Chiba Lotte Marines starter Kevin Beirne's mechanics were all messed up Sunday against Softbank, as he couldn't throw anything consistently for strikes and therefore allowed the Hawks to tee off on him for seven runs in 1.2 innings, including three homers, in a 9-7 victory at Fukuoka Dome. Toshiya Sugiuchi started for Softbank and while his fastball didn't come close to 90mph thanks to the layoff engendered by his being on the WBC team, he managed to survive a rocky first two innings to take a shiroboshi home.
Lotte first baseman Kazuya Fukuura singled to right with two outs in the first. Sugiuchi then left a cookie for centerfielder Saburo Omura, who belted it to deep leftfield. But he must have just got under it a bit, as leftfielder Jolbert Cabrera took it in against the leftfield wall.
The Hawks then jumped all over Beirne, as he walked second baseman Tadashi Honma and Cabrera with one out and, one out later, Beirne left a 3-0 offering in first baseman Julio Zuleta's wheehouse, but he fouled it straight back. It wouldn't matter. Zuleta then got a middle-in thigh high slider and tattooed it into the centerfield stands for a 3-0 lead. Rookie third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda then got a hanger and he fouled it off before flying out to right.
Sugiuchi appeared poised to give it all back in the second, though. He walked DH Benny Agbayani and catcher Tomoya Satozaki. After a short visit from the pitching coach, rightfielder Val Pasucci got a couple of pitches he could have driven out of the ballpark before striking out on a heater up and out of the zone. Imae got a knee 86mph fastball that was middle out and destroyed it, the ball leaving his bat to left as if it was shot out of a bazooka, to level it at 3-3.
Unfortunately, Softbank liquidated Beirne their next time at bat. The first two batters struckout, but then he grooved a fastball to centerfielder Naoyuki Omura, who parked it in the rightfield bleachers. Honma sliced a liner down the leftfield line for a double. Cabrera pulled a diving slider that was out over the middle of the plate and down past Imae to hail Honma in. Beirne threw a slider down and in to Matsunaka, who did a beautfiul job clearing his hips, pulling his hands in, and then malevolently bringing those hands through to launch the ball into the rightfield stands just a few feet to the left of the foul pole to make it 7-3. Beirne plunked Zuleta and was finally taken out in favor of Shigetoshi Yamakita, who tempted rightfielder Kazuhiko Miyaji into grounding out to short.
The Hawks tacked on another run in the fourth on a double to left by Omura, who went to third ona sac bunt, and an RBI single from Cabrera and the birds of prey were in control at 9-3.
From the third on, Sugiuchi's pitches became much crisper, as you started seeing that second stange on his slider and he mixed in more changeups and curve balls and was keeping them down more consistently. As a result, he wasn't in trouble again until the sixth, when Fukuura singled to center and, two outs later, he walked both Satozaki and Pascucci. Rookie sidearmer Yoshiaki Fujioka, who is rather deceptive because he holds on to the ball such a long time, supplanted Sugiuchi and, after throwing two sliders well wide of the plate to get behind 2-0, invited Imae to ground out to second.
Lotte did tag Fujioka in the sxith, however, as Jun Inoue, pinch hitting for starting leftfielder Akira Otsuka, ripped a double to right. Fujioka struckout the next two, but Fukuura singled to left and it was 9-4. Saburo Omura struckout for the third out.
Anytime Koji Mise comes in for Softbank
it tends to be a bit of an adventure and Sunday he wouldn't get anyone
out in the ninth. Toshiya Tsuji powdered the first pitch he saw for a long
single off the rightfield wall, believing that the ball was gone when he
hit it. Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka bounced one through the middle of the
infield for a single. Tetsuya Kakiuchi was inserted to hit for backup second
baseman Hisao Heiuchi and belted an opposite field roundtripper into the
Matsunaka and Zuleta homered in the same game 11 times in 2005 and Softbank went 10-1 when they did. Matsunaka employed a bat that was ten grams lighter than his usual weapon during the WBC in order to turn a little quicker on the higher velocity heat there, but now he is back to his more familair stick.
Sugiuchi told the press afterward that he wished he had come out after the end of the fifth. To try to get his arm back up to snuff after the WBC, he threw 100 pitches in a bullpen session shortly after landing in Japan. It is evident, nonetheless, that he is still in spring training mode because his fastball just isn't as quick as it will be when he is 100%.
After he finished trotting around the bases. Zuleta did a gaudy display of fist pumping for the tv cameras (called a guts pose in Japan) before re-entering the dugout.
During his hero interview after it was over, Zuleta then said something in Hakata dialect that I'm not sure what he said word for word, but I would guess that he was basically propounding that "Panama rules!"
Since Tadahito Iguchi and Kenji Johjima are no longer part of the team, a Hochi Sports writer scribbled that he expects Matsunaka and Zuleta to combine for a hundred homers or more. Last season, they rang up 89 between them.
In four of the five major Japanese sports dailies I read, they all ran snaps of Lotte skipper Bobby Valentine blowing bubbles in the dugout. Don't know what that's about. In any event, Valentine said that he isn't disheartened by the 0-2 start and that it is a long season.
Satozaki sighed that his pitch calling was too predictable and that was somewhat echoed by Valentine, who wished Beirne had used hiks breaking ball more even though he couldn't throw it for strikes.
For Softbank, Zuleta was 2-2 with a walk and an HBP and is at .500. Cabrera was 3-4 with a walk and is at .625.
For Lotte, Agbayani was 0-4 with a walk and is at .000. Pascucci was 0-3 with a walk and wto strikeouts and is at .000.
Seibu leftfielder Takahiko Sato drove in four runs and the teenage battery of starter Hideaki Wakui (19) and catcher Ginjiro Sumitani (18) kept the Orix Buffaloes lineup off balance enough for an 8-2 victory Sunday at Seibu Dome. Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura and shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima each cracked a trio of safeties and combined for five runs scored to make for one productive left side of the infield.
Dan Serafini, making his debut in a Buffaloes uniform after coming over from Lotte, was terrible, permitting four runs on six hits in three innings and was hung with the loss.
The Lions bullied their way into a lead in the second, as Nakajima jacked a two out Serafini offering into the leftfield stands. First baseman Alex Cabrera then crushed one beyond the centerfield wall and it was 2-0.
Orix had two on and one out, but stranded the runners in the second and two on and nobody out in the third before a forceout on a blown sac bunt attempt and a double play lineout interdicted that revolt.
In the fourth, twos were wild for Seibu when DH Kazuhiro Wada homered to left and Nakamura doubled to right and crossed on a double to left from Sato to tally up two and expand their gap with the buffs to 4-0.
The visitors finally got on the board in the fifth, as catcher Takeshi Hidaka doubled to right with one out and headed to third on a groundout. Centerfielder Keiichi Hirano beat out a ground ball toward third and Hidaka reported to the pay station to make it 4-1.
But the four run lead would be reimposed in the sixth, when Nakamura singled to center, went to second on a one out grounder, and second baseman Hiroshi Hirao doubled to center to usher Nakamura in to put it at 5-1.
They tacked on three more in the seventh to put it away. Nakajima singled to left and Wada and Nakamura wangled two out walks. Sato cleaned up the community with a double to center and it was 8-1.
Orix posted one more run in the eighth off of reliever Koji Onuma on a double to left by Hirano, a single to center by Yoshitomo Tani and a double to leftcenter from DH Kazuhiro Kiyohara. First baseman Hirotoshi Kitagawa flied out, but reserve rightfielder Arihito Muramatsu walked to pack the sacks. However, shortstop Masahiro Abe grounded to second and closer Chikara Onodera wove a perfect ninth to turn the lights out.
The Wakui-Sumitani pairing was the first time two teenagers comprised a battery in Japan since October 10, 1989, when Takuro Ishii and Motonobu Tanishige did it for the Taiyo Whales. And Ishii is now a shortstop.
Wakui displayed some guts in addition to an ability to pound his 92mph fastball in on the hitters, as he broke a blister in the second and stayed in anyway.
Sato joked that since Wakui and Sumi are both minors (the age of majority in Japan is 20), they had to get the game over with quickly so that they could get them home by their bedtimes.
Kiyohara now needs just eight more RBIs for 1500 for his career.
Olympic speed skater Tomomi Okazaki threw out the first pitch, reaching the catcher on the fly. Okazaki described herself as a big baseball fans, but then stated that she especially likes it when the teams get into brawls.
For Orix, rightfielder Cliff Brumbaugh struckout all three times he checked into the batter's box and is at .000. Karim Garcia struckout in a ninth inning pinch hit appearance and is at .000.
For Seibu, Cabrera was 1-3 with a walk and is at .333.
Nippon Ham manager Trey Hillman yanked starter Shintaro Ejiri in the third after Ejiri couldn't conquer his control problems and the move paid off, as rookie lefthander Masaru Takeda took over and slammed the door on the Rakuten Golden Eagles with 3.1 innings of one hit ball to grab his first pro win and help the Fighters to a 5-2 victory at Sapporo Dome Sunday. Takeda had played under current Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura at Shidax. Again, the circle of baseball life.
Starting for Rakuten was Lin Ying-che, who had difficulty keeping his breaking pitches below the belt and he was tagged for four runs on six hits in 4.1 innings to lose his pro debut.
After Ejiri escaped a bases loaded, two out predicament in the top of the first, Nippon Ham went out to a 1-0 lead in their turn when Lin walked leftfielder Tomochika Tsuboi and first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara torched a double to left and DH Fernando Seguignol brought home the bacon with a sacrifice fly to right to make it 1-0.
But Ejiri quickly squandered that slight edge in the second, as freshman second baseman Daisuke Kusano slammed one past the first base bag and down the line for a one out double and navigated his way to the promised land on a follow up two bagger to the centerfield wall by catcher Akihito Fujii that knotted it at one all. Centerfielder Teppei Tsuchiya singled to right to put men on first and third. However, veteran shortstop Yoshinori Okihara grounded into a 6-4-3 double play ro nip the rally in the bud.
The Fighters responded in the home episode with a single to left by centerfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo, a single to center by catcher Shinji Takahashi, a sac bunt that put them on third and second respectively and, one out later, with Nomura attempting to yell to Lin to pitch around second baseman Jose Macias and then challenege Tsuboi rather than telling him that by going out to the hill, Macias got something he could lean on and smashed it up the middle to drive both runners in. Macias was then out attempting to sneak into second on the relay home, but it was still 3-1 Nippon Ham.
The Eagles, however, swooped in once more on Ejiri in the top of the third, as rightfielder Koichi Isobe leadoff with a double to center and, one out later, Yoshioka lined a single to left, Isobe holding up at third. DH Takeshi Yamasaki flied out to right and Isobe tagged up and hustled across to cut it to 3-2. Leftfielder Rick Short doubled to left and Hillman dialed 110 (that is the Japanese version of 911) to to the bullpen for Takeda, who induced a ground ball out of Kusano to maintain his team's advantage.
The home side then worked for a deuce in a fifth, when Macias doubled to center and went to third on a sac bunt. Ogasawara singled to center and it was 4-2. DH Seguignol lashed a shot into the leftfield corner and Ogasawara had it in gear immediately, running through the third base coaches stop sign and arriving home safely on the double to make it 5-2.
Rakuten would have a chance to even things in the seventh, as Okihara singled to left off of reliever Yoshinori Tateyama and Isobe rolled one back through the center of the diamond for another knock. Hisashi Takeda was called in from the pen and third baseman Jose Fernandez drilled a 2-2 seventh pitch shuuto right at Macias, who doubled Okihara off of second. Yoshioka slapped a comebacker to Takeda and that was that.
Nippon Ham generated only one hit over the final 3.1 innings, so they weren't going anywhere. Rakuten had one last comeback attempt in them, though, in the ninth against closer Michael Nakamura. Daisuke Masuda, pinch hitting for Fujii, singled to left. Two flyouts later, Isobe singled to center for his third hit. That brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Fernandez. He would fly out to right, however, and that was the ballgame, the Fighters winning their first two games of a season for the first time in 12 years.
Nomura blamed himself for the loss, saying that he was tardy in making a couple of moves.
Takeda disclosed that he will send the game ball to his parents.
For Rakuten, Fernandez was 1-5 and is at .111. Short was 1-4 and is at .125.
For Nippon Ham, Macias was 2-4 and is at .500. Seguignol was 1-2 with an HBP as well as the sac fly and is at .400.
Keisuke Hayasaka has been sent down to the minors.
In amusing pre-game incident before an Eastern League game, Lotte's nine month old labrador retriever mascot, Elf-chan, took a basket with the ball in it with which an elementary schooler was going to use to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. However, once Elf-chan dropped off the basket, he spotted the rosin bag and ran off with it. As he bit into it, a puff of the white stuff covered his face, which caused the fans in the stands to erupt in laughter.
Catcher Tomoya Satozaki has sent his WBC medal to his parents, he revealed Sunday.
Seibu Daisuke Matsuzaka's start has been moved back to the 30th due a neck strain. Matsuzaka himself says he is okay, but manager Tsutomu Itoh wants to be cautious and decided to give his ace a couple more days rest.
Softbank Ratings for the Hawks Opening Day faceoff with the Chiba Lotte Marines registered an all time high of 17.3% locally Saturday. The previous standard for the Fukuoka nine's first regular season match was 13.9%, which had been done three times previous. The higher numbers were attributed to the hangover fromt he WBC since there were several Team Japan players taking part in the contest.
The ratings for Sunday were pretty strong, too, at 14.6%. That was 2.3% higher than a game at the same time last year.