July 31st, 2011
Tokyo Swallows 6
Streak: Tied 2 Last 5: WLWDD
(Meiji Jingu Stadium)
Tokyo got off on the wrong foot to start this contest, the third and final of a crowded weekend series at home against the team’s arch rivals from across town. Actually, to be fair, it was mostly Masubuchi that got off on the wrong foot. The rest of the team was forced pick up the pieces after a disastrous first two frames that saw the Swallows lurch to a five run deficit.
1. Sakamoto (SS)
2. Fujimura (2B)
3. Ramirez (LF)
4. Chono (CF)
5. Takahashi (RF)
6. Abe (C)
7. Fields (3B)
8. Ogasawara (1B)
9. Ono (P)
1. Aoki (CF)
2. Tanaka (2B)
3. Kawabata (SS)
4. Hatakeyama (LF)
5. Whitesell (1B)
6. Miyamoto (3B)
7. Balentien (RF)
8. Aikawa (C)
9. Masubuchi (P)
Masubuchi (5-5; 5.09 ERA) didn’t get the loss, but that’s only because his teammates stepped up and dragged themselves back into the game. He gave up five hits and as many earned runs in two innings of work (40 pitches, one strikeout, one HBP). He was pulled in favor of a pinch hitter (Takeuchi) with two outs and two on in the bottom of the second.
Don’t be too surprised if Masubuchi does a stint on the farm team soon. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing him resume his position in the bullpen. His performance from the pen last season (57 appearances; 2.69 ERA) earned him a 250% raise in salary this season. Obviously, something that was working before is a little off-kilter these days.
Balentien’s sac fly in the fourth with two on was the first dent that Tokyo was able to put in Yomiuri’s five run lead, but the gap was resumed in the top of the next inning when Ramirez hit a sac fly of his own off of Tokyo’s second reliever of the night, Matsuoka. 6-1 Gomiuri.
The bottom of the fifth started promisingly for the yogurt penguins with Aoki and Tanaka hitting back-to-back singles, but things soured slightly when Kawabata flew out to center and Hatakeyama struck out. Whitesell added a little bit of hope with by drawing a walk which gave Miyamoto a shot at some heroism in a bases-loaded situation and two outs on the board.
Miyamoto singled to center which easily scored Aoki, but Tanaka was out at home plate to end the inning. While Abe deserves credit for a good block, there was some controversy surrounding the call and the right field stands did not react positively. 6-2.
With stadium DJ Patrick attempting to talk up the night’s major sponsor, energy drink Ripobitan D, and simultaneously direct the crowd’s attention to the ensuing fireworks display, the good people of Jingu let out a solid din of sustained indignation that made everything coming over the PA system indecipherable. After a brief pause in the booing brought on by the relatively much louder fireworks, the onslaught continued promptly after the echoes from the last bang subsided.
The right field stands never returned to normal after that.
And the team responded as well. In the bottom of the sixth, Balentien drew a lead-off walk which was followed by a pair of outs and then Aoki’s second hit of the game. Tanaka drew a walk to load the bases, and Kawabata poked a single into center to plate Balentien and Aoki to make things interesting. 6-4 Orange Folks.
After going down in order in the seventh, Tokyo rallied some more in the eighth. Aikawa and Kawashima started things off with back-to-back singles, and the former trotted home on Aoki’s single to center. 6-5.
Kawabata then brought home the tying run with a grounder to short on which the Giants tried to turn two but were late with the throw to first. 6-6 Final.
It was somewhat disappointing that the birds weren’t able to pull this one out in the bottom of the ninth, but the second half of this game was filled with net positives.
Especially after last night’s draw (yes, this was the second tie ballgame in as many evenings) in which the Giants had their way with Tokyo’s faltering closer, Chang-yong Lim, this one felt very nearly like a victory. The team came back from a five run deficit, and the crowd was more raucous than usual in willing the players back to a position where they might actually be able to win.
Barnette was another bright spot for the birds by shutting down Yomiuri’s attempt to turn the tables in the top of the ninth. He capped his 14 pitch effort off by fanning former Tokyo slugger, Ramirez, to preserve the immense comeback that his teammates had put together.
Every starter (except Masubuchi) had at least one hit tonight. Tanaka, Kawabata (3 RBIs) and Aikawa all had a pair of singles, and Aoki (1 RBI) had three base knocks.
So no matter how indignant I was after the first third of this game, I returned home feeling quite satisfied with this draw. If this game had been allowed to go another inning or two, I’m confident that the team would have gotten the better of Yomiuri and their depleted bullpen.
Now it’s time for a month of high temperatures and several very difficult series. The birds will play the second place Hanshin Tigers no less than nine times in August, and the big question will be whether or not the Tokyo bats can liven up a bit and give our best relievers a bit of a break.
Lim leads the team with 38 appearances, and Barnette (35), Oshimoto (32) and Kyuko (29) are not far behind. The worrying thing is that the birds will be on a steady diet of six game weeks until mid-September. That’s 36 games over the next 42 days. Building leads greater than four runs a couple times a week will go a long way towards keeping the bullpen fresh for a late September/October push for home-field advantage during the playoffs.
Tokyo’s next series starts on Tuesday in Nagoya against the third place Chunichi Dragons. All games in August, save for August 21st at Tokyo Dome, start at 6 PM. The game on the 21st at the stain dome kicks off at 2 PM.