Wearing number 21 and using a blue glove like Eagles ace Hisashi Iwakuma before his days in Seattle, Yoshinao Kamata faced lead-off hitter Shuhei Fukuda in the final game of Opening Weekend at Kobo Stadium. Fukuda watched a strike zip by before a lofting a fly to Kazuo Matsui in center. Yuichi Honda bounced out to second. Yuki Yanagita sent a ball sailing across center field to the fence, and wheeled through a cinematic triple. Seiichi Uchikawa watched 5 pitches go by, then took a walk down the path with a slow pan and gentle bird songs. It was almost time for more popcorn when Kamata fanned Barbaro Canizares on 3 pitches that were nastier than a B-movie sword fight.
Shota Takeda quickly dispatched Takero Okajima in the bottom of the 1st. Ginji drove a single out to Fukuda, who caught in on a short bounce, but couldn’t find the side with a handle. Kazuo Matsui and Zelous Wheeler both went down swinging on similar offerings. Both pitches had bottoms that dropped away like heavy sacks of leaky take out.
Kamata delivered two great pitches for strikes, then unleashed a feral beast that didn’t bite anyone before it was recaptured without incident by Motohiro Shima. Nobuhiro Matsuda sent the next offering to Okjima near the warning track in right. Akira Nakamura pounded one out to left, but Wheeler ran, tracked, turned, jumped, and caught it over his shoulder. Kenta Imamiya offered no opportunity for an encore with a shallow fly to Matsui in center, but the entire Eagles outfield had a chance to spread smiles around the park.
Leading off in the bottom of the 2nd, Toshiaki Imae received a full count ticket from Takeda. Eigoro Mogi showed bunt, wore a pitch on his back leg, and earned a bag. Jonny Gomes grounded into a double play, but never stopped hustling and hoping. Imae took third because it was the last cookie. Before he could get a glass of milk in the kitchen at home, Kazuya Fujita grounded out to nearby Matsuda.
With so many memories wrapped up in the participants, the 3rd frame may have sparked the beginning of conversations that sustained hope for a rally as the innings unfolded. Veteran backstop Hiroaki Takaya flew out to veteran veteran Kaz Matsui in center field. Fukuda, an outfielder who will be remembered fondly in future conversations about those days when these days become those days, sent a towering pop-up to veteran third baseman Imae in foul territory. Veteran second baseman Honda grounded out to veteran second baseman Fujita. A tall fir awaits lights and veteran presents in around 270 days.
Shima banged the first pitch past Imamiya, flipped his bat, and dashed to first in a singular motion. Okajima started this ’16 season every bit as hot as a stolen smartphone on Craigslist, but still executed a perfect sacrifice bunt. Thanks to this selfless act by a caring teammate, Shima reached second base safely. Ginji watched a rainbow for strike two, fouled to stay alive briefly, and succumbed to pitching. Matsui battled gallantly, but the 3rd ended with a routine earth skipper to Imamiya.
Leading off the 4th, Gita poked one through a button hole for a single. Uchi spent another at bat watching Gita get his uniform dirty before a lining a single on a bounce to Wheeler. Canizares swung and missed a curve, spoiled the next two pitches down the third base line, then swung and missed another curve. He might miss a curve or two, but he ain’t delivering eggs on an icy mountain road. Matsuda offered a live sacrifice fly, pleased the deity, and advanced Gita to third. With Hawks at the corners, Shima came out on the grass to give signs. After witnessing the incantations, Nakamura grounded out to end the threat.
A child’s voice could be heard yelling, “Wheeler!” as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the frame. He grounded out before the bleachers could finish a stanza of his song. Baseball is full of these little heartbreaking moments. Each one makes success all that much sweeter when it comes, or empties your soul into a void. It probably depends on how one approaches the game. Imae sent a baseball through Uchikawa for his first error of the campaign. After watching the replay, one almost expected to see a cartoon hole when Uchi faced the camera. Mogi skittered one to second, and the Hawks turned a quick double play. Like Safeco Field, there were boat races on the giant new video screen after the inning came to a close.
Imamiya bounced an out through the new grass to start the 5th. Takaya also sent one along the earth to Ginji. He bobbled it just enough to ignite a flicker of hope before dashing to the bag for the out. Fukuda jumped on the first pitch to complete a trifecta of frustrating grounders.
As he stepped into the box in the bottom of the 5th, Gomes heard the crowd chanting his name. He kept grinding through another chance, then grounded out to Imamiya. Fujita chopped one just out of reach of a leaping Takeda who grazed it with an outstretched glove. The baseball landed behind the mound like a curious seagull stopping to explore a sandwich. Shima saw two pitches before Takaya mowed Fujita down at second on a steal attempt. Shima ended the inning with a can of corn from the top shelf for Imamiya in shallow center field. Shima quickly climbed back into his catching gear.
Both teams came into the 6th inning with three hits. Takeda ended the 5th with 56 offerings. Kamata started the 6th with 61 pitches. While the groundkeepers did their job, Okoye stood in front of the dugout wearing a hoodie. He was taking in everything. When action resumed, Honda sent a bouncer down the first base line. Gita fouled a ball high over the Eaglestation booth, which was pretty cool, and eventually flew out, which was less cool. Uchi worked a walk before Canizares struck out again. He made it clear that he was not very pleased with himself.
The bottom of the 6th started with Okajima zipping a lawn trimmer to third that Matsuda fired across to Uchikawa. Ginji tried to beat a slow roller down the first base line. He did not. Matsui struck out. Hawks fans filled their yellow balloons, and enjoyed a Lucky 7 on the road.
Matsuda grounded out to Mogi at short. That rookie looked mighty sharp in those high socks and stirrups. Nakamura grounded out to Mogi at short. That rookie still looked mighty sharp in those high socks and stirrups. Imamiya struck out. Eagles fans filled their red balloons, and enjoyed a Lucky 7 at home.
Wheeler watched a couple of benders, then grounded out. Imae lined one over the mound into center field. Mogi struck out swinging. Gomes lined one into left field for his first NPB base hit. Things happened afterward, but I was busy sharing the good news with other people who like Gomes. Now the bad news. He was left stranded.
Action in the 8th began with the first feast of the season for the BABIP Monster. Takaya sent one on an express line to Fujita. Fukuda smacked a shoe top screamer to Ginji. Honda scorched one down the line to Imae. Three hard hit balls. Nothing to show for it.
In the bottom of the 8th, Shima struck out looking, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t a strike. Okajima banged a clover cutter to first. Ginji twirled his bat as he stepped away from a few pitches through the course of a full count, then led his parade down to first base in a cloud of confetti. Matsui ended the inning with a long fly to left. Fukuda tossed the third out into the crowd.
Yuki Matsui came in for the 9th to close, or at least keep it close. Gita laced a 3-2 pitch into the right field corner for a long single. Uchi got under a towering pop foul that Shima caught in front of the dugout. It was a fine play. “He could have said hello to the Hawks,” Brian exclaimed on Eaglestation. Canizares fouled one off his foot. Shima gave him time to let the bees stop swarming, and used that moment to have a chat with Matsui. The next pitch was a high arcing volley to Mogi. Matsuda grounded out, and Gita was stranded at the bus stop on a snow day.
Takeda was still out there working for the Hawks in the 9th. Wheeler lofted a fly to right. Imae struck out swinging. Mogi was primed for a big moment, and sent a single into left field between Matsuda and Imamiya. 118 pitches. Gomes stepped in and worked a full count to chants of “Jonii! Jonii! Jonii!” He drew a walk, and took off his elbow protector like a guy who just aced a blood pressure check after a health scare. Tetsuro Nishida came in to pinch run for Gomes. Fujita hit a single past Honda and Uchi to a charging Nakamura in right. He was shallow enough to hold the bases loaded, but not so shallow that one would avoid him at parties. On the 128th pitch from Kamata, Shima hit a quick bouncer to Imamiya who tossed it to Honda. Bonus baseball again.
In the top of the 10th, Koji Aoyama was back in a familiar situation. Nakamura flipped a two strike single in front of Wheeler. Ryuma Kidokuro came in to pinch run for Nakamura. Imamiya was out on a root beer tapper. Yuya Hasegawa came in to pinch hit, and drew a pinch walk. Keizo Kawashima came in to pinch run for Hasegawa. Kenji Akashi came in to pinch hit. In a pinch, a ground ball worked, and pinch runners advanced. Honda launched a two pinch run single sailing merrily into center field. Gita worked a 3-2 count. Honda purloined second. Gita worked a 3-2 walk. Uchi singled in a run. Yoda came out to the hill. Ryota Ishibashi came in from the pen. Canizares singled in a run. Matsuda plated two. Kidokoro bounced one past Ginji. Matsuda scored to make it 7-0. Imamiya struck out swinging on a good pitch, but it would have been mean to continue the pummeling when the point had clearly been made: Hawks were doing Hawks things again. Ishibashi isn’t terrible, but he had a very hard day at the office.
Yuya Iida was entrusted with the keys to a comfortable Hawks lead. Not only was it comfortable, it had that new car smell. He didn’t put a scratch on it. Okajima sent one across the grass to a glove. Ginji sent one over the grass to a glove. Pinch hitting for Matsui, Louis Okoye went down swinging.
Hawks defeated the Eagles and leveled the series 1-1-1 with 10 innings and a 7-0 outburst. After the first victory, Takeda was the first hero interview.
Join the Eaglestation crew for their third season broadcasting every home series in English to Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles fans all over the world. Thanks to the volunteers who worked a pair of extra inning affairs to begin the year. Brian co-hosted all three games. He was joined by Kyle on Opening Day, Rich for game two, and Violet to wrap up the series.
Official NPB Box Score.