There’s an old cliche about an old cliche being a great way to start a game summary. Baseball is a game of forgetting about what happened the day before, and focusing on today.
A little after one o’clock, Takahiro Shiomi delivered a first pitch strike to Shuhei Fukuda, then struck him out to begin the second afternoon of the campaign. Keizo Kawashima worked a walk. Yuki Yanagita also struck out. Seiichi Uchikawa was up to bat when Kawashima abruptly ended the opening half frame. Sliding past the bag did not appear in the original plans for larceny. Kawashima was tagged out in a gentlemanly fashion by Eigoro Mogi.
In 2015, Rick van den Hurk started 15 NPB games without taking a loss. He wasn’t the only one working on stringing something together in the bottom of the 1st. After starting the 2016 season on base five times in a row, Takero Okajima ended that streak with a line drive. Ginji grounded out, and Kazuo Matsui went down swinging. Someone less concerned with the consequences of bad puns would say Rick was on a roll.
The top of the 2nd started with an Uchikawa fly ball, a Barbaro Canizares walk, and a Nobuhiro Matsuda strike out on a full count. There were two outs. Kawashima singled up the middle. Hawks had runners at 1st and 2nd. There was hope. Kenta Imamiya grounded to first. There was baseball.
To begin the bottom of the frame, Zelous Wheeler sent a first pitch soaring to the waiting glove of Yanagita. Former Marines favorite Toshiaki Imae struck out, and lost his bat in the process. It was just as pretty as that sounds. After every Eagle was denied a bag, Eigoro Mogi banged a triple off the wall for his 1st career hit. He arrived at third in a blur of legs, and Kobo Stadium filled with joy. There’s nothing quite like a rookie getting those first deafening cheers from a home crowd. Buzz Berkeley sends a thousand letter carriers dancing down a dizzying flight of stairs with satchels full of Valentines while fireworks explode in the distance. Mogi was preparing to take a short journey home when the telephone rang. Travel plans had been changed by a Jonny Gomes infield fly.
Shiomi snared a Hiroaki Takaya comebacker, Fukuda flew out to Kaz, Kawashima walked, and Gita hit a grounder to finish the top half of the 3rd. That isn’t a very satisfying thing to imagine, so this sentence will end with the words takoyaki at the ballpark.
Kazuya Fujita led off the bottom of the inning with a triple, sending the first delivery to the wall past a diving Akira Nakamura. Motohiro Shima hit an infield fly, and we all know how lousy that feels. Okajima offered a sacrifice to faraway Yanagita, and Fujita escaped home unharmed. Ginji propelled a supersonic sphere toward Imamiya. He took the liner in stride. With 3 in the ledger, Eagles led 1-0.
The 4th began with an Uchikawa walk. Canizares doubled to right, and Uchi idled at the stop light 90 feet from home. This development set a sequence of events into motion. First, it led to the formation of a committee engaged in serious discussion on the mound. In turn, the ballpark became quieter than a nervous groom losing himself in wood paneling. Matsuda stepped to the plate. Pacific League opponents accepted to their fate. “Whole stadium is silent except for beer girls and Hawks fans,” quipped Brian on Eaglestation. Being human means a lot of stuff. Some of that stuff in baseball can be so magical it leaves you speechless. In this specific case, an unintentional snack sized dink failed to advance the runners. Silence was forgotten. Nakamura parked a bloop into a small portion of right field where the ball could reach the grass immediately before drawing a crowd. Uchi scored for a dapper tie. Imamiya doubled into the left field corner, and Canizares came home. Takaya grounded to second with birds at corners, but to keep things interesting, Nakamura was out at home on a chef’s choice fielder’s choice. Birds at the corners awaited Fukuda too. He also grounded to second. Hawks grabbed their gloves, and jogged out with a 2-1 lead.
To describe half of the fourth on a first name basis is a measured response to the game. Kazuo grounded to Rick after his sixth delivery. Zelous swapped his lumber after a foul on the second pitch left his first choice damaged, then went down swinging on the fifth pitch with a second selection. Toshiaki fouled out to first on the first with his first. The bottom half of the fourth was done, and one third of the game was in the books. A fraction of this makes sense now.
Leading off the fifth, Kawashima grounded to Fujita, and Yanagita walked. Shiomi had 85 pitches, but less than 85 pickoff attempts, so he tried to balance the accounts. Gita showcased the new Kobo infield on his uniform after an endless series of dives back to bag. In between a steady barrage of tosses to first, a small number of offerings were presented to Uchi for his appraisal. He eventually sent a 1-1 pitch into center for a single. Yoda visited the mound without a John Williams soundtrack. Canizares swung mightily at two pitches with lumberjack intent, then sent a delightful little doink between Mogi and Wheeler for a single to score Gita. Matsuda grounded into a double play with runners at the corners, but a 3-1 Hawks lead took most of the sting out.
To get things going, Mogi was issued a free pass left over from yesterday. He advanced to second on a Gomes grounder to Matsuda. Fujita flew out to Fukuda in left. It was not deep enough for Mogi to even think about third base in the abstract. Shima was rung up. Blue started the chainsaw. Rick ended the inning with his 66th offering.
With 94 pitches on the meter, Shiomi warmed up for the top of the 6th. Groundskeepers demonstrated the pop-up spigot behind the mound while wetting down the clay. Nakamura stepped into a fresh infield and battled through a full count. He flew out to Wheeler as Shiomi reached the century mark. Imamiya also gave a pitch a good ride, but it found leather with Okajima. Takaya grounded out to Mogi. The lead-off hitter ran up the tab, but the half inning only took a dozen out of the cooler.
Okajima bounced a chopper to Matsuda. Ginji extended his not-really-a-drought with a strikeout. A Matsui excuse me swing was excused from the table without any cake, and the Hawks music began for Lucky 7.
Fukuda fouled out to Imae on the first pitch of the inning. Kawashima struck out with a propeller like motion on the 111th pitch from Shiomi. Gita stepped in, worked a full count into a walk, and the sounds of angels could be heard singing. Yoda returned to the mound after 117 pitches. Ryota Ishibashi, a 25-year-old from the industrial leagues, climbed the hill for his NPB debut. He then threw 4 straight balls, and Uchi walked the line. After a pep talk, he settled down, but an abdomen full of butterflies still danced until Canizares flew out. Ishibashi exhaled, and found his way back to the dugout. Eagles fans sang for Lucky 7, and the sky filled with more red balloons than MTV in the 80s.
Wheeler flew out to Nakamura. Imae grounded out to Imamiya. A rookie showing a knack for doing the little things too, Mogi worked a 3-2 count to 12 offerings (or 12.63% of van den Hurk’s pitch count at that point) before striking out.
Takaaki Yokoyama came in to pitch the top of the 8th. Matsuda struck out. Nakamura chopped one to Imae. Imamiya grounded to Mogi.
The tally was up to 95 pitches for van den Hurk when he began the bottom of the 8th. Gomes hit a towering pop up to Fukuda. Fujita singled. Shintaro Masuda pinch hit for Shima, and took a walk. Louis Okoye came in to pinch run for Masuda. Okajima grounded out to Imamiya who settled for one out with a rookie heading his way. A few pitches later, Okajima scampered to second. Ginji ended a short-lived slump with a double to bring everyone home. Kaz Matsui grounded out to end the rally, but the score was even at 3-3.
Eagles closer Yuki Matsui came in to keep a tie out of the soup. Okoye debuted in center field. Tadashi Ishimine went behind the dish. On the other lineup card, Yuki Yoshimura replaced Takaya for the Hawks. Of course, the ball will always find the rookie. Yoshimura sent Okoye to the edge of the warning track for a nice catch. Fukuda followed with a towering fly that looked good with an Okoye smile afterward too. Kawashima worked a full count into a walk on a bouncer in the dirt, but Yanagita was out on a sharp ground ball.
Edison Barrios took the mound. Wheeler sent a few fouls on long rides before the last one found a glove. Kawashima raced cross country to the fence along right field to make a dandy catch. Mogi doubled for his second career hit, and the crowd roared approval. Small sample size, but it has to feel good when your entire line is extra bases. Gomes discovered a time of day when the sun gets in the eyes of a hitter. He started to walk on strike two, then worked a full count before being retired. Bonus baseball was on the way.
Koji Aoyama came in for the 10th. Uchi grounded out. It was time to feed the cat. Kenji Akashi was on base when it wasn’t time to feed the cat anymore. Wheeler made a truly fantastic catch to retire Canizares, and essentially save the world for the Eagles. Akashi stole a bag. Matsuda walked. Nakamura struck out on a check swing. Pinch hitting Yuya Hasegawa took a big cut and missed after seven pitches.
Tomoki Takata settled in at second for the bottom of the frame. Barrios was back on the mound. Louis Okoye was waiting on deck when Fujita grounded out to second. Okoye stepped in for the very first time, drew a 5 pitch walk, and a warm welcome from the faithful. Satoh came out for a meeting. Okajima had a front row seat to watch Barrios as he dirtied Okoye’s uniform holding him on first. At one point the Eagles coach called time, just so Okoye could dig the dirt out of his pants. Okoye drew 7 throws to first before deciding that was enough. Moments later, a close play at second was his first career stolen base. At some point during this inning I realized Shinya Tsuruoka was behind the dish, but I’m not sure if he was routine or injury because the cat wanted to go outside. After an intentional walk to Ginji, Satoh returned to make a pitching change. Masahiro Morifuku had a meeting with his infielders that ended with a lot of emphatic nods. There might be a half dozen different languages on a given baseball field, but every reliever seems to understand the value of emphatic nods. Tadashi Ishimine was hitting in the spot once occupied by Kaz when this epic adventure began. Fans optimistically inflated their celebratory balloons, but Mori found the ground out button.
Radhames Liz made his NPB debut in the top of the 11th. Tsuruoka stepped in, whacked a ball deep in the hole at short, and Liz gave up his first hit on his first pitch. A Fukuda sacrifice bunt sent Tsuruoka to second. Kawashima took Liz to a 3-0 count. Liz clawed back to a full count with a hairy one down the heart followed by a swing and miss. The battle was over when Kawashima couldn’t check his swing. Yoda came back to the mound for a short talk. Yanagita showed intention in his strides to first after a gifted walk. Akashi struck out. Liz enjoyed his first regular season high fives and smiles.
Ryota Igarashi came in for the Hawks, and enjoyed eating the home half frame. It was a simple selection of well-prepared dishes. Grounders from Wheeler and Imae, and a Mogi strike out.
To hold the line in the top half of the 12th inning, Hiroyuki Fukuyama came in for Eagles. Canizares pounded the first pitch sharply to Mogi. Matsuda went down for the Eagles’ 10th collective strikeout, and a free drink for fans at a local watering hole. Nakamura grounded out.
Dennis Sarfate worked the bottom of the 12th without mercy, and sent a fiery ball of cinnamon past Gomes for a quick 0-2. He ended the battle with a towering out. Gomes ran around the bases anyway, and exited the field at 3rd. Fujita pounded a low drive that was supposed to be in the outfield too, but it whistled straight into Matsuda’s glove. Okoye saw a pitch, and flew out.
It was a formal end to a spiffy 3-3 tie. Central League started action an hour later, and all three games were done before the sun set at Kobo.
“Last year, this would have been a loss,” said Brian on Eaglestation. He wasn’t wrong. He also shared a feeling of optimism about the coming year.
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Official NPB Box Score.