October 2nd, 2015
Tokyo Swallows 2
Streak: Last 5: LWWLW
(Meiji Jingu Stadium)
|W: Roman (5-5 / 2.40 ERA)
L: Nohmi (11-13 / 3.63)
1978. 1992. 1993. 1995. 1997. 2001. Now you can add 2015 to that list of oh-so-special years as your Tokyo Yakult Swallows are Central League Champions for the 7th time in their illustrious history.
Let me just write that one more time. YOUR TOKYO SWALLOWS ARE THE 2015 CENTRAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS! My lord, I think that is the finest sentence I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing.
|1||Toritani (SS)||1||Ueda (CF)|
|2||Yamato (2B)||2||Kawabata (3B)|
|3||Murton (LF)||3||Yamada (2B)|
|4||Gomez (1B)||4||Hatakeyama (1B)|
|5||Imanari (3B)||5||Balentien (LF)|
|6||Perez (RF)||6||Yuhei (RF)|
|7||Egoshi (CF)||7||Obiki (SS)|
|8||Umeno (C)||8||Nakamura (C)|
|9||Iwata (P)||9||Ogawa (P)|
Sitting here twelve plus hours following the momentous events at Jingu on Friday evening, I have already watched highlights of the game and subsequent celebrations three times. Not once did they fail to bring tears of joy to my eyes. My personal memories of yesterday are still rolled in a big ball of “what the fuck is happening?” as after literally hundreds of Swallows games attended/watched/written about over the last decade plus, my mind is still taking it all in. What in the not too distant past seemed complete and utter fantasy, is now a wonderful, spine tingling reality.
After the scale of the occasion got to the Swallows as they failed at their first attempt to clinch on Tuesday, the remainder of this week leading up to Friday was a nervy one for Tokyo fans. After Thursday’s game vs Hanshin was rained off the nervousness was compounded further as the Swallows faithful had to scramble for tickets as they went on sale at 9am the morning of the 24 hour delayed game. A scramble that lead to the Swallows ticketing site buckling under the pressure, and after the dust settled the game was announced as a sellout some 75 minutes after the 30,000 plus tickets went on sale, with many regulars (who had possessed tickets for the original game) finding themselves without a ticket as the Swallows took their second shot at history.
One positive upshot of the ticketing chaos, was that Tigers fans seemingly came out worst in the mass ticket grab, meaning that for the first time in quite some time, especially versus the Tigers, the home fans outnumbered their opposition numbers in what looked like a 9:1 ratio. The Tokyo outfield unreserved section was even extended left of the scoreboard into left field, something which I do not remember ever seeing before.
And so to the game, with the ace of recent years Yasuhiro Ogawa taking the mound for the good guys. And after two 1st inning walks, he would settle down into what would be a very strong six innings of work.
And he got a slender early lead to play with too, as in the bottom of the 1st it was the Swallows big 3 of 2015 who drew first blood. A Kawabata single, walk for Yamada, and Hatakeyama timely single to left brought home Shingo to make it 1-0 Tokyo.
After that, Ogawa was only threatened in the top of the 2nd. Following a one out Egoshi triple to right, Umeno hit a low liner to right, which Hatake fielded diving to his right. Having seemingly been able to cleanly catch the ball, he then proceeded to throw to third for the out of Egoshi who had run home on contact, double play, inning over. Only soon to be ex-Hanshin manager Wada was not impressed, especially as the first base umpire initially had seemed to signal that it was a fair ball, not an out from Hatake after all. And after what must have been 15 minutes of delay, which was mostly the umpire crew huddled at the pitchers mound, with the Hanshin coaching staff standing angrily with arms folded two meters or so behind them, the double play call was confirmed and the Swallows could move on with the task at hand.
The Swallows offence was mostly kept in check by Tigers’ starter Iwata, getting a man into scoring position in both the 2nd and 5th, both times with two outs on the board, and each time that final out was never enough to bring the second run home.
Though it was the big 3 with the bat that had combined to put the Swallows ahead in the 1st, after Ogawa departed following six innings (6 IP / 98 NP / 3 H / 3 K / 2 BB / 0 ER), it would be up to the team’s other 2015 signature, their bullpen arms, to keep them in the game.
First up was Ondrusek, who pitched a perfect 7th. Next up was workhorse Akiyoshi, making his 73rd appearance of the season, tying Matsuoka’s club record for appearances set back in 2010. And he got the quick outs of Egoshi and Umeno, before allowing a single to the pinch-hitting Nishioka. Lefty specialist Kyuko was then brought in the face the dangerous Toritani, but he allowed another single with Nishioka going from first to third to put men on the corners.
In came the soon to be retired Sekimoto and, just as he had in the key Giants game the weekend prior, Manaka called for Barnette to try and get the final four outs the Swallows needed. But the wily veteran hadn’t read the script, as he poked the first pitch he saw from Tony up the middle to tie the game at 1-1. Tony then got Murton to fly out to right and the inning was over.
A two strikeout perfect top of the 9th followed for Barnette, and after the Tokyo bats failed to get anything going against the 62 year old Fukuhara in the bottom of the 9th, we were on to extra innings.
The workhorse that is Orlando Roman then took to the mound for the birds, who would pitch the most impressive two innings of his Swallows career, allowing just one man on (via a slightly fortunate infield single) over his shift in the most high pressure of circumstances.
Hanshin meanwhile, turned to starter Nohmi to get them through the extra frames. And against the slightly brittle starter, it became a case of who was going to step up to the plate and bring home the glory for Tokyo, with Jingu Stadium getting louder and more fevered in support of their heroes on the field.
First up was birthday boy Ueda in the bottom of the 10th, who following an Ohbiki single and subsequent sac bunt and wild pitch, found himself coming to the plate with the Championship winning run at third with two outs. He could not grasp the glory however, as he flew out to left to end the inning.
And so we go to the bottom of the 11th, which would see the big 3 once again come to the plate. First up was Kawabata, and he poked one past a diving Toritani to left to put the clinching run at first. Next was MVP-elect Tetsuto Yamada, who after working the count full, struck out swinging as Kawabata broke for second. Hanshin catcher Tsuruoka made a wild throw to second, with the ball getting away into the outfield and allowing Shingo to come to rest at third, with only the one out on the board.
Next up was Hatake, who to the surprise of no one, was intentionally walked to put men on the corners. He was followed by the recently recalled Hiroyasu Tanaka, with the scene seemingly set for Beavis to grasp that elusive glory for the birds. And he came close, hitting a fly to shallowish right which required a very decent play on the stretch from Egoshi for the second out of the inning.
Then it was Yuhei. The ex-pitcher turned outfielder who, after a breakout year in 2014, has endured a difficult 2015. But those troubles were wiped away in one swing of the bat after he hit one up the right field foul line to bring home Kawabata and send Jingu into raptures, with bedlam exploding in the stands as the Tokyo faithful celebrated a 2-1 Tokyo Final.
- Following the game it was doage time, rookie manager and member of that last 2001 Championship winning side Mitsuru Manaka was tossed into the air seven times. Ishikawa, Tateyama, and Hatakeyama also got the doage treatment.
- The team were then presented with the Pennant, and took a lap of honour around Jingu.
- Then it was beer time, as the players and staff got very very wet out on the field.
After all that, late late into the evening, the players left the field to no doubt continue their celebrations elsewhere. They have a game in Hiroshima Saturday evening that should be, interesting. The final game of the regular season then takes place Sunday in a meaningless laugher against the Giants at Tokyo Dome. Following that the Swallows get a week in which to watch the CL’s 2nd and 3rd place teams face off for the right to face them at Jingu in the CL Climax Series Final Stage from October 14th.
Until then, we can all sunbathe in the aftermath of this victory, walk to work with a spring in our step, safe in the knowledge that the people of Japan now know what we’ve always known: there is no finer team than our Tokyo Yakult Swallows.