Seibu starter Jason Johnson hampered the Chiba Lotte Marines on a run and two hits and struckout five Saturday and Jeff Liefer cranked a two run homer to help the Lions to a 5-2 victory at Seibu Dome. For Johnson, it was his first win in his new uniform while Lotte starter Naoyuki Shimizu struggled during his five innings of four run, four hit ball on 86 pitches to get stained with the scent of defeat.
Johnson took a little time to find his footing, hitting leadoff batter Shunichi Nemoto to inaugurate the match and, one out later, walking first baseman Kazuya Fukuura before inducing a double play ball out of leftfielder Benny Agbayani. The Marines wouldn't transgress the infield against Johnson through three.
But Johnson was dented in the fourth when Fukuura doubled to left and Agbayani singled to left. Catcher Tomoya Satozaki grounded to shortstop Nemoto, who attempted to nail Fukuura at the plate, but was tardy with it, and it was 1-0. A double play and a popup enabled Johnson to quell the Lotte attack.
Initially, Seibu was having no success dealing with Shimizu, as he permitted only a hit through the first third. In the last of the fourth, though, Shimizu walked leftfielder Kazuhiro Wada with two outs and Liefer jackhammered a shot into the rightfield stands for a 2-1 lead and his third homer of the spring.
And cue Kiss because the Lions were worth a deuce in the fifth as well. Third baseman Hiroshi Hirao walked with one out and, following another out, second baseman Hiroyuki Takagi doubled to right to get one run in and shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima doubled to left to pick Takagi up and expand the Lions hegemony to 4-1.
But Lotte rightfielder Matt Watson singled to center off of Hsu Ming-chieh in the sixth and, two outs later, Satozaki also singled to center. However, Watson hurt his left groin rounding the bag and had to be pinch run for by Naotaka Takehara. Reserve centerfielder Akira Otsuka doubled to center and that plated Takehara and put the tying run in scoring position. Pinch hitter Tasuku Hashimoto walked to load the bases. Third baseman Toshiaki Imae threw a monkey wrench into the fun when he grounded to third and the next nine men were exiled in order the rest of the way by Hsu and Koji Onuma to put it to bed.
The final Lions tally came in the seventh on a walk to catcher Kosuke Noda, a single to right by Hirao and a pinch hit single to left by Tomoaki Sato that propelled Noda across.
For Lotte, Watson was 1-1 and is at .364. He is day to day. Sub first baseman Julio Zuleta was 0-2 and is at .214. Agbayani was 1-2 and is at .250.
For Seibu, first baseman Alex Cabrera was 0-3 with two strikeouts and is at .000. Liefer was 2-2 and is at .519.
Seth Greisinger was outstanding for four innings for Yakult against Orix Saturday at Osaka Dome, holding his opponent to two hits and no runs, but then he had to white knuckle it while the bullpen endeavored to hold some part of a 5-2 lead and they barely pulled it off with a 5-4 decision. It was Greisinger's first win this spring.
Hidetaka Kawagoe started for Orix and fought hard to reign ther Swallows in, employing 98 pitches during his six innings of toil that saw him cough up two runs on eight hits, but he didn't walk anyone and that kept it from getting out of hand.
Yakult centerfielder Norichika Aoki singled to right in the top of the first and, two outs later, leftfielder Alex Ramirez doubled to right for the RBI and a 1-0 edge.
They tacked on another in the third, as shortstop Yasushi Iihara singled to left and moved to second on a groundout. One out later, first baseman Adam Riggs singled to center to send Iihara in and make it 2-0.
They would then put two on with two away in the third and allowed it to pass by.
Dicky Gonzalez was handed the ball and fashioned a perfect fifth, but in the sixth, centerfielder Tomotaka Sakaguchi went yard to right with two outs to cut it to 2-1.
The Swallows built themselves a little cushion in the eighth, though, as backup first baseman Hirobumi Watarai singled to left with one out and reserve leftfielder Mitsuru Manaka singled to center. Rightfielder Aaron Guiel walked to load the bases. Pinch hitter Shinichi Takeuchi flied out to left and Watarai tagged up and hustled in. DH Ryuji Miyade doubled to left and that cleared enough room for the remaining runners to navigate home for a 5-1 advantage.
Gonzalez was flawless in the seventh and then experienced another fix in the eighth. Leftfielder Shinji Shimoyama doubled to right and, two outs later, second baseman Makoto Moriyama walked. Sakaguchi drilled a shot off the glove of scrubeenie second baseman Hiroyasu Tanaka and Shimoyama made for the plate on what was ruled as an infield single and an RBI to slice it to 5-2. Rightfielder Hiroaki Onishi grounded out and now it would be up to Shohei Tateyama to put the finishing touches on it.
That nearly didn't happen. In the ninth. first baseman Ryota Aikawa and DH Takahiro Okada both singled to right with one out and Shimoyama singled to center to bring Aikawa in. Catcher Takeshi Hidaka doubled to left and Okada cruised in to make it a one run affair at 5-4, but somebody was thrown out on the basepaths and third baseman Makoto Shiozaki struckout to make it a memory.
Catcher/manager Atsuya Furuta hinted that Greisinger will be in the rotation, saying that "he looks hard to hit." Greisinger himself thinks he is at about 8% of in season shape.
For Yakult, Riggs was 1-3 and is at .250. Ramirez was 1-3 and is at .111. Guiel was 1-3 with a walk and is at .273. Gonzalez looks to be the odd man out as regards the four foreign player limit.
I've been saying this spring that Softbank Hawks ace Kazumi Saito will be a no hitter waiting to happen everytime he toes the rubber this season and he did just that during his five innings Saturday against Hiroshima at Fukuoka Dome while leaving his best fastball in his back pocket (he was only clocked at 90mph; at his finest, he will go 94-96) and just seeming to toy with the Carp batters almost as if they were a kind of science experiment for him. In fact, Hiroshima would amass, if you can call it that, an infield hit for the entire game and it aided them in snatching a 2-1 victory. The last time a club had prevailed after producing only a single knock in an exhibition tilt was 26 years ago.
Masayuki Hasegawa, the usually homer prone one, was just overall excellent, as he wasted few pitches duing a 46 pitch five inning effort that had him giving up a run on two hits. That he was that frugal with his pitch count and still emerged nearly unscathed might strike some as miraculous. Whatever you want to refer to it as, you can call him the winning pitcher.
The only instance of Saito being in anything resembling a jam was in the second, when he walked the first two hitters and then elicited a strikeout and two flyouts and was untouched before walking a man with two outs inthe fifth. He also struckout the side in the fourth and racked up eight K's overall. Really, Saito should be in MLB. It was a joke.
Softbank first baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka finally gave Saito a lead in the fifth when he crushed a breaking ball over the centerfield wall to make it 1-0.
But in the top of the sixth, Hawks reliever Kazuhiro Takeoka walked catcher Yoshikazu Kura and shortstop Eishin Soyogi. Second baseman Akihiro Higashide laid a bunt down the third base line and the intended sacrifice went for a knock as third baseman Hiroki Kokubo could only eat it to load the bases. Southpaw Koji Mise was put in Takeoka's stead and leftfielder Tomonori Maeda grounded to first and that scored Kura. Third baseman Takahiro Arai flew out to center and Soyogi tagged up and zipped across the plate for a 2-1 advantage. Ten of the next 11 Carp hitters were subsequently dealth with by the Softbank bullpen to get through nine.
However, the Hawks didn't convert on two opportunities that presented themselves in the last third of the game. Leftfielder Hitoshi Tamura singled to left in the seventh and, one out later, Kokubo singled to left. That brought up DH Brian Buchanan, but he grounded into a double play to sabotage things.
They would also get two singles in the eighth, but pinch hitter Tadaatsu Nakazawa grounded to third with two away and Tomohiro Umetsu put a ribbon on it with a hitless ninth.
It's all about timing was the lesson here.
Maeda pulled a sartorial boner. He wore the wrong uniform color to the ballpark and had to borrow one from Takaya Kawauchi in order to play. For the normally stoic and rather close mouthed Maeda, this was extremely embarrassing.
For Softbank, Buchanan was 0-3 and is at .227. Adam Hyzdu was 0-1 in a pinch hit appearance and is at .227.
Bobby Valentine called for an end to the draft system that allows elite
college players to choose the teams they can sign with and also demanded
that there be a rookie pay scale, I presume, like the one in the NBA in
order to make the financial playing field more even.
Rakuten Teenage righthander Masahiro Tanaka was over his intestinal problem Saturday and took part in regular practice and also threw 41 pitches in the bullpen. So he will go forward with his scheduled appearance against Chunichi Sunday.
Manager Katsuya Nomura weighed in on the controversy revolving around payoffs to college and industrial league players Saturday: "This is only the tip of the iceberg. It is deep rooted in the sport. They make a rule and then break it soon after. The old one about paying new players an upper limit of ten million yen signing bonus was done away with in just 2-3 years." He also crticized some teams' tendency to give top picks the maximum allowed under current rules when they initially sign, 100 million yen (about $800,000) and 15 million yen in salary (about $125,000). "Players are merchandise. Teams hould assign their own value to them. To always assess them at the top of the scale is screwed up."
The irony is this one is that Nomura currently has a man on his roster a previous scouting scandal revolved around, Yasuhiro Ichiba. Rakuten was able to get him when other richer clubs had to pull out of the bidding due to that controversey.
Nomura also expressed worry about Tanaka because he has A Type blood. Due to a book that came out a number of years ago tying blood type to personality traits, many Japanese now believe in that idea. "There are only five players with A Type blood in the Meikyukai," Nomura said. "So that's a concern." Keep in mind that Nomura had the number he wore during his hall of fame career with Nankai determined by a fortune teller. So he is superstitious and an admitted pessimist.
He did have a funny comment about Ichiba,. though,
after watching him throw in the bullpen: "it's like his pitches go up there
and take an oh so polite bow to the hitter and say, 'excuse me' [before
continuing in flight].' I want him to throw pitches that have some impudence
to them." Now how many MLB coaches would you ever hear THAT from? Definitely
of a kind Nomura is. .
While all this anger is a little hyprocritical since payoffs to top college players have been going on for generations (the most famous instances being Nankai providing money to both Tadashi Sugiura and Shigeo Nagashima while they were at Rikkyo University in the 1950's; Sugiura signed with the Hawks while Nagashima went to the Giants. Both men are hall of famers) and everybody knew about it. But like with how some Japanese wives turn a blind eye to philandering by their husbands as long as it doesn't get into the headlines or out to her social circle and cause her to lose face, this problem was winked at until it got into the papers and amateur authorities were forced to do something about it. It's kind of like amphetamine and steroid use in MLB.
While one can perhaps question if Waseda's head coach is more resentful of the problem coming to the surface and involving one of his players than the actual payoffs themselves, he could very well lose his job over this due to the Japanese sense of collective responsibility for all the unpleasantness that has been engendered here. When the money given to then Meiji University pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba was disclosed, the man who oversaw that college's baseball program was fired and then, after what the university felt was an appropriate lapsed time, rehired him. Any repercussions for the coach will necessarily have to also see some forced resignations from the Seibu organization or the public and college authorities will REALLY jump down their throats. Japan is a society that values the proper gestures made at the most fitting time and even if those who get the boot at Seibu are given some backdoor consultancy position or even, as with Yomiuri chairman Tsuneo Watanabe, later becomes involved with the team again after stepping down to take responsbility for some untoward action, they are still obligated to make the socially prescribed gestures to the public.
An interesting twist to all this is that the Japanese press knows who the Waseda senior infielder, not outfielder as previously thought (according to the latest from Sports Nippon) who took money from Seibu is, but they haven't revealed his name to the public. They have already interviewed the player's father, who said that the money went to him and not his son to help with "educational expenses." Again, keep in mind that we are talking about a total amount surpassing $80,0000 here. Just how expensive is it to attend Waseda, a private school located near Tokyo's cool but hardly tony Takadanobaba section (yours truly is a former resident there and I lived just off of Waseda-doori) in Shinjuku Ward? In any event, the dad insists his son knew nothing of the funds the Lions provided to him. But the father also said that he promised to deliver his son to the Lions, who would then be repaid out of his son's signing bonus.
These payoffs are also hard to control because they don't have to be about money. One common inducement that teams have used over the years, especially ones that tend to be a little more miserly than Yomiuri or Hanshin, is to offer jobs in what are largely elite companies for the players family members, teammates who aren't good enough to play in the pros and friends. That imposes a big "on (favor that must be paid back)" on those family and friends in those firms who then will presumably be in a position to help the player in the future in some way once his career is over. There are also corporate favors, as I have alluded to earlier, that a team's parent can provide to a player's parents or family who want to go into business for themselves. How do you police something like that?
Manager Tsutomu Itoh is resigned to the fact that his team will likely be excluded from the upcoming draft, He claims he knew nothing about the payoffs (sorry, but somebody who has been around that organization for as long has, he has to have at least an inkling that something weird went on with several of his past teammates, so Itoh is being disnigenuous here. Let us also not forget that Itoh was a former number one draft pick out of high school himself). Whatever the case, he hopes to keep this from affecting his players.
NPB is also finally getting off the stick and is in the early stages of forming an investigative committee. Like MLB's steroids inquiry, this will probably be more of a public relations move than something that will dig up real information.
Reports asked Seibu Holdings president Takashi Goto if this scandal will have any impact on whether they will continue to keep the Lions. Goto responded that it would not and they are working hard to try to restore trust in the ballclub.
Reports were shutout of Waseda's practice Saturday for the players who didn't accompany their teammates to Okinawa. A coach reportedly took a statement by the outfielder involved, but nothing more is really being said. That player was then excused from that day's workout.