Monday, September 6, 2010

Weekend Games Split in Hiroshima


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The weekend games were both 3pm starts and it was hot! I found that standing on the concourse in the shade behind home plate was not bad as a breeze would blow through and keep you relatively cool. It's also a good place to stand to watch the game itself, but if you want to keep your spot, you'd be there for a good 6 hours, so not highly recommended.

Although the gates open 4 hours before game time on the weekend, the reserved seating areas down below are closed off until 2 hours before. That is a long time to spend walking around in this weather, so most fans sit in the shade and wait patiently for the aisles to be opened. When they do, it creates a funny scene as hundreds of fans make their way down the aisles at the same time.


The unreserved seats in the second deck are open at the same time as the gates since fans want to get there early to save their favourite spot. At this time, you must have a ticket to go upstairs but once the rest of the seating area is open, you can go up to take pictures.


During batting practice there are guards reminding the fans that batting practice is going on and to watch out for foul balls. A bit unnecessary I thought until a Hanshin coach, trying to hit some pop flies to his catcher, fouled two balls straight back into the stands, nearly beaning one poor fan.

After the 5th inning, fans sing a song while doing a silly dance, led by their mascot Slyly. What I found interesting is that all the beer vendors have to do the dance too. Each one goes to the bottom of the aisle, removes his keg, and then dances and sings. We all know that selling beer is the noblest profession and these fine individuals shouldn't be forced to perform such humiliating antics. The picture below doesn't do justice but in the bottom right you can see a beer guy enthusiastically dancing while Slyly leads some children on the field below.


Here's a view of the seats completely filled:


Still some empty seats near the back of most sections as it wasn't a sellout. The capacity is around 33,000 and attendance on the weekend was around 31,000 both times, so a few seats were still available.

Saturday's Game - Carp 8, Tigers 3 - Huber's Homer Hurts Hanshin Hopes

For this game I chose the unreserved 2nd deck seat, sitting above first base among the Carp faithful. The view was quite nice as you can see below.


Minor league journeyman Giancarlo Alvarado (below, known as Gio here in Japan) got the start for the Carp and promptly hit Matt Murton with the first pitch. Coincidentally, Murton led off the previous game by being dinged as well. Alvarado must hate the Tigers because he then hit Keiichi Hirano on the foot, causing Hirano to writhe in pain before being removed from the game. Not good news for the Tigers there, as Hirano's, leading the league at .354, was replaced was Katsuhiko Saka, a lifetime .123 hitter.


Things just got worse as Alvarado walked Takashi Toritani and Takahiro Arai followed with a 2-run single (below). Four batters and already two runs and I thought it was going to be another marathon. But Craig Brazell grounded into a double play and although Alvarado walked Tomoaki Kanemoto and hit Kenji Johjima to load the bases, Shunsuke Fujikawa was caught looking to end the threat. Thirty-two pitches, 3 hit batsmen (tying an NPB record), two walks but only two runs; Gio was some kind of magician to get out of that mess.


In the bottom half, the Carp manufactured a run off Hanshin starter Naoto Tsuru. Eishin Soyogi was sacrificed to third after doubling and scored on a sac fly from Soichiro Amaya.

In the second, Alvarado was hit on the hand by a Murton comebacker, but recovered in time to throw him out. It looked like he might not be able to continue, but he shrugged it off, then served up a solo homer to Saka to give Hanshin a 3-1 lead.

I thought Gio was in trouble and might be pinch hit for in the bottom of the 2nd, but he came up with two runners on and crushed the first pitch just foul. Tsuru didn't make the necessary adjustment though and Gio sent the next offering deep into the left field gap to tie the game at 3, sending the fans around me into a frenzy. It's always good when your pitcher gets a hit, but a 2-run double is really a most unexpected gift.

Tsuru was removed after just two frames and replaced by Masashi Sajikihara, who immediately gave up a walk to Amaya and a run-scoring double to Kenta Kurihara as the Carp took the lead 4-3. It was the second consecutive day that the Tigers had blown an early advantage.

From then on, Gio proceeded to shut Hanshin down for 3.2 more innings, yielding a couple of hits and walks, but keeping them off the scoreboard. He finished with 133 pitches but only 77 strikes, but nonetheless gets credit for a quality start. Given that he hit the first two batters, I'd take issue with the "quality start" terminology in this case though.

Anyway, the game was still close, but Hiroshima added another manufactured run in the 7th in exactly the same manner as their first. This time it was Takuro Ishii who doubled, Soyogi who sacrificed, and pinch hitter Tomonori Maeda who hit the sac fly to make it 5-3.

In the 8th, Kurihara walked and Jun Hirose doubled to bring pinch hitter Justin Huber to the plate. Huber has tons of minor league experience but was never able to stick in the majors. He's also played in both WBC's for Australia. He's a big guy and he showed his power, driving Keiji Uezono's second pitch just over the left field fence (below) to clinch the game.


Closer Ryuji Yokoyama came in to pitch a perfect 9th although Huber's homer eliminated the save chance. The final was 8-3 Carp and suddenly Hanshin is looking vulnerable as the playoffs approach. Their pitching in these last two games has been less than stellar so we'll see if they can turn it around.

Hiroshima scored 8 runs on only 7 hits, but 6 of them were for extra bases: 5 doubles and the homer.

Although this game started terribly slowly, with the first two innings taking nearly an hour, Gio and company sped things up and we were done in 3:18. An interesting game and the highlight of the trip so far.

Game 3 - Tigers 11, Carp 5 - Tigers' Twenty Take Third Tilt

As I left Saturday's game, I again passed by a kinken shop and they had a single for Sunday's game in the Visitor Performance area at a reduced price. I decided to take it as it would allow me a chance to sit with the Hanshin fans for a couple of innings before I moved down to a standing spot to meet up with my friend Meg. She is touring all 12 Japan ballparks as part of the JapanBall experience and this would be her 3rd game in 3 days. I was interested in hearing about her experiences in Sendai and Yokohama as well as her initial impressions of Japan.

On to the game. I watched the first inning (scoreless) standing behind the plate before moving up to my seat. I only spent an inning there it was directly in the sun and I was surrounded by Tigers fans who are not among my favourites. But the seats here are great, a separate section with a nice view as you can see below.


Unless a flag is blocking it.


The band resting while Hiroshima bats...


...then the fans get on their feet when the Tigers come to the plate


The second inning was also scoreless and so I moved back down to the concourse and watched as the Tigers exploded for 5 runs in the third, including a 2-run triple by Toritani (below) and a 2-run homer by Brazell. Thankfully I had left the cheering section as I'd not have enjoyed watching the Hanshin fans celebrate the outburst.


The Tigers added two more runs in the fourth when Fujikawa (below) and Toritani both had RBI singles.


This made it 7-0 and Meg joined me for a quick tour around the stadium, not paying much attention to the game. That was OK as we took about two innings to tour around and neither team did anything of consequence. I left Meg back at her seat and returned to standing behind the plate, just in time for Hiroshima to make it exciting. Amaya and Kurihara (below in a shot from the cheering section) led off the 7th with singles off Tigers' starter Akiyama. After a Shigenobu Shima fly out, Hirose followed with a 3-run homer chasing Akiyama. Reliever Kubota came in and was victimized by some bad fielding when Arai let a weak grounder get through his legs. After Huber struck out, Tsubasa Aizawa hit his first NPB dinger, a 2-run shot to suddenly make it 7-5. Could the Carp complete another comeback?


The answer was no. Hanshin added one in the 8th off Vinnie Chulk and three more in the ninth to complete the route and salvage the final game of the series 11-5 win. The Tigers left town with a half-game lead on surging Chunichi, who swept the Giants over the weekend.

Not a great game to end the series, but not surprising to see Hanshin's offense finally get going. The Tigers pumped out 20 hits on the afternoon with Murton grabbing 3 of them to stay on pace for the all-time hits record, which is 210, set by Ichiro back in 1994. Murton needs 36 hits in 25 games to get to 211, just below his current pace of 1.47 hits/game. He did set a new record as his 175 hits are the most by a first-year foreign player.

With that, I headed back to the station to catch a bus to the airport. The trip was over, and the overwhelming memories will be of heat and long, long games. The average game time for the 4 I saw was 3:42, but that was mostly due to the marathon minor league game on Thursday.

Notes

Japanese baseball teams each have a slogan that changes from year to year. Sometimes, this is something nonsensical English such as "Smart and Spirit 2010 Eagle Fire!" that Rakuten is using this season, other times it is a more meaningful Japanese phrase, and even a combination of the two is seen. Hiroshima has gone for a more direct English phrase this year: "We're Gonna Win". An admirable goal that's better than "We're Gonna Finish 5th" but I found it rather amusing given how poorly they've done this year. The shot below is from the People's Plaza, an underground area near Hiroshima station, where the poles are all decorated with posters of the players along with the slogan. Interestingly the Japanese translation underneath is not quite the same, it says "We're are going to cheer you on", probably referring to this being located where fans are walking by. The slogan on the website is properly translated.


Hirano's injury from Saturday kept him out of Sunday's game but it's reported to be just a bruise and nothing serious.

Next Up

I'm going to check out the Industrial League championship game tomorrow night and then join Meg for one or two of her local games too. As well, the Shonan Searex will cease to exist so I'll try to catch their final road game next Thursday at Giants Stadium. Check back as usual for posts on those as well as a post on Hiroshima.

Best,

Sean

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