5/3/11 – Chunichi (Home)

May 3rd, 2011

Chunichi Dragons 3

Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5

Streak: Won 2   Last 5: WLLWW

(Meiji Jingu Stadium)

 

The weather didn’t cooperate, but another quality start by Ishikawa teamed with some timely hitting were enough to overcome a Chunichi team that looked ever so slightly sharper than they did the last time they visited Jingu.

Lineup:

His second hit of the season was a big one.

1. Aoki CF
2. Tanaka 2B
3. Whitesell 1B
4. Hatakeyama LF
5. Balentien RF
6. Miyamoto 3B
7. Aikawa C
8. Kawabata SS
9. Ishikawa P

A win today would have been number 100 of Ishikawa’s NPB career, and the overbooked right field bleachers were vocally behind him the entire six innings of his tenure on the mound.

Chunichi actually scored first in this contest. In the top of the second inning, Ishikawa gave up back-to-back singles to Wada and Blanco before finally getting the first out via a Guzman pop fly to Tanaka at second. With runners on first and third, Nomoto hit a tricky grounder to second that Tanaka was able to get to, but the out at second was all that came of it, and Wada made it home safely. 1-0 Chunichi.

Never fear though, for Balentien is here. After Hatakeyama flied out to center, Wladimir came out swinging. On the defensive with a 1-2 count, Tokyo’s slugger feasted on a weak fastball that Chunichi’s starter, Yamauchi, left over the plate. Home run number nine for Balentien. Game tied at one.

Ishikawa got back into his normal rhythm of grounders and pop flies to make quick work of the third and fourth innings, and his teammates came through with some offense shortly thereafter.

Tanaka worked a six pitch walk to start the bottom of the fourth and then was able to make it to second when a pickoff attempt went awry at first. Hatakeyama then came through with a huge double to center that scored Tanaka from second. 2-1 Tokyo.

 

Hatakeyama keeps the big hits coming. RBI double.

Balentien wasted no time in compounding Yamauchi’s misery. The 25 year old Aichi native made the mistake of starting out with a weak fastball that was nearly identical to the one that Balentien had punished in his previous at bat. This time the ball didn’t leave the park, but none of Chunichi’s infielders actually saw it as it ripped past them into left field. Of his last seven hits, it was the first one that didn’t end up in the cheap seats. Think about that for a moment.

The best thing about that scorcher that Balentien hit to Wada in left was that it moved the rather pace-challenged Hatakeyama over to third with Miyamoto now standing in the batter’s box. One of the best things about Miyamoto, and to be fair Miyamoto has always given us a multitude of reasons to love him, is that he hits well with runners in scoring position. In fact, he currently leads the league with a .625 batting average. Yes, you read that correctly. Well, he hooked a low-and-away fastball to left that plated Hatakeyama. 3-1 Tokyo.

The celebrations didn’t last long, however. Nomoto clubbed the first pitch he saw in the top of the fifth over the fence in left. Two more runners would reach base that inning, but Ishikawa eventually got Morino to ground out to second (4-6) to end the inning and the threat. 3-2 Tokyo.

The Swallows threatened to score in the sixth, but Fukuchi (pinch-running for Whitesell who had walked) only made it as far as third before the inning ended. He did, however, manage to swipe his league-leading eighth base of the season. Quite impressive for a guy who still hasn’t recorded a single base hit.

Since he had thrown 99 pitches already and had a one run lead after six, Ogawa chose to go with Barnette in the seventh. Tony had made it through seven appearances without allowing a single run, so it was a logical choice.

However, Ishikawa’s 100th win quickly evaporated as Chunichi pinch-hitter, Donoue, cranked the first pitch he saw into the gap in right-center for a double. He then moved over to third on Araki’s grounder to short, and he scored on Ibata’s sac fly to right which Balentien did a good job of getting to. Tokyo 3-3 Chunichi.

One very interesting and welcome thing about the Swallows’ offense this season is that even when the team falls behind or temporarily loses its momentum, there’s still reason to hope that a rally can be put together to grab a run or two back. The birds haven’t yet shown the offense that the Chiba Marines are capable of, but there are currently very few consistent weaknesses in the batting order.

And sure enough, Aikawa started out the seventh by coaxing Chunichi’s senior middle reliever, Kawahara, into a five-pitch walk. That was followed by a Tak-bunt (read: sacrifice bunt) that actually turned into a run. Iihara, hitting for Barnette, gave Tony the win with a double that plated Aikawa from second. And Kawahara’s pain continued when Aoki bounced one up the middle five pitches later. Iihara beat the throw to the plate. 5-3 Final.

And the rains got heavier. More and more of the lights had to be turned on because the skies were so dark. Two innings later it was Lim on the mound protecting the two run lead. He struck out the first two batters he faced, Saeki and Araki, before inducing Ibata into a groundout to first under a veritable downpour.

Lim (1.13 ERA) earned his third save of the year while Barnette ended up getting the win instead of Ishikawa. Barnette’s ERA jumped to 1.00 due to the run that squeaked by, the first he’s allowed this season.

Matsuoka (2.00) earned a hold point for his inning of work. Ishikawa didn’t factor into the decision, so he’s still stuck at 99 career wins with a 2-1 record thus far in 2011. He gave up two earned runs off of seven hits with four K’s and two walks. The damage might have been worse had it not been for Aoki’s amazing diving catch to end the sixth with two runners hurtling towards home.

Chunichi got back at the Swallows for that big save in the seventh when Nomoto made an exceptional grab in center to rob Tanaka of an extra-base hit and an RBI.

Balentien had another big day going three for four with a home run. However, it was actually Iihara who was crowned the hero of the game because of his go-ahead, pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh, and I’m sure that Wladimir was happy to concede the spotlight on this rainy afternoon. He’s also probably tired of answering the same three questions over and over again.

Game two of the series is tomorrow afternoon with a first pitch scheduled for 2PM. The weather report looks considerably rosier than how it turned out today. If you’re planning to attend, don’t forget your suncreen, and show up early if you have more than two people in your party and wish to sit in the right field bleachers.

With the Swallows playing this well during Golden Week, there’s not a whole lot of extra space to go around.

Notes:

  • It should be interesting to see how far Miyamoto and Hatakeyama’s output declines in May. Hopefully it won’t be much. They both have OBP’s above .400 at the moment, so we’ll keep an eye on those numbers, .412 and .452 respectively.
  • Balentien leads the Central League in home runs (9), total bases (50), walks (13), and slugging (.877). For those of you who like OPS, Balentien’s is currently 1.349 through 57 official at-bats.
  • The Swallows remain in sole possession of first place in the Central. They’re one game ahead of the Hiroshima Carp who beat Yokohama 3-2 at home this afternoon. Hanshin is currently three games behind Tokyo with an 8-8-1 record.

Oh-so-close to career win number 100.

About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo's more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it's a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini