5/19/09 – Tohoku Rakuten (Away)

May 19th, 2009

Rakuten Eagles characterTokyo Yakult Swallows 7  Yakult Cap

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 3

Streak: Won 6 Last 5: WWWWW

(Kleenex Miyagi Stadium)

Today’s opening round of the 2009 Interleague schedule saw all six games held in Pacific League ballparks, with Tokyo making the trip to Sendai to face the Rakuten Eagles.

This match-up saw the two leagues’ second placed teams face off, and Yakult got a slightly lucky break with the game’s timing. Instead of opening up their campaign against one of Rakuten’s ace (and indeed, two of the top three starters in Japan) , Iwakuma or Tanaka, they faced the less scary (by some margin) Darrell Rasner.

The Swallows put their ace Ishikawa on the mound, and Masanori’s recent form was good, having gone at least seven innings of one-run or less baseball in each of his last three starts. As it turned out, Ishikawa wasn’t at his best today, but in the end he didn’t have to be.

This being a PL ballpark, the DH rule applied, and so the starting lineup looked like this:

  1. Kawashima Keizo (SS)
  2. Fukuchi (LF)
  3. Aoki (CF)
  4. D’Antona (DH)
  5. Guiel (RF)
  6. Miyamoto (3B)
  7. Takeuchi (1B)
  8. Aikawa (C)
  9. Tanaka (2B)

Rakuten made the early runnng, with a 2nd inning Yamazaki home run making it 1-0 Rakuten , before two hits in the 3rd made it 2-0. But the momentum would swing Tokyo’s way in the top of the 4th.

Aoki hit a one-out single before D’Antona worked a walk to put men on first and second. Aaron Guiel then slammed one deep over the rightfield fence, his seventh HR of the year, and Yakult found themselves ahead. 3-2 Tokyo.

But the Eagles weren’t dead yet. A dead ball put the leadoff man on base in the bottom of the 6th, and he was later brought home by a Nori Nakamura timely single through the middle to tie things up at 3-3.

But again the 2009 Swallows demonstrated their newly-found resilience in the top of the 7th. Miyamoto lead off the inning with a triple, before Takeuchi stuck out for out number one. Rakuten (and former Swallows) manager Nomura then went to the bullpen, replacing Rasner with Aoyama. Aikawa was next up, and after taking an insect in the eye (there was a mini-plague of some kind of flying insect all throughout the game) he hit a bloop single over the head of the shortstop and Miyamoto was home for 4-3 Tokyo. A single, groundout and a dead ball followed to fill the bases with two-outs for Aoki, but as has been the trend of late, he could only hit a grounder to first and the inning was over.

Matsuoka worked a hitless 7th to take his ERA down to 1.929, and then Igarashi worked a scoreless 8th to take his to 2.204.

And so to the top of the 9th, and Yakult made sure of their sixth win on the spin with Koyama on mound for Rakuten. Takeuchi singled to open the inning and was moved around by a Aikawa sacbunt for out number one. Takeuchi advanced to third on a wild pitch during next man Tanaka’s at-bat. Tanaka then hit a grounder to short, but the fielder Uchimura made the wrong call, throwing home but Takeuchi was safe and Tanaka made it to first on a fielders choice. 5-3 Tokyo. Up stepped wee-man Kawashima Keizo and he hit his 5th homer of the year, a shot to left, and it was 7-3 Tokyo.

Lim Chang-Yong worked a 1,2,3 9th (still 0.00ERA folks) and it was 7-3 Final.

Ishikawa took the win to take his record to 6 and 1 with a 3.057 ERA. He went six innings giving up three runs off eight hits, striking out three and walking none.

Keizo (.235), Miyamoto (.298) and Aikawa (.282) all had two-hit games.

The two teams will meet again tomorrow evening, with hopefully less insects in attendance.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • Six in a row! Haven’t seen that in a while. Last year, Tokyo managed to win even five straight only once (8/30 to 9/4, against Yokohama and Chunichi.) Here’s hoping I haven’t just jinxed it. . .

  • Great win, and a VERY nice win streak! The win helps us too 🙂

    It is fortuitous to miss both Tanaka and Iwakuma. I’m not sure what exactly Rasner is supposed to bring to the table but he’s neither overpowering nor deceptive. I’ve watched him twice so far this year and he just looks hittable.

  • Yes I love the IL games, for the simple reason that you get to root for an extra 5 teams every day!

  • Tonight’s pitching matchup looks like it may be Yoshinori vs Tanaka.

    Hopefully the trip to the farm has restored Yoshinori to his early season form as run support is likely to be sparse given the quality of the opposition’s starter.

    Should be a good watch though regardless.

  • Rob

    Yoshinori gets the call because he’s from Sendai? Talk abut ratcheting up the pressure.
    Looking forward to it!

  • N26

    ???????????????

  • N26, they certainly are looking strong. Surprising the heck out of me, but, unlike the surprises I usually get from them, this time I’m loving it.

    Here’s hoping they can take out the Hokkaido juggernaut tonight (Friday).

  • N26

    I’m happy to see Swallows do this well! Always have had a soft spot for this team. Their strength is real. Takada is actually doing a decent job with this team it seems like. I wasn’t expecting this but I am pleasently suprised. Now, I only wish Yokohama and Chiba would do a little bit better.

  • I’m still a bit skeptical. The one thing that I will give Takada is that he’s giving the young guys a chance. There are several decent utility players now fighting it out for playing time.

    But Takada has recently returned to liberal use of the bunt after several weeks of laying off it. I’m reasonably confident that we’ll see the “Takada Count” climb quite a bit more before the All-Star break.

  • Rob

    I am glad Takada has more method to his madness this year, though I don’t agree with all his moves. In particular, I don’t like platooning Iihara against lefties and Guiel against righties because Iihara is an average OF at best. I like Noguchi a lot and I want to see him in the lineup, but Fukuchi is a better OF, so I’d rather see Noguchi at 2B. (I don’t dislike Tanaka, but he’s not getting it done at the plate.) I was mildly skeptical about Aikawa, but I’m happy he’s proving me wrong in general.

    What worries me is this: none of the position players are really on fire at the plate. Of the seven (not counting 2B), three are hitting around .250 or less – the 1, 3, and 4 hitters.
    The team overall is above .500 and in second place, even with half the line-up stinking it up. Either that means the guys who are not doing well now are suddenly going to wake up and the team is going to go gangbusters…. Or, as a team, they’re playing above themselves and they’re going to hit the rocks, hard.

  • CP, I share your fears. Trey Hillman said he had to cave in and sac bunt even when, as manager, he thought it unwise, because his players had it ingrained in them and would get nervous if they thought he wasn’t calling the right play. Just like some students say they’re taught to memorize and not to think, ballplayers are taught to memorize contingencies, not to think.

    Sadly, Takada manages this way. The thought that the team is probably doing better this year than last because he’s making fewer dumb decisions has almost certainly never entered his head. I’d bet he’s thinking something more along the lines of: “The team is playing better, so imagine how good they’ll be once we get back to ‘fundamentals’ and start sac-bunting as much as possible or getting Guiel to steal.”

    Rob, you’re dead-on. I did a little Pythagorean expectation on last year and the Swallows underperformed by as much as .040 on final win percentage. The 2nd and 3rd order wins (calculating how much a team should have scored based on players’ stats and the like, then extrapolating win percentage – a pretty accurate predictor of team performance) were shaping up to be even more disappointing, so I let the past lie and gave up on it. (Why do tons of math, even if it is relatively simple, only to confirm your fears about something you can’t change?)

    To cut to the chase, the Swallows were so badly managed last season, made exctly the wrong decision at so many individual points, or were “unlucky” so often that they won far fewer games than a team with their performance should have, that even coasting along this year, they almost have to be better.

    My fear is that Takada, who actively hurt the team and cost them games through inept, clueless, inexplicable decision-making last year, will decide to get more hands on again and kill the progress that’s been made so far.

    I must admit, though, that my other fear is that he’ll get credit for the Swallows’ success if they do really well and we’ll be stuck with him for years.

    Therein lies the curse of the Climax Series. Back in the ’80s, Nippon Ham sacked Takada because he took the team from worst to 5th, then 5th again, then 3rd, then 3rd again, but 3rd didn’t count for anything, so they dumped his lame ass. (The other absurdity of the Climax Series is that half of the damned league goes to the playoffs.)