Sunday, November 14, 2010

Asian Championship Doubleheader - November 13, 2010

In a rather interesting coincidence, two sports held their continental championship games in Tokyo on the same day. Suffering from a lack of live sports recently, I decided to check out both matches.

Game 1 - Chiba Lotte Marines 3 SK Wyverns 0 - Japan-Korea Club Championship

Between 2005 and 2008, the four Asian baseball federations (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China) held a tournament in Tokyo to decide the Asian champion. It wasn't particularly exciting as the Japanese team won each year, while the Chinese teams managed nary a victory in the round-robin. The series was cancelled in 2008 and replaced by a single game between the Japanese and Korean champions, won by the Yomiuri Giants last year. This season, the game was moved from Nagasaki to Tokyo which turned out to be fortuitous as the Japanese champion came from nearby Chiba which certainly helped attendance.

Originally, I wasn't much interested in this game as I expected a fairly easy victory for Lotte against the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) champ SK Wyverns, who finished their season nearly a month ago. But my girlfriend's father is from Chiba and seemed interested in going, so I scored some brownie points and invited him along.

The game itself was one-sided as expected, although the final score was just 3-0 for Lotte. The Wyverns' starter was Ken Kadokura, who pitched 13 seasons in Japan for a number of teams and had a brief tryout with the Cubs last year. At 41, he is well past his prime and only lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up 2 runs on a bases-loaded single to Ikuhiro Kiyota in the second.

Meanwhile, Lotte sent Yuki Karakawa to the hill and he was great, yielding just 2 singles and 2 hit batsmen in 5 innings. He retired the last 10 men he faced and the Marines followed with 4 relievers each recording a perfect inning. Which means the Wyverns had 22 in a row set down to end things.

PL top batter Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who may end up in the majors next year.

Japan Series MVP Toshiaki Imae added a monster homer for Lotte in the 5th to account for the final run in a game that lasted just 2:45, thanks to the Wyverns swinging at nearly everything. Only the last batter of the game went to a 3-ball count as the 5 Lotte hurlers needed just 102 pitches to dispense of the 31 Wyvern batters. In contrast, Lotte took 8 walks and saw 164 pitches for their 38 hitters - that's a full pitch more per batter (4.3 to 3.3) which is a substantial difference. I thought this might indicate that Korean baseball is faster than Japanese, but a look at the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) homepage shows an average game time of 3:08, which is still pretty long.

Interestingly, out of SK's 21 outs that came from batted balls, only one was hit to the left side of the field. The other 20 were either groundouts to first, second, or the pitcher (12), infield pops to the right side or the catcher (4), or flies to center or right (4). Maybe one or two balls were hit hard all day as they couldn't adjust to the Marines' quality pitching, particularly the off-speed stuff. It wasn't pretty to watch and you had to feel a bit for the Wyverns' fans who had made the trip only to see their team handcuffed all day long.

Coincidentally, Lotte is a Korean company that has a large presence in Japan. The KBO has a team called the Lotte Giants, so perhaps in the future both Lotte teams can battle it out for Asian baseball supremacy.

Before the last pitch.

For the Marines, it was their second Asian title as they won the inaugural Asia Series as well. What I find most interesting is that they didn't win the pennant in 2005 either, finishing second to Softbank, but taking the playoff series 3 games to 2 over the Hawks. In that respect they are like the Florida Marlins, a team that hasn't won a pennant but has two championships regardless. At least the Marines keep their team together after they win though.

Stupid Fan Award

One of the latest trends to hit Tokyo is for people to walk around dragging suitcases behind them. But they are not going to or coming from the airport, instead, they use these as clunky carry-alls. The sheer stupidity behind needing a big, heavy piece of luggage instead of a purse is incredible, especially in a space-deprived city such as Tokyo. Seriously, what do you need to carry around that requires a suitcase? They take up space on the train and slow you down as you meander the streets, which slows me down too when I'm stuck walking behind you. It is my newest pet peeve in a country where common sense seems increasingly rare.

Anyway, at the game yesterday, a nearby fan brought her suitcase into the dome! Seating there is cramped to begin with, and there is no leg room for something that large. Of course, you can put it in the aisle, but that just makes going up and down more difficult for everyone. So she wins the stupid fan award for this game.

Game 2 - Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3 Zob Ahan 1 - AFC Champions League Final

After a short dinner near the Tokyo Dome, I headed over to National Stadium to catch the Asian Champions League final. I'd normally write some background but the AFC provides a fantastic media packet which gives all the info you'll need.

Seongnam fans

The game was well-played by both teams, but the Korean side from Seongnam was a little better than their Iranian rivals, Zob Ahan from Isfahan. The Koreans had several more chances and the majority of the play was in the Zob Ahan end.

Zob Ahan defender clearing the ball

After a fairly quiet start, Seongnam got on the board in the 29th minute when tournament MVP and Australian national Sasa Ognenovski scored off a goalmouth scramble. The rest of the half saw the Iranians defending for the most part, but it wasn't until early in the second stanza that Seongnam added to their lead. A corner kick was headed to Byung Kuk Cho who headed home in the 52nd minute.

I thought that would do it, but Zob Ahan scored a brilliant goal on a rush just over 10 minutes later. A great crossing pass allowed Igor Castro to drive the ball at net, which Korean keeper Sung-Ryung Jong parried away. But it went straight to Mohammad Khalatbari who expertly lobbed a header over Jong and into the back of the net to make the final half-hour quite exciting.

The sideline is obscured by the advertising when you sit down low

Zob Ahan found life after that and had a few chances but couldn't manage an equalizer as Jong made a few key saves. Then with 7 minutes left, Seongnam's star Mauricio Molina (above taking a free kick) let go a hard shot that was saved by Shahabaldin Gordan but the rebound went to Cheol Ho Kim who slotted home the clincher.

Dejected Zob Ahan players before a late free kick

For Korea, it was their second straight title after Pohang Steelers won last year. Ultimately this day showed that Japan is easily the best baseball country in Asia while Korea still maintains soccer supremacy. It was certainly interesting seeing these two sports back-to-back. It's rare for me to say this but the soccer game was much more entertaining than the baseball game as the teams were more evenly matched and the pace was quite quick. As well, I was able to choose my seat and tried sitting near the field which offers a different perspective than I am used to.

Next Up

In just over two weeks, I depart for the big 5-week trip home, but before then I'm going to check out a J League game in west Tokyo next Saturday and then some Top League Rugby the following weekend. Check back for updates on those games and more.



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