Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Yomiuri Giants 8 at Yakult Swallows 5 (11, Eastern League) - September 7, 2009


I'd seen Yakult Toda Field a few weeks ago, going by bicycle and getting soaked by a passing rainstorm on the way home. Despite the unfortunate ending to that day (my camera suffered irreparable water damage) I had enjoyed my time there, and I wanted to go back as the ballpark provides an incredibly close view of the action. This time though, I took the train.

The ballpark is located near Musashi Urawa, the same station at which Lotte Urawa Field is located. Yep, there's two minor league stadiums within 10 minutes of each other, both of which offer free baseball. I wonder how many people who live around here just go to games every day - it'd be a great way to spend the summer. Today both stadiums had games; in fact these were the only 2 pro games on the schedule as the major leagues had the day off.

Getting There on Transit

To get to Yakult Toda Field, you need to take the Takeura 01 Bus from Musashi Urawa station (schedule). The bus stop is located right next to the station, board without paying and get off at Saiko-Doman Park Iriguchi, which is 8 stops or so from the station and takes about 10 minutes. When you disembark, you will pay 200 yen at the front of the bus. The return stop is just across the street; you'll board here after the game (schedule).

Once off the bus, cross the street and walk through the residential area to the grassy hill on the other side. You'll see some stairs to your right, you can walk up these to the top of the hill from where you can spot the stadium in the distance. You'll have to walk down the hill through overgrown weeds to get there, a truly surreal experience. I've discussed the stadium itself elsewhere, so won't describe it again. I will say that it's difficult to believe that there is a ballpark located here that provides such a high quality of baseball for nothing. It's really in the middle of nowhere. Despite that, when I arrived over an hour before the game, there were already well over a hundred fans milling about. I guess it's the popularity of the Giants, but all the seats were taken. I had planned to stand next to the fence anyway, but was fortunate that one lady who had been sitting next to the fence for batting practice left just before the game began. Nobody else seemed interested in her spot, so I grabbed it and sat down to watch the game.

The Game

The starting pitcher for the Giants was Wirfin Obispo, a tall, lanky Dominican who has been with the Giants for 3 seasons. He's actually pitched in 11 games with the big club this season, going 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA. His opponent was Kyohei Muranaka, a young lefty who has struggled in his time in the bigs this year.

Obispo throwing in the first inning

Both pitchers were great, working quickly and getting lots of outs. After 6 innings, the score was 1-1 and the game was only an hour and a half old. The Giants took the lead in the top of the 7th on a bases-loaded wild pitch, but Obispo couldn't hold it, giving up two solo home runs in the bottom half, including an impressive shot to center field from catcher Ryohei Kawamoto. Muranaka then blew his chance at the win by giving up a 2-run dinger to Daijiro Tanaka in the top of the 8th and the Giants had regained the lead 4-3.

Takahisa Ueno was brought in to relieve Obispo, who was in line for the win. Unfortunately for him, Ueno gave up a 2-run longball to Yuichi Matsumoto (a Brazilian-born Japanese who goes by his first name) and the Swallows were back on top 5-4 after 8. It was a topsy-turvy battle!

In came Masato Hanada for the save. The girls next to me said something to the effect that the Swallows will lose for sure now, and their lack of confidence was well-founded. A lead-off double by Daisuke Fujimura was followed by a weak single from pinch-hitter Hidetoshi Tsuburaya and the Giants had men on 1st and 3rd with nobody out. Takanori Hoshi then lined to first and Tsuburaya was caught off base - a double play! One out to go! Or so I thought. The Giants Ryuichi Kajimae pinch-hit and was jammed but the ball managed to get over the second baseman - the game was tied game on a weak squib single. The Swallows choke again.

Giants 2008 1st round pick Taishi Ohta whiffs

The Swallows did nothing against Norihito Kaneto in their half of the 9th and we were headed to extra innings. I should note that in the Eastern League, tie games are called after 11 innings. What's interesting about this is that the last time I saw these two teams play, the game went to extras and the Giants won it with two out in the bottom of the 11th, avoiding the tie. Would I see similar heroics from the Swallows today? Not bloody likely.

Rafael Fernandes, a developmental player who I saw pitch for the Futures a few weeks ago, was brought in to pitch the 10th for Yakult and he shut down the Giants in order. But the Swallows couldn't get anything going against Kaneto in their half and we were headed to the final inning tied at 5.

Fernandes then lost his command to start the 11th - he walked the first 3 batters of the inning before being replaced by rookie Ryo Hidaka. Hidaka got two quick outs; unfortunately both were deep fly balls that scored runs. Takayuki Terauchi then knocked in the 3rd inherited runner with a triple and it was suddenly 8-5 Giants. Ugh.

Levi Romero, a 6'5" Venezuelan was brought in for the save. His fielding was weak - he made two errors by my book (only one was counted, the other was called an infield single by the home scorer) but he did get two strikeouts, fanning Kawamoto to end the game. The Giants win another extra inning affair, 8-5 in 3:47. Really a great game with lots of lead changes but as a Swallows fan, rather disappointing that they blew the lead twice.

This picture shows Fernandes in the top of the 11th. Note the score still tied at 5-5, but the ominous ball 1 is lit, a foreboding sign of what is soon to follow.

Interesting Notes

I was surprised to see Seung-Yeop Lee starting for the Giants as the DH. Considered one of Asia's greatest home run hitters and a key part of Korea's gold medal performance at the 2008 Olympics, Lee has been hurt recently and is down as part of a rehab assignment. This was his 10th game in the minors, so I suspect he'll be back with the big boys shortly. He didn't do much in this game though, although it was his leadoff walk in the 11th that got the bases on balls rolling for the Giants.

Seung-Yeop Lee fouls one off

Levi Romero was a developmental player when I saw the Giants previously. He got the win in that 1-0 game back in July, but his uniform number was 111. Now that he's a full-fledged member of the roster, his number is 38. I suspect he'll be up with the Giants in the next season or two; he is certainly intimidating on the mound.

It was a treat to watch Wirfin Obispo. Although he didn't pitch particularly well, giving up at least one baserunner per inning and walking 3 through seven, I did like his fastball and his poise. He has a bit of a quirky delivery in that he kicks his left foot as he is throwing. Swallows manager Hiroshige Saruwatari complained to the umpire about it, perhaps suggesting it was a balk (it's not) in an attempt to get Obispo off his game. It didn't work in that inning and when Obispo struck out the final batter with a blazing heater, he glared into the Swallows dugout with a F-You look on his face. Despite not liking the Giants, I liked his response to the bit of gamesmanship shown by the Swallows and I'll look for him next time he's called up.

Players as Grounds Crew?

A sign that things are really tough in the minors - when batting practice was finished, the players helped move the screens outside the field. I suppose the Swallows can't afford a full grounds crew for the second team, so they get the players to chip in. Even those players who have spent considerable time in the majors are not exempt from the additional work. It also gives autograph seekers a chance to grab a signature or two as the batting screens are moved out of the field into a nearby open spot where the fans can congregate. In the picture below, two Swallows (Yuji Onizaki and Jun Otsuka) get a stray baseball off one of the batting screens.


Next Game

I am going to see another game up in Musashi Urawa, this time at Lotte Urawa Field. I was planning to go today, but I'm exhausted and there's a slight threat of rain, so I'll go tomorrow. I'll have one final post on that game and then it's off to Hawaii.

Best,

Sean

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