In what is most likely one of the better weeks of the season, the Saitama Seibu Lions finally slayed some pitchers who have had their number, including Shota Takeda. They would go 4-1 on the week, and seeing what hopefully will be the breakout weekend of an intriguing Lions player.
In Game 1 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka, it would be a battle of aces in Takayuki Kishi vs Shota Takeda. The Hawks begans the scoring with a solo home run from Nobuhiro Matsuda in the second inning, followed by an RBI single from Shinya Tsuruoka.
Things would look even more grim for Kishi in the third, where a single from Yuki Yanagita would make it 3-0. The base runner was allowed as Nien Ting Wu couldn’t get to a short flyball past the outfield, landing between Shogo Akiyama and Wu.
The fourth inning would bring some changes. Takeda struggled with control and allowed a leadoff walk to Akiyama. After a stolen base, Tomoya Mori would plate him to put the Lions on the board. Ernesto Mejia doubled and created a chance for Hideto Asamura. On first pitch, he would take it to no man’s land and the Lions tied the game at 3-3. Two walks later, Wu would be hit on the leg from Takeda’s first pitch and the Lions went up 4-3.
Kishi struggled out of the gate, but settled in with four straight scoreless frames from the 4th to the 7th. He would be rewarded for settling in, as Akiyama plated a run in the 6th inning with a single.
The heavy jam came in the bottom of the 8th inning as the Hawks would have two runners on with two outs. Yanagita singled and made it a one run game at 5-4. He would later steal second base to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. However, Kishi would get Yuki Yoshimura to flyout and end the threat.
Akiyama added insurance again with a solo home run into the left field terrace off Roberto Suarez. Tatsushi Masuda closed the game and the Lions would take the first game of a two-game series. It would be Kishi’s 100th career win.
Lions 6, Hawks 4
-Ginjiro Sumitani played his 1,000th career game. He was honored at the 5th inning sweeping break.
In Game 2, it would be a rematch of two weeks ago in Okinawans Nao Higashihama and Shinsaburo Tawata. This would take place in Kyocera Dome, which is a neutral site for both teams.
The Lions started the scoring with a two-out RBI double from Asamura. However, the Hawks answered back in the second inning, all with two outs. Two singles led to runners being on the corners and Yuya Hasegawa would plate a run with a single. A double steal would then tie the game by both Akashi and Shuhei Fukuda as the former stole third base earlier. The Hawks went ahead in the bottom of the 3rd off an RBI groundout from Matsuda.
Momentum went in the Lions favor when Tawata’s control was off, but it led to a missed bunt a failed squeeze attempt. The Lions were able to throw Hasegawa out without problem.
It wouldn’t be until the 6th inning where there would be life. Mejia would blast a no-doubt solo home run to the upper deck to tie the game. After Asamura and Takumi Kuriyama singled, Naoto Watanabe would single to load the bases. With Yuito Mori pitching, Nien Ting Wu would single on a full count to give the Lions a 5-3 lead. Asamura would add a solo home run as insurance in the top of the 8th.
Shota Takekuma, Kazuhisa Makita and Tatsushi Masuda made the final three frames boring after Tawata had an early jam through six innings. Tawata would have five strikeouts and earn his fourth victory of the season.
Lions 6, Hawks 3
-Naoto Watanabe was honored for playing his 1,000th career game. He would have two base hits.
Game one of the weekend series vs the Chiba Lotte Marines would feature a delightful pitching matchup between the Yusei Kikuchi and the Marines’ best pitcher this season, Ayumu Ishikawa.
After Kikuchi threw a clean inning in the top half of the first, the Lions would get to Ishikawa right away with the help of Shogo Akiyama who provided a “Rickey Henderson” home run which is one that leads off the game. It was a hanging breaking ball that Akiyama pushed the other way and it landed in the Lions Oendan. Ishikawa would retire the next two Lions hitters but Ernesto Mejia would spark the two out rally for the Lions who made sure that the hard contact that were seeing against Ishikawa resulted more than just a single run. Mejia would rip a double down the left field line into the corner, setting the table for the returning, Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura. And Okawari-kun would mark his comeback with a bang as he’d hit the second opposite field home run of the inning, this time into the Marines Oendan and make the score 3-0. In the first inning, the Lions forced Ishikawa to throw 34 pitches, a high-stress inning that Ishikawa would foreshadow a short outing for him.
Both starting pitchers would have a few relatively calm innings, but that would change in the 4th inning. Kikuchi would give up a leadoff walk Takashi Ogino to start the inning, he’d then strikeout Katsuya Kakunaka before facing Alfredo Despaigne. Kikuchi would get into a long battle with Despaigne, and probably should’ve earned a strikeout but the umpire didn’t agree, with the count at 2-2, Despaigne would get a hold of a Kikuchi fastball and hit a towering homerun into the Lions Oendan to make it a 3-2 game. Kikuchi would allow more baserunners in the inning, but wouldn’t allow anymore damage.
The Lions would answer in the bottom half of the inning thanks to the man known as “Okawari Two,” Hotaka Yamakawa who would smash a hanging breaking ball from Ishikawa and it would land in the Lions Oendan for a no-doubt solo home run to make it a 4-2 Lions lead after 4 innings. This would be the start of what would end up being a big night for Okawari Two.
The Marines would answer back quickly in the 5th off Kikuchi, thanks in large part to a leadoff triple by the rookie, Taiga Hirasawa. Kikuchi would get the next two batters out and nearly got the Houdini until throwing a wild pitch that allowed Hirasawa to score and make it a one run ballgame.
The teams would trade scoreless frames in the bottom of the 5th and the top of the 6th, but the Lions would provide the insurance run in the bottom of the 6th which would end up closing the scoring. It would again be Okawari Two who would provide the blast, this time it would be off Marines reliever, Kota Futaki who would relieve Ishikawa after the 5th. Yamakawa would crush a first pitch fastball from Futaki and it would just get over the wall in the left field power alley to extend the Lions lead to 5-3. The blast was Yamakawa’s 6th of the season.
After struggling in the middle innings, Kikuchi would settle in and get through seven innings, thanks in large part to the ace treatment from manager, Norio Tanabe. He’d end up throwing 129 pitches, allowing 4 walks and striking out 5.
Tanabe would turn to his fireman reliever, Kazuhisa Makita to pitch the 8th inning, and he’d face a little bit of trouble due to giving up two walks and a hit, but he’d provide a clean inning.
In the 9th, Tatsushi Masuda would come into the 9th to nail down his 20th save of the season and hed’d do so despite allowing a hit. The victory would bring Yusei Kikuchi’s record to 9-5.
Lions 5, Marines 3
– The Lions provided a special pregame tribute to the late Yasumitsu Toyoda, who was a member of the Nishitetsu Lions during the 50s and 60s and was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. He passed away August 14th of this year at the age of 81.
Game two would be a matchup between two back end rotation starters, the Lions would send out Ken Togame, while the Marines would send out Ryota Sekiya.
Like the previous game, the Lions would strike early thanks to great plate discipline by Shogo Akiyama and poor defense from Marines’ third baseman, Daichi Suzuki including an error and poor reaction on a bloop single by Yuji Kaneko. This would light the fuse for a bases loaded situation with Ernesto Mejia at the plate and Mejia would hit a sac fly to open the scoring, then Okawari-kun would follow it up with a sac fly of his own and that would get the Lions Oendan to start the “soyase,” chant and give the Lions an early 2-0 lead after 1.
Togame would struggle in the first three innings but made sure the Marines continued to put up zeroes, his start almost felt like a ticking time bomb the more it went on. In the bottom of the 3rd, the Lions would ease those tensions by adding a run. A two-out double by Ernesto Mejia would get things started and that would set the table for Okawari-kun, who would take a free pass to first. With Mori at the plate, Sekiya would continue to have control issues as he’d fall behind 3-0 before grooving in a strike. With the count at 3-1, Mori would rip a single up the middle and Mejia would charge around third and give the Lions a 3-0 lead and show that Sekiya’s pitches in this game were numbered.
Togame would continue to struggle in the top of the 4th, giving up a leadoff double to Daichi Suzuki. Yamaico Navarro would give him a gift with a pop up due to a poor launch angle, but Ikuhiro Kiyota would rip a single into centerfield and give the Marines their first run of the game.
The rout would begin in the bottom of the 4th, with Nien Ting Wu on with one out, Shogo Akiyama would rip a ball into the right-center field gap that would score Wu easily and get Akiyama to third standing up. Sekiya would then listlessly walk Kaneko, bringing up Asamura, and Sekiya would throw a wild pitch that would go right through the wickets of catcher, Naoyo Emura allowing Akiyama to score and make it 5-1. After Sekiya finished the inning, he would be done for the day after 95 pitchers.
Togame himself would finish up in the next half inning, where he gave up a walk and no less but had faced 22 batters and struggled for the most part, so it was definitely the right move.
In the top of the 6th, Felipe Paulino would start the inning for the Lions and this inning was the one that made it look as though the Marines would make it into a game. Paulino would strikeout the first batter he faced, but it was all downhill from there. Yamaico Navarro would rip a single and Kiyota would do the same, making it first and second with one out for Hirasawa who would smash a double into the right field corner and make it 5-2. Things would get worse as Paulino would throw a wild pitch past Gin-chan making it 5-3 with a runner on third and only one out. Then Seiya Inoue would provide a pinch hit, RBI single that would make it one run ball game and chase Paulino from the ballgame. Tanabe would bring in Hirotaka Koishi who would face two batters and strikeout one of them and get the Lions out of the inning and that would be the last time the Marines would feel in the game.
The Marines would bring in Yuta Omine for the bottom of the 6th and the Lions would lay ravage to him, just like the Marines had previously done to Paulino. With one out in the inning, things would all get started thanks to Shogo Akiyama once again, who provided a single that got past the diving Hirasawa and into left field. Kaneko would follow it up with a ground ball that snuck by the first baseman and it allowed Akiyama to turn on the jets and head to third. Kaneko would then steal second base and put all the pressure on Omine to get Asamura. Asamura would promptly rip one into the gap, past the reaching Kiyota and two runs would score easily to make it 7-4 Lions. Mejia would then groundout for the second out of the inning and that would set things up for Okawari-kun who would promptly line one past the shortstop and allow Asamura to score easily. Just like that, it was back to a four run lead.
In the bottom of the 7th, the Lions would officially break it open and throw out any doubt that may have existed. Facing Shota Kurosawa, a leadoff single by Okawari Two followed by a walk to Nien Ting Wu and a wild pitch would set things up for the pinch hitting, Masatoshi Okada. And Okada would hit a liner right in front of the right fielder allowing one run to score and making it runners on first and second with one out and Shogo Akiyama and the top of the order due up. Akiyama would hit a long drive to center that would be deep enough to score Wu and make it a 10-4 game and that would be the last tally in this game.
From here on out, a combination of low leverage innings from Shota Takekuma, Tatsuya Oishi, and Takuya Toyoda would close out the game and give the Lions the series victory and Ken Togame’s 4th win of the season.
Lions 10, Marines 4
In the final game of the week, the Lions looked to sweep behind their up and coming phenom, Kona Takahashi. The Marines would send out former Lions ace, Hideaki Wakui to try and play the stopper.
Like the previous two games in this series, it would be the Lions scoring first in the bottom of the 1st. With one out in the inning, back to back singles by Kaneko and Asamura would set things up for Ernesto Mejia, but Kaneko would take a risk and steal third base successfully, allowing Mejia to just hit a deep drive to right field and open the scoring with a sacrifice fly.
In the top of the 2nd, Takahashi would have to Houdini his way out of a bases loaded jam, which was unfortunately a sign of things to come for this game.
In the 3rd, more foreshadowing would occur, with one on and nobody out, the dangerous, Kakunaka would bang one off the right centerfield wall and make it runners on second and third with nobody out. The lone run in the inning would score off a wild pitch and that would tie the game. Kona would be very fortunate not to give up more runs in the inning, since he was bailed out on a failed hit and run play that became a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play.
Things would all go wrong in the 5th inning, as Takahashi would experience a meltdown where he would not record any further outs. This was the third time through the order for Kona, and unfortunately for him, he would be an extreme outlier for why the third time through the order penalty exists.
The first big blow would come after Kakunaka led the inning off with a single and Alfredo Despaigne would follow things up with a two-run home run off a flat pitch from Kona and it would land almost to the top of the Lions Oendan hill and was a 3-1 Marines lead. Things would only get worse, Kona would give up consecutive singles to Navarro, Suzuki, and Kiyota and that would get Kona the hook with his pitch count nearing 100 and the score 4-1 and showing no signs of stability. The one statistic that stood out in Kona’s start is that he gave up 12 hits, a rough day at the office.
Takahashi would be replaced by Hirotaka Koishi, who looked to quell the second rally he’s faced in two consecutive days. Koishi would show right away that the inning was far from over, by walking the first batter he faced on 4 pitches. He’d then allow an RBI single to Hirasawa that would bring in one of the inherited runners home, 5-1 and still nobody out. The pinch hitting Inoue would single as well, bringing in two and now then it was 7-1. Koishi would finally get an out with the next batter but then he’d hit Kakunaka to re-load the bases for Despaigne, as the Marines had batted around. Despaigne would hit a sacrifice fly and that would complete the Marines’ scoring for the day with an 8-1 score.
It wasn’t all bad the rest of the way, the Lions would show plenty of of heart a by not quitting and a Okawari Two put himself back into the headlines with a tremendous performance that gave Lions fans in attendance a nice consolation prize. In the 5th, he’d hit a long home run to one of the deepest parts of the Seibu Dome and then in the 7th, he’d hit another home run off Wakui giving him four home runs in this series against the Marines and his 8th on the year. Impressively, he hit one to the pull side and the other was of the opposite field variety. Unfortunately, the two he’d hit in this game would both be of the solo variety. The Lions would score one run in the 5th, 6th, and 7th and make it an 8-4 game heading into the 9th inning.
In the 9th, the Lions would give a loud comeback that nearly gave the Marines fans some nightmares. It would be Naoya Masuda in the game for the Marines to finish the game. The rally would start thanks to a low throw from Hisagawa that would pull his first baseman off the bag, but wasn’t scored as an error. Then Kuriyama would come aboard and ground one past Hisagawa and that quickly the Lions had runners at first and second with nobody out. And coming to the plate was the headline grabber, Okawari Two, and he continued his huge night lining one into the left-center gap and that brought home both runners and Okawari Two ended up at third, his 10 total base and 4th RBI of the game, and now the game was an 8-6 game and the tying run was now at the plate.
Then the rally would sputter just enough, Naoto Watanabe would hit a lazy fly ball that wasn’t deep enough for Yamakawa to tag up for the first out. Then Akiyama would hit a long fly ball that was short of the track and that would bring home Yamakawa to make it 8-7 with Yuji Kaneko coming to the plate with two outs and Kaneko would slap a base hit to get Asamura to the plate representing the winning run.
And then on a 1-1 pitch, Kaneko decided to take a risk and try to steal second base and get the tying run in scoring position, Tamura would gun down Kaneko to end the game and the comeback.
Lions 7, Marines 8
Wes Mills Contributed to these stories
Originally Posted on Graveyard Baseball
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