I've been groping for an analogy for the Chiba Lotte Marines due to this run they are on. Because they were in the doldrums in the early going before becoming unbeatable, I was thinking of comparing them with those turn of the 21st century Oakland teams, but the fact is that the Oakland pitching staff was far more dominant in its league than the Marines are in their's and while both clubs depended heavily on timely hitting, Lotte doesn't have an equivalent for Eric Chavez or Jason Giambi.
Then I thought about the Angels World Series squad. Still no cigar there. There is no hitter on the Marines that is as good in the Pacific League as Garret Anderson was in his and the Angels catching both hit and fielded better. Moreover, the Angels outfield defense was far superior in its league than Lotte's was in their's.
The Mariners? Hmmm....No. The Marines starting pitching was better in its league from an overall talent standpoint than the Mariners were (Paull Abbot and John Halama had career years). Nobody on the Marines is Edgar Martinez or Ichiro or even Bret Boone. But the Marines were similar to that 2001 Mariners squad in that they depend on putting endless strings of basehits together since they lack a 40 homer guy. Kazuya Fukuura is playing John Olerud. They also depend on two out hitting and moving runners over, as that 2001 Mariners outfit did.
But the Mariners were allowed to get old, the pitching deteriorated and they were almost a flash in the pan, really. Plus they choked it against the Yankees. With the exception of Koichi Hori, who is on his way out, Lotte has a chance to be good for years as long as their arms hold up (the middle relief could still turn into a pumpkin at any time) because manager Bobby Valentine is allowed to have a cohesive vision for the club while the Mariners front office was more or less obstructive due to putting more focus on the immediate bottom line than what went on between the lines. Valentine has had much better luck from the standpoint of his young players' health. So far, he has had no Ryan Andersons or Chris Snellings. Anderson is out of baseball (I think) while Snelling is coming back from another major surgery. They haven't had an Antonio Perez, whose development as a onetime can't miss guy stagnated, for whatever reason, and he is now a platoon player with L.A. when he isn't injured.
It is really tough, though, to sustain success without some major pop in the four and five holes at the very least and Lotte absolutely needs to attend to that this offseason for reasons of both strategy and the mental effect it has on the other hitters in the order. But for now, they are just rolling along by being exemplars of of true team play and it allowed them to snag their eighth straight triumph, a 5-0 whitewash of the Chunichi Dragons at Chiba Marine Stadium, to take sole possession of first place in the PL standings.
Kenta Asakura started for Chunichi and was actually very good, as he was touched for three runs, two earned, on six hits in seven innings and struckout ten for his first loss in four decisions.
Naoyuki Shimizu went all the way on four hits and is just 4-3 despite a 2.02 ERA. Chunichi only got eight balls out of the infield among the 33 hitters they sent up to the plate and just one of those was after the sixth. Shimizu was clocked at 89mph.
Asakura got through a mild two on, two out quandry in the first and struck out the side in the second and survived walking two men in the third.
Dragons leftfielder Alex Ochoa lost a homer in the fourth after crushing a Shimizu pitch, as he got it too far up in the 34mph wind that was blowing in from center and it was caught at the wall.
Chunichi then gave away the game's first run in the bottom portion, as centerfielder Shoitsu Omatsu swung and missed at a breakng ball in the dirt. But the ball took a crazy hop and rolled around for a while and Omatsu managed to blaze into second base on a strikeout. Rightfielder Koji Hirashita singled to left. Third baseman Masato Watanabe grounded to third baseman Masahiko Morino. Omatsu went on contact and was tagged out. Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka grounded to first baseman Tyrone Woods, who booted it, and Hirashita just kept on running and scored without a play on the error for a 1-0 lead.
Shimizu endured a two on, one out pinch in the fifth. Lotte then pushed two more across in the home episode. Fukuura doubled to leftcenter and leftfielder Benny Agbayani singled to right. DH Matt Franco singled to right to nudge Fukuura in. The runners moved up on a sacrifice. Agbayani took off for home and Omatsu laid down the squeeze bunt to make it 3-0.
Chunichi had two on and two outs in the seventh. That would disappear, as pinch hitter Mitsunobu Takahashi struckout and that would be it for the Dragons bats, Shimizu fashioning two straight flawless innings to close it out.
The last two Lotte tallies came in the eighth when pinch hitter Saburo Omura walked with one out and, one out later, Watanabe seared a first pitch fastball up the rightcenterfield gap for an RBI triple. Nishioka smashed a shot off the leftfield wall for a double and an RBI to put it at 5-0.
The complete game was a blessing for closer Masahide Kobayashi, who had been in each of the seven previous games.
Chunichi has lost its last seven games against Lotte.
Catcher Tomoya Satozaki celebrated his 30th birthday and was therefore given the game ball. However, he said, "I don't need it," and chucked it into the stands. Satozaki struckout in his lone at bat and is hitting .265.
Omatsu revealed that he had never been asked to squeeze at any level of baseball.
For Chunichi, Woods was 0-4 with two strikeouts and is at .287. Ochoa was 0-4 and is at .304.
For Lotte, Agbayani was 1-2 with two walks and is at .283. Franco was 1-4 and is at .286. Val Pascucci was 0-1 in a pinch hit appearance and is at .192.
Yomiuri closer Kiyoshi Toyoda had one of those nights that is a hazard of his occupation, as he only got one of the four men he faced in the bottom of the ninth Saturday at Miyagi Prefectural Stadium and one of them, first baseman Jose Fernandez connected on a first pitch forkball for a no doubter of a three run homer to surmount a two run deficit and lend the Eagles a 6-5 victory. Toyoda was just flat out terrible last year, but he has looked good up to this game, so we'll just have to give it an "it happens" and see what he does in his next few appearances.
Kimiyasu Kudoh started for Yomiuri and had a credible six innings of three run, eight hit ball, though his pitch count, 111, was way too high.
Yasuhiro Ichiba started for Rakuten and was mediocre, as he was ultimately tagged for five runs, four earned, on eight hits in a 136 pitch no decision. Instead, reliever Yasuyuki Kawamoto earned his first win after bailing Ichiba out of a bad ninth inning.
Rakuten attained a 2-0 lead in the first, as Kudoh walked Yosuke Takasu with one out. Takasu stole second. Rightfielder Koichi Isobe singled to right to redeem Takasu. Fernandez doubled down the leftfield line. DH Takeshi Yamasaki singled to right to bring Isobe in, but Kudoh then struck both leftfielder Rick Short and third baseman Katsumi Yamashita out to avert more pain.
Yomiuri halved the disadvantage in the third when leftfielder Kenji Yano reached on an error with one out and, one out later, Kamei doubled to the centerfield wall and Yano sped in to make it 2-1.
Ichiba slid by a two on, one out bit of unpleasantness in the fourth by inducing a pair of flyouts.
The Eagles then enhanced their position in the fifth, when Takasu dropped a ball into right and rightfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei misplayed it into a triple by allowing it to get by him. Isobe walked. Fernandez grounded to short and Takasu hustled across to put it at 3-1.
However, in the sixth, Yomiuri first baseman Seung-yeop Lee homered to center with two outs to shave the gap to 3-2.
And that gap went into the dustbin of history in the seventh, as Yano went yard to center on a 94mph fastball to level it at 3-3.
Rakuten had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh against reliever Yuya Kubo, but Short spoiled the party with a grounder to second.
Ichiba walked Lee to commence the ninth and Mototsugu Kawanaka pinch ran for him. DH Yoshinobu Takahashi singled to left. The runners moved up on a Hiroki Kokubo sacrifice. That effectively took the bat out of the hands of catcher Shinnosuke Abe, who was intentionally walked. Yano singled to left to drive Kawanaka in. Kawamoto was handed the ball and he walked pinch hitter Toshihisa Nishi to force Takahashi in. Kamei struckout and pinch hitter Shunsuke Hara grounded out to keep it at 5-3.
Now it was Toyoda time. Well, it was supposed to be. Centerfielder Teppei Tsuchiya rolled a ground ball through the left side for a single, his third hit. One out later, Isobe lifted a little fly ball to right. Kamei lost it in the lights initially and by the time he picked it up it was too near the ground to catch and it fell in for a single to. Fernandez, who is hitting only .263 with runners in scoring position this season, thought that Toyoda was taking too long to deliver the ball, so he tried to call time, but the umpire refused to grant it. Toyoda hung a forkball and, after he toured the bases, Fernandez was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates as if they had just won the pennant. It was the first walkoff homer in Rakuten history and only the third sayonara basehit by an Eagles player in the team's two year existence. It also ended Rakuten's five game losing sterak.
The Fernandez dinger was his 99th in Japan and it was his third career sayonara jack. His wife Angela was in the stands to see her husband's heroics before she leaves for their native Dominican Republic to attend a friend's wedding.
Rakuten manager Katsuya Nomura's record against the Giants over the years is now 145-179. His teams haven't won the seaosn series against them since 1997.
For Yomiuri, Lee was 1-3 with a walk and is at .284.
For Rakuten, Fernandez was 2-4 with a walk and is at .321. Short was 1-4 and is at .293.