Two exhibition games were on the schedule for 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Neither drew a very large crowd, but there was more than a little bit of enthusiasm in the bleachers.
BayStars 5 Buffaloes 3
In Osaka, the Orix Buffaloes hosted the Yokohama DeNA BayStars at Kyocera Dome. The BayStars offense was sparked early by a Tony Blanco home run and triples from Noriharu Yamazaki and Keijiro Matsumoto. Trailing 4-0 in the 3rd, the Buffaloes played catchup and narrowed the gap to 4-3 going to the 5th. The herd would not graze any closer.
It would be charitable to say the crowd was sparse inside the space-age confines. The 4,502 tallied through the gates equaled the entire population of Woods Creek, Washington in the 2000 census. People who live in Woods Creek drive to Monroe for groceries. The Buffaloes faithful witnessed three hours of baseball and left disappointed. When the final out was recorded, the BayStars had a 5-3 victory.
Eagles 2 Marines 1
Further south in Kurashiki, the Chiba Lotte Marines and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles played in the great outdoors at charming Muscat Stadium. The Marines led 1-0 after a sacrifice fly in the top of the 3rd inning, but the lead was short lived. A solo shot from Mitsutaka Goto tied it all up at 1-1 in the bottom of the 4th. The tie lasted until the 8th when Tetsuro Nishida tripled and scored to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead. It would be all they needed to win.
With 11 hits on the day, the Marines really should have mustered enough offense to ensure a victory. Both teams had stretches of quality pitching, but the Marines had an edge there too. Although the ballpark had room for a much bigger crowd, the contest drew around 5,500 hearty souls. The entire proceedings were streamed globally by the Pacific League on their official channel and archived for viewers.
The final pair of exhibition games on the docket began at 6 o’clock in the evening in home parks at opposite ends of the country. Both featured clubs that occupied the same markets once upon a time.
Hawks 2 Tigers 0
The SoftBank Hawks hosted the Hanshin Tigers at Fukuoka Dome. The ballgame began as a reunion of old friends. Jason Standridge faced his former club and put together a good outing. He shared smiles and laughs after almost beaning Matt Murton with a loose bender. Standridge was matched up with his former mate in the Tigers rotation, Atsushi Nomi, who was also in fine form. Both men worked three scoreless innings, scattered a pair of harmless base hits, and racked up a strikeout. Needing ten fewer offerings to finish his duties, Nomi was the more efficient pitcher on the day.
The difference came when the pill was passed to new hands. While the SoftBank Hawks arms were not exactly perfect, the Tigers were forced to leave the bases loaded twice. For their part, the Hawks took advantage of opportunities in the 4th and 5th frames for a pair of runs. The Tigers threatened, but never sent a man those last ninety feet. It was a close contest with regulars from both clubs seeing extended action. One notable exception was Seiichi Uchikawa of the Hawks who was scratched with a sore back.
Just shy of 19,000 folks saw two teams that looked pretty good for an early spring contest. Of all the games on the day, the Hawks and Tigers put together the most polished performances. Even a ground ball that ate up Takashi Toritani looked like it would have taken a good sized bite out of any middle infielder.
Fighters 10 Giants 4
The Nippon-Ham Fighters battled with the Yomiuri Giants in Sapporo Dome. It was messy from the outset. After a lead off walk started festivities, Hirokazu Ibata was nailed in the elbow with a pitch, and left the game hurt. Shuichi Murata got a single, Shinnosuke Abe doubled, and it looked like one of those nights that would turn into a Kyojin feast. After allowing 3 quick runs across the dish, Luis Mendoza settled down and the Fighters got to work. Or more accurately, the Giants started to make a real mess of things.
The rebuttal that Shohei Otani sent over the wall in the bottom of the 1st inning was just a taste of things to come. Watching the Giants in the bottom of the 4th inning conjured up images of brightly painted clown cars turning donuts in an icy parking lot while Boots Randolph blared on the radio. When the half inning was mercifully over, the Fighters had put a big 5 on the scoreboard. In contrast to the previous frame, the solo shot from Sho Nakata in the 5th inning was a thing of beauty.
An error followed by a sacrifice gave the Giants a final tally in the top of the 8th to make it a more respectable 7-4 ballgame, but the Fighters unleashed more misery on the visiting Kyojin with another 3 runs in the bottom of the frame. By the end, it was like watching a sleepy cat with a lifeless mouse in his water dish. Almost 13,000 fans saw a doozy.
A brand new episode of the Japan Baseball Weekly podcast features an excellent interview with former Chiba Lotte Marines slugger Josh Whitesell. There is also a lively discussion about the Masahiro Tanaka contract and a roundup of the latest news around the league. Producer & host John E. Gibson is joined by Jim Allen for a can’t miss hour of baseball.
Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times caught up with Wladimir Balentien of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for an exclusive interview. In his latest article, Coskrey examined the troubling events of last winter and discussed goals for the coming season with the newly crowned single season home run king.
Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker has assembled a concise list of English resources including the aforementioned John E. Gibson, Jim Allen and Jason Coskrey. It is a valuable reference for fans and students of the game in Japan.