Three afternoon games were scheduled to begin at 1 o’clock, but nature spoiled plans for the faithful hoping to see the Saitama Seibu Lions and the Chunichi Dragons at Kariya Stadium.
Buffaloes 9 Swallows 6
In Osaka, the Orix Buffaloes hosted the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Kyocera Dome. The scant few in attendance were treated to a wild ballgame full of twists and turns. Just over 3,000 fans came through the turnstiles, so it was a really great day to be a kid looking for a baseball. Beyond the outfield fence, one would have a chance to shag a batting practice moonshot from Wladimir Balentien. In the top half of the 4th inning, a round tripper from Akinori Iwamura found the seats as well. Every foul ball that came over the nets added a chance to a potential bonanza for youngsters.
Beginning with a 3 spot in the 2nd inning, the Swallows had a solid early lead. The birds added another pair in the 4th on a two-run shot from Iwamura to make it a 5-0 game. In the bottom of that same frame, Keiichi Hirano dashed around the bags for a triple. Yuniesky Betancourt brought him home with a single and put the Buffaloes on the scoreboard. In the 5th inning, Shinji Takahashi doubled and came home on a sacrifice fly from Hikaru Ito. With 5 in the books, the Swallows led 5-2 and added another insurance run in the top of the 7th for a 6-2 margin.
After a humble Lucky 7, the ground began to tremble and the air was filled with an eerie sound. It grew ever louder as it got closer. Thick dust quickly blocked out the sun and left the small crowd gasping for breath. It was all over in an instant. In the quiet aftermath, there was still the familiar squeak of the old weather vane, but the farm was unrecognizable. The Swallows slowly picked through shattered kindling that was a homestead only moments ago. A stunned ball club watched in silent horror as the stampeding herd disappeared in the distance.
In a frenzy of sharp horns and churning hooves, the Buffaloes had put 7 runs on the scoreboard for a 9-6 lead. The final outs were just a formality.
Eagles 5 Marines 2
While rainy weather kept baseball from happening in Kariya, the skies over Muscat Stadium in Kurashiki cooperated with the Chiba Lotte Marines and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Exciting youngster Yuki Matsui was the first pitcher to take the hill and put in a solid outing while scattering 4 hits over 5 scoreless innings. A base on balls and a rookie humbling balk were nestled alongside 6 strikeouts. Eagles arms continued to impress as Yusuke Nishimiya worked a pair of frames, struck out 3, and allowed a harmless single. Kohei Hasebe was touched up for 2 runs on 3 hits in the 8th, but that wasn’t enough for the Marines to get a win. Hiroyuki Fukuyama finished it off with a save.
It was an all-around team effort by the Eagles that put this ballgame in the winning column. Tetsuro Nishida, Akihisa Makida and Shitaro Masuda all came home with a run. Makoto Moriyama scored twice. Five different batters drove them safely across the dish. Showcasing young pitching with more than a little bit of timely offense, the Eagles looked pretty sharp for an afternoon in early spring.
The Marines looked like a team still sorting things out for the coming season. There were certainly things to like. Another fine performance from Seiya Inoue was very encouraging. He went 3 for 4 on an afternoon that included a ringing RBI double in the 8th inning. Getting a combined 6 innings of good work from Takuya Furuya and Takahiro Fujioka was a nice takeaway too. The most important thing to remember about the games that don’t count is that they don’t count.
Once again, the Pacific League streamed the contest live for a global audience on their official channel. They also archived the game for Kevin Youkilis fans and others who may have who missed the action.
Two more exhibition contests were scheduled for 6 o’clock in the evening, but neither ran any risk of weather spoiling the fun.
Hawks 6 Tigers 0
At Fukuoka Dome, the SoftBank Hawks hosted the Hanshin Tigers for the second contest of the series. Over 19,000 in attendance watched a parade of Hawks arms deny the Tigers at every turn. It begin with Tadashi Settsu recording a half dozen strikeouts in 4 innings of no-hit ball. Nao Higashihama worked the next two innings and gave up singles to Takahiro Arai in the 5th and Tsuyoshi Nishioka in the 6th. Those would be the only knocks for the cats all night. Ryota Igarashi and Hideki Okajima each worked a clean frame and collected a strikeout. Dennis Sarfate closed the door for good with three consecutive whiffs.
It was close for quite a while. Akira Nakamura sent a Randy Messenger delivery over the left field fence in the 3rd. The solo shot would be the only scoring of the game before Yuki Yanagita doubled home Yuya Hasegawa in the 7th inning. In the bottom of the 8th, the Hawks bats touched up Seung-Hwan Oh for a run, turned a half dozen pitches by Yutaka Tamaki into three runs on three hits, then scored once more on Syoya Yamamoto before the final out was recorded. All the way around, the Tigers ended up having a tough night.
Giants 6 Fighters 4
The Nippon-Ham Fighters played host to the Yomiuri Giants at Sapporo Dome for another round of battle. It was 1-1 tie after a frame, but the Giants were not going to be satisfied with a close contest. They kept the fire nicely banked with 2 runs in the 3rd inning, put another 2 across in the 6th inning, and stirred the embers with a tally in the 7th. To the Giants, a 6-1 lead probably seemed safe in the middle of the 9th inning, but that’s why teams play the game. In a effort to win, or at least retain some dignity, the Fighters brought 3 more home before the game was over.
Yuki Saito started on the hill for the Fighters. He struck out 2 batters and threw 2 wild pitches over the course of 4 innings of work. Toshiya Sugiuchi started on the hill for the Giants. He also struck out 2 batters and threw 2 wild pitches over the course of 4 innings of work. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Neither arm was very good to start the evening, but by the end, one of them was lucky.
In his latest column for One World Sports, John E. Gibson takes a closer look at the rough outing for Ryosuke Miyaguni and what it might mean for his immediate future with the Giants.