October 25th, 2011
Tokyo Swallows 2
Streak: Won 1 Last 5: LWWLW
(Meiji Jingu Stadium)
This game very nearly sucked. But in the end, it turned out to be a very satisfactory way to end the regular season.
|W: Oshimoto (3-2 1S) L: Maeda (10-12)|
The unimportance of this contest was lost on very few people in the stadium with a large portion of the Swallows fans on hand showing up purely because Hirotoshi Ishii was slated to pitch a bit in the final top team appearance of his injury-abbreviated career.
|1||Higashide 2B||1||Aoki CF|
|2||Akamatsu CF||2||Ueda LF|
|3||Maru RF||3||Tanaka 2B|
|4||Kurihara 1B||4||Hatakeyama 1B|
|5||Matsuyama LF||5||Miyamoto 3B|
|6||Barden 3B||6||Balentien RF|
|7||Kokubo SS||7||Morioka SS|
|8||Kura C||8||Kawamoto C|
|9||Maeda P||9||Akagawa P|
The only person for whom the game seemed to matter was Hiroshima’s starter, Kenta Maeda. He needed a few more Ks and maybe an inning or two to secure first place in both pitching categories for the 2011 season.
And he got ‘em both. Maeda went nearly the full nine and struck out four in a dominating pitching performance that nearly ended his season on a very high note.
Maeda carried a no-hitter through eight and one-third innings before finally running into trouble. He walked three in the process, but Tokyo’s bats never put up much of a fight. And why should they? This game felt very much like a fine-tuning exercise before the playoffs start on Saturday.
The pitching changes were fast and furious on the Tokyo side. Akagawa (6-3; 2.03 ERA) started and pitched two scoreless innings before Tateyama (11-5; 2.04) came in to throw a three up, three down, 12-pitch third. Lim (4-2 32S; 2.17) and Matsuoka (2-2; 2.86) pitched a runnerless inning each before Barnette (1-1 2S; 2.68) made his first appearance in what seemed like a year and a half and surrendered the only run of the game up to that point. 1-0 Hiroshima.
But the Tokyo bats weren’t getting anything done to keep Maeda honest. However, that didn’t really matter to most of the crowd as main course was about to be served. Ishii made his way to the mound to start the top of the seventh. His opponent, Matsumoto, swung politely at three straight pitches to give Ishii the send-off he deserved.
The teary-eyed Ishii was then replaced by Masubuchi (7-11; 4.22) who figures to be coming out of the ‘pen during the first stage of the playoffs. Masubuchi gave up the obligatory walk to repay Hiroshima for their sportsmanship, and then he worked through the next five batters without allowing any other runners to reach base.
I like Masubuchi coming out of the ‘pen. And you should, too.
Oshimoto (3-2 1S; 3.28) pitched the top of the ninth, and he eventually retired the side despite nearly giving up a home run to Matsuyama.
And Oshimoto would eventually get the win as the Swallows finally got to Maeda with one out in the bottom of the ninth. After drawing a walk in his first at-bat, Whitesell was caught looking at a called 3-2 strike. But then Tokyo’s horde of second and third string players came through to disrupt Maeda’s no-hitter and give the substantial home crowd something other than Ishii to cheer about.
Fujimoto (read this to find out why he was promoted) broke up the no-hit bid with a double down the line in left, and then Ueda outran a slow hopper to short to put runners on the corners with one out.
Ueda safely stole second during Tanaka’s at-bat, and then the latter worked a walk to juice the bases with Maeda still on the mound. There was action in the bullpen, but Nomura never made a move.
Hatakeyama then grounded stoftly to second, and he was somehow able to beat the throw at first to avoid the
double play while Fujimoto scored from third on the fielder’s choice. All tied at one.
With runners on the corners and Fukuchi pinch-hitting for Noguchi (who was covering third for Miyamoto), Fukuchi swatted a low 2-1 changeup into left to score the winning run and surprise the hell out of everyone in the stadium. 2-1 Tokyo walk-off win.
Oshimoto got the win for his scoreless ninth inning, and Ishii gave a post-game speech that drew tears from several in attendance (not me).
The Tokyo Swallows now have a few final days to prepare for their upcoming home series against the Yomiuri Giants who will venture to Jingu from Suidobashi this Saturday for game one of the first stage of the Central League Climax Series. The game starts at 6:30PM. See you there.
For the record, tonight was Ishii’s first top team appearance since 2006. His best year, for those that like to reminisce, was 2005 when he amassed 37 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 61 appearances.
Balentien came up with a very nice sliding catch in the top of the third to keep things in check for Tateyama. It was arguably one of his finer defensive plays of the year in right field.
Hiroshima fans are awesome. They stayed for Ishii’s retirement speech and many of them were still in the left field stands when he finished his tour around the field to thank the fans. After that, they shouted across to us (in unison) wishing us luck in the Climax Series. Very classy folks.
Balentien finished the season with a batting average of .228 which meant that Kozo won the bet and Mac had to buy him a beer after the seventh inning.
Balentien finished the 2011 campaign top of the Central in home runs (31), slugging (.469), and strikeouts (131). He also finished fourth in RBI (76).
Aoki finished first in games (144), at-bats (583), and runs scored (73).
Tanaka took first in Tak-bunts (62).
Hatakeyama led the league in walks (78).
The Tokyo Swallows finished the 144 game season 2.5 games behind Chunichi and one game ahead of the third place Yomiuri Giants.
The Swallows scored more runs than any other team in the Central (484), but were second worst in runs allowed (504).