Climax Series is about struggle – a team that does not win the league faces a huge uphill climb. After game 1’s total blowout in Sapporo Chiba fans might have been excused for thinking the road to Fukuoka was easy, especially so on Sunday afternoon when Our Marines went to bottom 8 and the fearsome duo of Otani and Uchi with a 2-1 lead, but no, its just not that simple, Otani imploded and Hamu clawed back a come from behind 4-2 win.
Fortunately Chiba kept an ace in the pocket for such an occasion – Wakui brought years of playoff experience to Monday’s match vs fellow former Sawamura award winner Yoshikawa. In bottom 1, all the fears about Wakui’s 137 pitch, 10 inning outing on Tuesday came into play as he really, really struggled to get anything past the hungry Hamu bats. A shocking 39 pitches, 2 walks, 2 hits, and 2 uniforms (thanks to a uniform tear on the first play of the game) later, Chiba was lucky to be down just 1-0.
That deficit stood for just .37 seconds (approx) as the first batter of the second inning, not-so-grizzled veteran Iguchi, hammered a Yoshikawa fat pitch deep into the left field stands. Suddenly, tie game!
Wakui recovered nicely after the first inning struggle, recording a quick 1-2-3 second (facilitated by a helpful Yoh GIDP), but in the third inning he found himself in the pickle of pickles – bases loaded and no outs after a pair of singles and a walk, and the middle of the order looming. This was Chiba’s day, though, not Hamu’s – groundout to Wakui by Kondoh ( should have been a DP actually), swinging K of Laird, and shallow pop out by Sunday’s hero Yano, Wakui escape.
No hyperbole – some of the finest pitching I’ve seen as a Lotte fan came in this game from Wakui and Uchi (ooh, preview!), and for Wakui it came on a day where clearly he did not have his best command. Truly an ace performance. In fact, despite Wakui sitting on 98 pitches after 4 innings I thought there was a good chance that he would go the distance. Alas, he “only” managed 6 1/3 of 1 run ball on a stunning 143 pitches.
Pulling Wakui was a decision made much easier in top 7. Rookie starter Arihara came in in relief in top 6 and seemed untouchable, but on the first pitch of the seventh the massive bat of DESPA showed he was touchable indeed, sending that first pitch a solid 135-140m to center, pushing Our Marines to a 2-1 lead!
Matsunaga took over for Wakui after a single and a walk, but he shut that chance down like it was nothing. Otani got another chance in the 8th but much like Sunday, he seemed rather terrible (though less so than Sunday (though anything would look less terrible than Sunday)). Unlike Sunday, however, Itoh made the smart move and went to his closer with 5 outs to go. A punch out of pinch hitting Otani and a ground out by Ishikawa later, Uchi fist pump, Uchi roar, lead preserved.
Uchi proved in 2009 that he is a big-game pitcher, and he confirmed it in 2010 with his epic 7ks in 3 innings in Nipppon Series Game 7; this game ranks right there with those. No drama in bottom 9, just power and dominance as Uchi quickly sealed this win and the trip to Fukuoka with a perfect inning. Fighters fans left stunned; the thousand or so Lotte fans at Sapporo Dome and the many thousands more watching at QVC went crazy. Amazing.
The dream is still alive, folks. It’s Golden Year again! All that is needed to bring the Nippon Series back to QVC is 4 wins in Fukuoka. We’ve seen this before. We’re doing it again.