Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yokohama Bay Stars 6 at Yakult Swallows 7 - August 25, 2010

An Australian friend of mine who is in Japan for a few months had never seen a baseball game and so I offered to take him and some colleagues to a Yakult Swallows-Yokohama Bay Stars tilt. Both teams are in the bottom half of the Central League, although Yakult has recently gone on a tear to move back to .500 after being 19 games below just a few weeks ago. Yokohama is just horrid though, coming in at 37-72, barely able to win 1/3 of their games. On paper, not a particularly enticing battle, but it turned out to be quite interesting.

Throwback Uniforms

The Central League has been putting on a promotion called the Old Uniform Series where teams where retro uniforms. The mid-week series last week and this were used to showcase these old-style threads. The Swallows broke out their home unis from 1994-98 which was when they were a top team, winning two Nippon Series. For me, this was a trip down memory lane as I watched them win the 1997 championship in these uniforms. That's starter Masanori Ishikawa sporting the fancy duds below.

The Bay Stars returned to their roots as the Yokohama Taiyo Whales, which was their name from 1978-1992. As you can see in the shot of starter Kentaro Takasaki, these retro uniforms are understated, with the W cap signifying Whales and Taiyo on the left sleeve. Very nice.

I always enjoy this type of promotion as it gives fans a chance to see something different. Of course, part of the reason behind this is to sell the uniforms and hats to those same fans, but most seemed more than capable of resisting the temptation.

The Game

Takasaki was making his first start of the season while Ishikawa was on a 7-game winning streak, so it looked like an easy Yakult victory. But Yokohama struck first when one-time Pirate Jose Castillo (below) slammed a two-run homer in the second inning.

Yakult wasted no time in responding though, as Norichika Aoki rapped a 2-run single in the bottom half to tie things up. In the third, the Swallows continued their attack. Three singles and a walk led to another run and loaded bases as Ishikawa came to the plate with two out. He fouled off a couple of touch pitches before bouncing one up the middle for two more runs. Great to see the starting pitcher helping himself out like that. That was the end of the evening for Takasaki who could only last 2 2/3 innings. His replacement was Kazuya Takamiya, who promptly gave up another run-scoring knock to Aoki (below) to make it 6-2 Yakult.

In the 6th, Aoki led off with another single, his 4th hit of the game, bringing his average up to .350, second in the CL. After a sacrifice and a walk, Josh Whitesell singled home Aoki to make it 7-2 and the rout was on. Or so I thought.

Ishikawa had been cruising, having given up just 3 hits in 6 innings. But in the 7th, Termel Sledge led off with a single and Castillo doubled him to third. With two out, pinch-hitter Tatsuhiko Kinjoh slapped a base hit to center to score both runners and bring Yokohama within 3. Ishikawa was removed and Takehiko Oshimoto got the last out of the frame.

In the 8th, Yakult brought in set-up man Kenichi Matsuoka who hit Kazuya Fujita to start things off. It was the fourth hit batsman of the game and I thought it might have been intentional, although no warnings were given. I don't think that Japanese players have the same "code" in the States so it could just be a coincidence, but whatever the case, it was a bad play. Brett Harper (below), a recent acquisition from Sacramento of the PCL who had hit 12 homers in 36 games, came up and crushed a pitch to right field. Suddenly it was 7-6!

The Bay Stars fans were reinvigorated and the team seemed ready to do more damage. But Shuichi Murata and Sledge both flew out to left swinging at the first pitch and the rally fizzled. Although Tatsuya Shimozono doubled and Castillo walked to put runners on first and second, Matsuoka induced pinch-hitter Naoto Inada to pop out and leave the runners stranded.

In the 9th, closer Chang-Yong Lim came in and needed just 9 pitches to retire the side in order for his 27th save of the season. Harper was left in the on-deck circle, much to Yokohama's chagrin.

The game took a ridiculous 3:32 but thankfully Yokohama made it interesting in the end. It was a beautiful night though and my Aussie buddy thoroughly enjoyed himself, though I'm sure he still thinks cricket is the better sport.

Next Up

Hiroshima next week and then back to work for a couple of months to save up for a big December hockey trip. With the AHL schedule finally released, I'm putting the finishing touches on that jaunt, with the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh and the World Juniors in Buffalo just two of the highlights. I'll have a post with the full schedule in a couple of days, so check back then.



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