October 3rd, 2009
Tokyo Yakult Swallows 6
Streak: Won 1 Last 5: WLLLW
With the race for 3rd getting tighter with every day, this was a game that the Swallows simply had to win. A loss tonight and they’d be two games back of Hanshin, a win and they’d be level. For these big end of season games Tokyo are (as they should) putting a lot on the shoulders of their two ace pitchers, Masanori Ishikawa and Shohei Tateyama.
Tateyama did well enough last night but didn’t get the run support he deserved as he saw the bullpen blow the game late on. Tonight Ishikawa took to the mound and, unlike Shohei, got some run support and (wisely) didn’t entrust the bullpen with one jot of responsibility. After starting shakily, he settled down to pitch a superb 125 pitch complete game, just like the last time he pitched at Koshien (well, it was 134 pitches then). He is a man for the big occasion indeed.
- Fukuchi (LF)
- Kajimoto (2B)
- Miyamoto (3B)
- Aoki (CF)
- D’Antona (1B)
- Takeuchi (RF)
- Onizaki (SS)
- Kawamoto (C)
- Ishikawa (P)
As you can see, injuries are getting worse with the latest victim being Tanaka who injured his calf yesterday. So he was replaced with Kajimoto, a player who has had just six at bats this year so far, going 1 for 6. Guiel continued to be absent from the starting lineup as it appears he also has some kind of thigh injury. That or Takada is even stupider than I could have possibly imagined.
Tokyo were facing Hanshin starter Andoh, a pitcher who has pretty much owned the Swallows this year, with a 4-1/1.91 record against them going into this game.
Tokyo took the lead in the top of the 2nd. Aoki worked a leadoff walk before D’Antona flew out to right for out number one. Takeuchi then hit one over the infield to centre and it was men on the corners for Onizaki. He hit a chopper to first, and by the time first baseman Brazell got his glove on it Aoki was home and the other two runners were safe at first and second, 1-0 Tokyo. Kawamoto then came to the plate but could only ground out to short for a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
The lead didn’t last long though. In the bottom of the same inning, Brazell hit a one-out blooper to centre before Sakurai hit one to the leftfield fence. Fat-boy Brazell somehow managed to waddle home from first as he beat the throw home. Sakurai advanced to third on the throw home and it was 1-1. Veteran catcher Yano then hit one just out of reach of the diving Onizaki to centre and they had themselves a lead, 2-1 Hanshin. Pitcher Andoh bunted Yano along before Hirano grounded out to end the inning.
But just as it appeared that it may be one of those nights for the Swallows, they showed a bit of fight in the top of the 3rd. Ishikawa and Fukuchi put two outs on the board before Kajimoto singled. A wild pitch advanced him to second with Miyamoto punishing the mistake by hitting one over the head of Sakurai in right for a double and the scores were tied up at 2-2. Up stepped Aoki who tonked one over the rightfield wall for his 16th homer of the year and things had turned around at 4-2 Tokyo.
Ishikawa had himself a 1,2,3 inning in the bottom of the 3rd. Then, in what looked rather like a panic-move by Tigers’ manager Mayumi to these eyes, Andoh was replaced and Tsutsui took his place on the mound. Talk about having some faith in your starter. With the Tigers moving to their bullpen so early it looked like the rest of the evening could prove difficult for them.
The reliever issued a walk to Takeuchi to lead off his outing, and the runner was moved along by an Onizaki bunt. But Tsutsui managed to get Kawamoto to fly out before Ishikawa grounded out to strand the runner at second.
In the bottom of the 4th Hanshin would strike back again with the Sakurai-Yano combo again proving effective against Ishikawa. Sakurai hit a one-out double and then Yano singled to bring home the run and it was 4-3. Takahashi then pinch hit for the pitcher and he hit a sharp drive up the third-base line, with Miyamoto producing an exceptional dive and throw to first to get the second out of the inning with the runner now at second.
Bear in mind that Miyamoto is currently playing with a fractured thumb (on his throwing hand) and he had his thumb in some kind of cast during the game. Remarkable stuff from a remarkable player.
Hirano then hit yet another Hanshin bloop single just over the head of Onizaki at short. Yano made the turn home and just beat the throw home. Kawamoto appeared to have the plate covered but didn’t apply the tag in time, 4-4.
In the top of the 5th facing new reliever Sajikihara, a Miyamoto walk and an Aoki single put men on the corners with two outs. But D’Antona could only fly out to centre and more Swallows runners were stranded.
Another 1,2,3 inning followed in the bottom of the 5th, as Ishikawa dealt with the rather overrated Tigers cleanup trio of Toritani/Kanemoto/Arai with ease.
In the top of the 6th the game would turn in Tokyo’s favour for good, as Sajikihara remained on the mound. After Takeuchi flew out to left for the first out, Onizaki hit one out of the park to right, his first pro-career homer, and it was 5-4. He has been a huge find and a seemingly much more able version of Keizo Kawashima.
Kawamoto then hit a double to left, and Ishikawa struck out for out number two. Up stepped Fukuchi and he hit one just short of the rightfield wall for a triple and it Kawamoto was home for 6-4 Tokyo. At that Egusa came in to pitch and got Kajimoto to fly out to end the inning.
The rest of the game saw Ishikawa not let another runner on base, and the Swallows waste a series of changes to crack the skull of the Tigers and end their misery.
In the 7th, Egusa allowed a Miyamoto single, an Aoki single and a D’Antona walk to load the bases with no outs. Egusa was replaced with Kanemura, and Shida (in for Takeuchi who limped off the field in the bottom of the 6th. Guiel better actually be injured or Takada’s incompetence knows no bounds…..) then grounded out with the first out made at home. Onizaki and Kawamoto both flew out and the juiced-up bases were left full.
And then in the 9th with Cheng (the last of six Tigers relievers for the night) on the mound, Tokyo stranded two more runners, this time Shida and Onizaki the culprits. If only Guiel had been at the plate both the 7th and the 9th instead of the rather useless Shida………
So, Ishikawa polished of the Tigers bats for the victory as his record moved to 12-7/3.68. He gave up seven hits over the distance with seven Ks and one walk. He retired the last 16 batters he faced as the gurning Hanshin fans packed into Koshien went home less than happy. Shame. Tokyo outhit the Tigers 12-7.
Aoki (.304) went 3 for 4 with a walk and 2 RBIs as he seems to be warming to his new no.4 role. The miraculous Miyamoto (.301) went 2 for 4 with a walk. Kajimoto did well deputising for Tanaka as he went 2 for 5 and did well in the field.
D’Antona (.280) was 0 for 3 with a walk before being replaced by pinch-runner Noguchi in the 7th. Onizaki (.348) went 2 for 2 with two RBIs and also made some very decent plays in the field.
Oh, and one more thing: without Miyamoto and Aoki this team would be nothing. They are really shouldering a lot of the pressure and responsibility during this run- in, especially with the lineup as decimated by injuries as it is becoming.
Tonight’s victory sees the Swallows take the season series against the Tigers. They are up 13-9 with just two to play. This could prove key should the two teams end up tied for 3rd when all is said and done.
So, the Swallows and Tigers are now joint 3rd with the Carp (who lost today to the Giants) now two games behind.
The Tigers have four to play:
Sunday: Chunichi (Home)
Wednesday: Hiroshima (Away)
Thursday: Tokyo (Away)
Friday: Tokyo (Away)
While the Swallows have six:
Sunday: Yomiuri (Home)
Monday: Yomiuri (Home)
Tuesday: Yokohama (Away)
Wednesday: Yokohama (Home)
Thursday: Hanshin (Home)
Friday: Hanshin (Home)
Sunday: Chunichi (Home)
It’s going to be a very interesting final week to say the least……….