In 2003, Tsuyoshi Wada earned Pacific League Rookie of the Year honors with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. After a professional journey that began by bringing glory to Kyushu, and eventually wended through MLB, Wada was back with old friends for the home opener. It went fairly smoothly in the first inning. A fly to left, a strikeout on 4 pitches, and a fly to right.
Takayuki Kishi is 7-4 in career at Fukuoka Dome with 2.15 ERA, his best ERA at any main PL park and his 2nd best record. He's 9-2 in Chiba.
— Jim Allen (@JballAllen) March 29, 2016
It wasn’t going to be an easy night. Shuhei Fukuda bravely battled through a half dozen offerings, and Kishi tallied a strikeout. Yuichi Honda knocked the first pitch he saw into left field for a single. Yuki Yanagita worked the count full. Honda drew a couple of pickoff attempts. When Kishi returned to delivering things to his neighborhood, Gita gladly accepted a free base. Seiichi Uchikawa watched a strike, slowly twirled the tip of his bat, took a low ball, then sent a live one all the way to the right field wall. It was caught by a skilled angler in deep waters. Honda moved within 90 feet of a run. Unfortunately, he used most of that route to get his glove after Yuya Hasegawa flew out to Shogo Akiyama in center. Nope, it wasn’t going to be an easy night.
In the top of the 2nd, Wada started Takeya Nakamura off with a strike, took it to 2-2, and then next sphere slipped past to finish the job. Hideto Asamura sent a two bounce single on the carpet to left. Not long after arriving at the bag, a nefarious plot went into motion. It would not be successful. Wada whirled the moment Asamura took off, threw a seed to Uchi, and a quick relay to Kenta Imamiya at second filled Fukuoka Dome with the delicious smell of home cooked meat. Ryo Sakata also went to 2-2 before another strike whistled by. The ump punched his ticket too.
As the Hawks half began, Matsuda singled to center. Hasegawa hit a ball just out of reach of 32 and 33 before they had a chance to 65 in foul territory. Kishi tossed a filthy shop rag change up, and the ump punched another ticket. Imamiya tried to check his swing, but he knew that he hadn’t, and began walking away. A man of thorough routine, the catcher still asked for a second opinion at first. He received the fist of confirmation. Nobuhiro Matsuda was almost picked off by Ginjiro Sumitani, then Ayatsugu Yamashita waved through another strike to end the 2nd frame.
Leading off the third, Sumitani took a full count walk on a ball that wasn’t low, and elicited an eye-roll from Wada. Hotaka Yamakawa bunted one back to a charging Wada, but it advanced Sumitani nonetheless. Shuta Tonosaki flew out to Uchi in foul ground. Akiyama grounded one up the middle to a shallow Gita, but his throw was imperfect. Sumitani scored the first tally. Takumi Kuriyama also took a full count walk on a borderline high pitch. Kudo didn’t look upset in the dugout, but seemed to have empathy for his starter. At last, Ernesto Mejia struck out swinging to end the inning. Wada came off the field like a guy who planned to help carry a synth upstairs, and ended up lugging a piano. Lions led 1-0.
Fukuda bounced one to Tonosaki at short. Honda took a strike as the wonderful horns began with a flourish in the seats. He responded to the encouragement with a sharp single into right. Gita hit a rug rat to Asamura who relayed to Tonosaki for one, but his relay to Yamakawa wasn’t in time. Captain Uchi served the third out to Akiyama in center.
Wada came into the 4th with 44 pitches. Nakamura hit a single. Asamura zipped one just under the glove of a flying Imamiya. Sakata spun around after missing a curve, then flew out to left. Sumitani hit a single. Nakamura rounded third, but eased back in a bus-like fashion. Asamura bounced to Honda, who threw to Uchi, but there would be no twin killing. Nakamura scored to give Lions a 2-0 margin. Wada kept on battling. At last, Sakata flew out to right on a full count pitch. 2-0 Lions.
In the home half, Hasegawa watched 4 straight pitches for a 3-1 count, swung at a pair, and it was over faster than sneaking a piece of pie at midnight. Matsuda also took the count to 3-1, but was rewarded a walk. Nakamura singled to left. Imamiya shared 3 long fouls with fans during the course of a 1-2 count, took it to 2-2, then swung on a devastating change. Matsuda was almost picked off before Yamashita struck out.
Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times reminded us all that Akiyama gets hits more often than anyone not named Akiyama.
Akiyama just keeps getting hits. Look at this foolishness from last season pic.twitter.com/lHjML9EWE2
— Jason Coskrey (@JCoskrey) March 29, 2016
To start the 5th frame, Akiyama confirmed what many suspected already, and got a hit. Kuriyama also got a hit with a full count single to left. Quickly, two runners were sipping sodas at the corner store with nobody out. Yamashita came out on the synthetic lawn to share a series of signs with his fielders. Mejia was served a rib eye single, then Nakamura also enjoyed a rib eye single. Meija advanced on the throw. Two more runners enjoyed dinner at the corners. Satoh got on the horn in the dugout. Wada quickly glanced at the menu. He needed an out, followed by two more outs. He sent an order to the kitchen. Asamura flew out to Honda, Sakata flew out to Yanagita, and Sumitani struck out. The waitress politely cleared the dishes into a bus tub, made change for everyone, and pulled the chain under the neon sign. 4-0 Lions.
Kudo walked back to talk to his battery in the dugout. Both nodded a lot while he stood in front of them, but he was turned addressing the catcher. Whatever the skipper said, there sure wasn’t much time to dwell on it. First, there was that Fukuda fly to center. Second, there was that Honda fly that happened so quickly, his brass flourish was still pouring in from the bleachers. Third, there was that Tanagita fly to short. Flying wasn’t going to be enough for birds of prey. They needed to successfully hunt and soar too.
In spite of it all, Kudo looked relaxed, and laughed with the coaches. Wada almost gloved a comebacker, then quickly picked it up for an out at first. He smiled and laughed too. Everyone remained in good spirits in spite of the score. Tonosaki flew to Nakamura. It was a good start, but then Akiyama sent a 3-2 pitch sciddly-diddly down the line past Matsuda. Wada really needed that out. Kuriyama took a strike, a ball, another ball, a foul hack toward first, a swing, and then sent a grounder up the middle for a single. Mejia went down swinging on a 2-2 count. It was the long way back to the dugout after the top of the 6th, but they made it without things getting any worse.
Leading off the bottom of the 6th, Uchi took a strike, took two balls, and took a swing that sent a carpet bouncer to short. Hasegawa singled to left with something resembling a surfer in cowboy boots batting stance. An actual surfer in cowboy boots would drown. Matsuda took a walk. A pride of Lions gathered on the mound with the pitching coach. He returned to his office and made a phone call. Nakamura came up to bat, and a wonderful chance theme kicked in for the first time. He would not go down without a fight. Part of that fight included a great catch of a foul by a fan in the front row on the left field line. Nakamura eventually flew out to short on the 10th pitch he saw, while ratcheting Shiki up to 99 for the game. Yoshimura engaged in his own 3-2 battle, but rats, grounder.
In the top of the 7th, Akihiro Yanase took over for Wada after the veteran starter delivered 104 pitches. Nakamura stepped into the box, and one could already hear the squealing balloons of optimism slowly leaking. After 2 quick strikes, he spanked one past Matsuda all the way to the fence. Asamura followed with another double to the fence to give the Lions a 5-0 lead. Sakata also sent one to the fence, but it was caught on the fly. Asamura took that opportunity to occupy third. Balloons built pressure while a Sumitani grounder came home for a second out. Yamakawa bounced out to Honda, and huzzah, it was Lucky 7.
The bottom of the 7th was a very fast 1-2-3, and there isn’t much more to say about it.
Yanase was back for the 8th, but Kudo came out to make changes. Shinya Tsuruoka went behind the dish, and Tomoki Takata took short. Tonosaki hit a sharp grounder to Matsuda at third, but he didn’t put enough mustard on it. Satoh came out to the mound. Masahiko Morifuku came in to pitch. Akiyama came to bat. Tonosaki stole second. Akiyama grounded out. Tonosaki scooted to third. Thankfully, Kuriyama lined out a 3-2 pitch. No further damage.
Shota Takekuma took the hill and the pill. Shiki was done after 117 deliveries. Leading off the bottom of the 8th, Gita swung so hard his helmet came off. Hello Bartolo. With a full count, the crowd chanted, “Gita! Gita! Gita!” Grounding a ball back to the pitcher was among the last things he wanted to do. He wasn’t alone. Uchi flew out to right. Hasegawa grounded out to second.
Shinya Kayama worked the top of the 9th. Mejia struck out waving at 3 pitches, but no fan of the cats was lamenting a whiff when Nakamura smacked a first pitch dinger to make it 6-0. Asamura singled to center for the 15th Lions hit. Kumashiro hopped one to Matsuda. Sumitani took one last strike, but the Lions had a commanding lead.
C.C. Lee came in for the final outs. Matsuda singled to right. Hawks were still in business. Nakamura worked a walk. Yoshimura made great contact, but both went foul before he missed a slider. Tsuruoka laced one down the right field line. Matsuda came home for a light dinner. With runners at the corners, Takata grounded a squibber past the running Nakamura, then beat out the throw while a second run scored. Honda gave away some foul souvenirs, and broke his bat. He quickly swapped timber to chants of “Honda! Honda!” This is just one reason to love the Hawks. They never give up. Honda took it to 2-2 then struck out on a nasty slider. Sometimes it really hurts your soul, but they never give up. It got quiet when Lee was pulled and replaced with Tomomi Takahasi. Gita knocked one deep in the hole at second, but a good throw beat him. Hawks were dealt a 6-2 loss, but there were moments. Nobody said it would be easy.
Official NPB Box Score.