucky Seven" theme in the top of the 7th when Hiroyuki Nakajima singled to center and Okawari-kun doubled to left. Then, Yoshihito Ishii singled to shallow center to make it 1-1 and promptly after that, GG Sato singled to 2nd to make it 2-1 and it seemed that Darvish was in trouble. But he eventually rebounded and pitched another inning and with some help from the Ham's offense. Atsunori Inaba added another run in the bottom of the 7th on a sacrifice fly to right with one on to make it 2-2. In the bottom of the 8th, Makoto Kaneko drove in the final run for the Ham on a RBI single to shallow center to make it 3-2 and give Nippon Ham the win.

So while the loss was disappointing because Seibu blew a comeback attempt, it really came down to the fact that they just couldn't get anything going against Darvish and by the time they did, Nippon Ham had gained enough steam that allowed them to come back. So while, I could forgive Seibu for this loss, I couldn't forgive them for what was about to happen in the next game.

New Seibu reliever Jonah Bayliss pitching in his first game in Japan I believe.

Nakajima doing his best Darvish impression before the game.

Kazuyuki Hoashi.

Yu Darvish. Enough said.

Yu Darvish thinking.

Yep, it's Darvish again.

Darvish. I mean seriously, what kind of Yakyu blogger would I be if I didn't have a post featuring Darvish?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza Day 6: Lions Classic @ Seibu Dome 08/06/09

Remember Kids, Tomochika Tsuboi says safety first when playing baseball.

Hello once again everyone. The thing about going to many games in a row is that you get tired after going to all of them and really don't want to do anything afterwards. Well, that is the case here and a lot has happened since this game. I've been in Hokkaido for almost a week, I've seen a ton of Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters games and they've won about 3/4 of them, and also too, about half of the team is thought to have contracted "New" Influenza with 5 confirmed cases so far. This is a serious blow to a streaking hot Fighters team and hopefully all the players that are sick can return to the field sometime soon fully recovered and be ready to help the Ham towards the Nippon Series this year. Get well soon guys!

So, for this game, the starting pitchers were Kazuhito Tadano for the Ham and John Wasdin for Seibu. These 2 teams are complete opposites when it comes to pitching in my opinion. Today, we saw another Nippon Ham starter throw no-hit ball through at least 5 innings while another another Seibu starter got hit hard but managed to keep his team in the game. It's my opinion that while Seibu starters don't give up a lot of runs, they do seem to give up a lot of hits which is bad.

Nippon Ham starter Kazuhito Tadano. I just have rotten luck with my picture taking these days I tell you. But yeah, Tadano has been pitching pretty good lately so that is really good for the Ham.

The scoring started in the top of the 3rd when Atsunori Inaba singled to shallow left with one on to give the Ham an early 1-0 lead. They had 3 hits total in the top of the 3rd alone. After that, Tanaka Kensuke added another run via an RBI double to left center with one on in the top of the 4th to make it 2-0 Nippon Ham. And from there went go to the bottom of the 6th were Seibu decided to make a short comeback. After Yasuyuki Kataoka singled to right to start things off, Takumi Kuriyama walked to put runners on first and second for the next batter who was Hiroyuki Nakajima. Nakajima promptly doubled to right to bring both Kataoka and Kuriyama in and tie the game at 2. But, Atsunori Inaba had just about enough of Seibu's comeback attempts and smacked a 2 run home run to right field in the top of the 7th to make it 4-2 Nippon Ham and I thought for sure that it was over. But again, Seibu showed guts and came back in the bottom of the 8th when Yasuyuki Kataoka singled to right to start the inning. He then proceeded to steal second and was brought home by Takumi Kuriyama via a triple to left center to make it 4-3. Okawari-kun (Takeya Nakamura) added another run with a sacrifice fly to left to tie things up at 4 and cap yet another Seibu comeback.

Yasuyuki Kataoka getting ready to steal second in the bottom of the 8th.

Atsunori Inaba crosses the plate after his home run in the top of the 7th. You can tell that Tsuboi is really happy in the back ground.

Tsuboi standing on first in the top of the 7th. It seemed like there was a bug in his face or something as he kept trying to swat at something and avoid it too.

But the thing with Seibu is that they seem to have really lousy pitching this year behind Wakui and Kishi and it showed here. Shinji Takahashi singled to center to start things off in the top of the 9th and was then moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt by Toshimasa Konta. Then, Eichi Koyano was hit by a pitch and moved over to second on a wild pitch and Yoshio Itoi drew a walk to load the bases for pinch hitter Naoto Inada who promptly doubled to right to drive in two runs and make it 6-4 Nippon Ham. Makoto Kaneko added another run on a single to center which brought the score to 7-4 and that's where it ended up. Yoshinori Tateyama picked up the win in relief for the Ham while Tetsuya Iwasaki was tagged with the loss for Seibu while Hisashi Takeda picked up the save.

All in all, a really disappointing loss for Seibu seeing as they let 2 comeback attempts slip through their fingers due to bad pitching. The offense continues to show guts but is often times silenced and unable to do anything. It looks like injuries have caught up with the Lions and they are falling apart at the seems and as of the writing (09/08/21), Rakuten has taken possession of 3rd place in the Pacific and is on a really hot 5 game winning streak and is a potential threat to knock Seibu of Climax contention for good. Things need to get turned around fast in Tokorozawa if the Lions are going to defend their championship in November this year.

The benches clear in the 9th after Eichi Koyano is hit by a pitch and proceeded to charge the mound.

This is Tomochika Tsuboi. I like to call him "High Socks" because while many can attempt to pull the look off, none can do it quite like Tsuboi can. Don't ask me what it is honestly.

Termell Sledge. He has since fallen victim to the "New Type" Influenza and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Hiram Bocachica warming up in between innings.

Kataoka wondering what the heck his team has been doing as of late.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Trip to Asahikawa Starfin Stadium Day #1: 08/18/09 Plus Photopost

Hello everyone. Yes I know that I am behind with my games to be posted but I wanted to get this one on the blog rather quickly as it turned out to be a great game and all around great day for Pro Yakyu. Also, just a little note, I will be doing an official stadium report on Starfin Stadium sometime during the off season because hey, we need to keep the Yakyu news flowing all year long right? So for now, my initial impressions of the stadium and today's game will have to do.

So, right now the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters are hosting a 3 game series with the Rakuten Eagles. Well, the first 2 games of this series are being held here in Asahikawa at Starfin Stadium as part of the Fighter's "We Love Hokkaido Series". So what that means basically is that every year, the Ham play a certain number of games in different parts of Hokkaido in order to bring baseball to the far reaches of the island and believe me folks, some of these places here in Hokkaido are far reaches. This is brilliant marketing on the Ham's part as they drew a little over 15,000 people for a day game on a weekday today. Oh yeah, and you'll notice too that the Fighters are wearing different uniforms too as part of the "We Love Hokkaido Series". Last year they were black and dark blue I believe but this year they decided to go with a purple colored uniform and I've got to say that I like it because it's different.

Infielder Chung-Shou Yang warming up before the game.

FINALLY! Some decent pics of Atsunori Inaba! You can run but you can not hide HA HA! Seriously, I've tried long and hard to get good pics of Inaba but just couldn't.

Inaba loves Hokkaido and so should you!

Did I mention that Inaba is so cool? I honestly think he's part machine and that makes it even better.

Kensuke Tanaka really does love the color pink but the new inflatable hands that the team is selling really suck which will be covered in a rant on a future blog entry.

Come to think of it, the "We Love Hokkaido" games are sort of similar to what Seibu does with its "Lions Classic" games because they play against every team in the Pacific League while wearing special uniforms and promoting a common theme (Seibu's reflects on its past while the Fighters concentrate on bringing baseball and itself subsequently closer to the entire island of Hokkaido). But it's strange that the Ham didn't play any "We Love Hokkaido" games against Orix this season. I don't know the reason for that but the concept for these games works and "I Love Hokkaido" even more as a result.

I'm going to assume that we all know who Victor Starfin is but for those who don't, who can find out who he is at this page here. I had bought my tickets via telephone back in April when they went on sale and had been looking forward to this trip for a number of months and it was well worth the wait. Asahikawa is a nice small city in the northern part of Hokkaido with some of the best ramen in all of Japan. But, the reason why I came to Asahikawa was to visit Starfin Stadium and what a great stadium it is indeed. The minute you walk into the main gate, you are presented with this statue:

Simply amazing and awe-inspiring is all I have to say. A true icon in Pro Yakyu is Mr. Victor Starfin and even though I don't know as much about the history of Pro Yakyu as some other people I know, I really did feel humbled and blessed to have the chance to visit such an awesome place. If any of you ever get the rare chance to come to Asahikawa for a game, by all means do it. You won't be disappointed. The actual stadium itself seemed kind of small to me and reminded me of Hiratsuka Stadium in Kanagawa Prefecture where I used to live (I did a write up on a Shonan SeaRex game at Hiratsuka Stadium earlier this year if you want to learn more about that place).

Now, as for the game itself, the staring pitchers were Hisashi Iwakuma for Rakuten and Tomoya Yagi for the Fighters. Nippon Ham started the game out really good by getting to Iwakuma in the bottom of the 1st. Kensuke Tanaka singled to left to start things off and was later driven in on an RBI Single by DH Shinji Takahashi and just like that it was 1-0 Fighters. It seemed like this was going to be a bad day for Iwakuma who gave up 3 hits in the first inning alone, but he got the help he needed in the top of the 2nd when Takeshi "Hulk Smash" Yamasaki walked to start the inning off and then was brought home when Fernando Seguignol homered to left to give Rakuten a 2-1 lead. Then in the 3rd, Rakuten struck again thanks to Tomoya Yagi's bad control. Rakuten lead off man Todd Linden singled with one out and was then moved over to third on a single to right by Naoto Watanabe. Shortly after that, Teppi hit an RBI Single to shallow right which made it 3-1 Rakuten. "Hulk Smash" Yamasaki then fouled out to 3rd and Yagi then proceeded to give up back to back walk to Seguignol and Rick Short which brought in Watanabe from third and widened Rakuten's lead at 4-1. But we weren't finished yet as former Yakult Swallow Ryuji Miyade singled to shallow center to put another run on the board and make it 5-1 Rakuten. Nippon Ham added another run of their own in the bottom of the 3rd when Kazuya Murata singled to left and then proceeded to steal 2nd while Atsunori Inaba was batting. Shinji Takahashi then hit his second RBI of the game which was a single to shallow left and that made it 5-2 Rakuten. Fernando Seguignol added another run in the top of the 8th via a solo home run to make it 6-2 and pinch hitter Yoshitoro Satoh added a solo home run of his own in the bottom of the 9th to make it 6-3 but the Ham could do no more and that's where the score ended up.

Hisashi Iwakuma catches a ball with his eyes closed.

Iwakuma delivering a pitch in the bottom of the 1st.

Yagi settled down after the 3rd inning and ended up pitching into the 7th inning. Meanwhile, Iwakuma just dominated the Fighters after he got that run support and ended up going all 9 innings on 111 pitches to get the win although he did give up 10 hits and 3 runs to the Ham while striking out 4 and walking 1. But despite Yagi's performance (5 runs 7 hits 6 strike outs and 4 walks though 7 innings), this was his first loss in a month or so I believe and he does hold an 8-2 record this season with a 2.90 ERA as of now and that has to count for something. Every pitcher has his off day and I think this was Yagi's so we'll see if he can rebound in his next start or if this is something else.

Tomoya Yagi sporting the special issue jersey for the "We Love Hokkaido" games.

Yagi delivering a pitch in the 6th inning.

All in all, a great day for Yakyu as I got to visit Starfin Stadium for the first time and see Iwakuma pitch a fantastic game. Hopefully, the game tomorrow will be just as good and I will end my time here in Asahikawa on a good note but until then, please enjoy some sights from the game today as posted in the blog here and as always, thanks for reading and keep supporting the game of Pro Yakyu.

Speaking of good things, today was Ryuji Miyade's birthday and he gave us all a present by hitting an RBI single in the game. Thanks Ryuji and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Makoto Kaneko also loves Hokkaido.

Kensuke Tanaka puts the tag on "Hulk Smash" Yamasaki as he tried to go for extra bases in the 5th. I really think I need more action shots like this in my blog which is something I'll try to work on in the future.

Fernando Seguignol crosses home plate after his second home run of the day. Ironically, since he bats switch, he hit his first one from the right side of the plate and his second one from the left side of the plate which was really neat to see.

Seguignol STILL loves Hokkaido and Hokkaido and Fighters fans still love him.

Yoshitoro Satoh does his best Seguignol impersonation in the bottom of the 9th.

Kazuya Murata warming up in the 9th inning and yes, He does love Hokkaido too so don't ask.

And much like "Everybody Loves Raymond", it's a safe bet to say that "Everybody Loves Hokkaido" just as much if not more.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pro Yakyu Super Summer Extravaganza Day 5: Lions Classic @ Seibu Dome 08/05/09

Seibu reliever Koji Mitsui watching Seibu's chances of going to the Climax Series this year go up in smoke. No just kidding, he's watching a fly out while warming up in the bullpen.

Lucky Seven. This is what we in American call "The 7th Inning Stretch". But in Pro Yakyu, it's called "Lucky Seven". Now, why do I bring this up? Well, lately whenever I go to see the Lions, magical and great things happen in the 7th inning. I can't explain it so, I'll let the game report here do the talking for me.

So, I headed back to Seibu Dome after a bad night in Omiya the previous day in hopes of a little redemption. The starters for the game were Hideki Sunaga for the Ham and Kaz Ishii for Seibu. Today was a good day at the Dome as I got to see "Good Ishii" today. You see, it seems every time I go to Seibu Dome, I end up seeing Kaz Ishii pitch and usually it's not good. But today he was ok as he managed to keep Seibu in the game through 7 innings by only giving up 2 runs on 4 hits. But on the other hand, you know it's either going to be one extreme or the other with Ishii so I guess you can call that a good thing. Also too, I was lucky enough to sit right next to the Seibu bullpen in the "Field View Seats" section so in this blog entry, I decided to upload shots of some of Seibu's relievers among other things.

The game didn't have a lot of scoring and like the previous night, the Fighters got on the board in the top of the 5th. Termell Sledge walked to start things off and as per protocol was them moved over to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt by Eichi Koyano. Then, Tomohiro Nioka singled to center which brought in Sledge from 2nd to make it 1-0 Fighters. The, catcher Shinya Tsuruoka promptly doubled to right to make it 2-0 Nippon Ham and that's where the score stayed until the bottom of the 7th.

Nippon Ham outfielder Hichori Morimoto on first after getting on base in the 3rd inning.

Hichori taking a breather at second during a visit to the mound by Seibu's pitching coach.

Tomohiro Nioka. It's still really strange for me not seeing him in an orange, black, and white uniform with #7 on the back. But at the same time, it's almost natural to see him in the gossip columns one way or another these days.

After the customary "Jet Balloons" were let off in the bottom of the 7th, the real fireworks started a bit early for us Lions fans tonight. Hiroyuki Nakajima started things off with an infield single to short and then was moved over to 3rd on a double to left by "Okawari" Nakamura. After a pitching change (Kazumasa Kikuchi) by Nippon Ham and a strike out by pinch hitter Yoshihito Ishii, G.G. Sato singled to center to cut the Ham's lead in half and make it 2-1. Tomoaki Sato then hit a grounder to 3rd which 3rd baseman Tomohiro Nioka tried to make a fielders choice out at home but was unsuccessful and that tied the game at 2 a piece. Then, after back to back RBI singles by Taketoshi Gotoh and Tsumitani Ginjiro, the Fighters made another pitching change (Shintaro Ejiri) and the next batter, Yasuyuki Kataoka, was hit by a pitch. But it really didn't matter as Takumi Kuriyama drove in the final run of the inning on a sacrifice fly to center and Hiroyuki Nakajima grounded out to short to end the 5 run 7th inning for the Lions. Excellent batting and waiting on pitches were the key here. Seibu showed that they still can drive in runs and make it count.

Koji Onuma.

Takuya Hara playing catch in between innings.

Tetsuya Iwasaki and Chikara Onodera held the Fighters scoreless over the 8th and 9th to lead the Lions to victory after what seemed like an eternity. But despite the fact the Nippon Ham lost, I thought that starter Hideki Sunaga was brilliant as he pitched no hit ball through 6 innings. Pitching in general has been a thorn in the side of Seibu all season but they got it done in this game. But, in the games to follow, the problem reared it's ugly head once again as things didn't go so smoothly during the rubber match of this Lions Classic series.

Jun Yamamoto looking like he had just woke up before the game.

Guess who?

TADA! It's interim Seibu closer and all around bad ass Chikara Onodera who has probably one of the best theme songs in all of Japanese baseball. One of my favorite Seibu players no doubt.