A Perfect Dilemma

While the World Series may be over in the United States that doesn’t mean that baseball has stopped around the rest of the world. Today was game 5 of the Japan Series which is the equivalent of the World Series there. The Nippon Ham Fighters are facing off against the Chunichi Dragons. At first I wondered what exactly a Ham Fighter was. I envisioned it being some kind of attack pig with Samurai armor; kind of like a swine Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It turns out that the team is not the Ham Fighters but rather Nippon Ham is the sponsor. In Japan a company can sponsor a team and have their name become part of the team name. I see this as the next logical step after stadium naming rights. Last season the Fighters won the Japan Series for the first time in 44 years which I guess is the equivalent of the Cleveland Indians here. The Dragons who made it to the finals last year too hope to break their 0-6 mark in the finals dating back 53 years. The last time the Dragons were the Japan champions was 1954. This sounds like quite a heated rivalry. The Fighters took the first game of the series and the Dragons took the next three setting up game 5 which would be do or die for the Fighters.

Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Fighters 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dragons 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
Box Score Bottom
Nippon Ham Pos AB R H RBI BB SO AVG   Chunichi Pos AB R H RBI BB SO AVG
Morimoto CF 3 0 0 0 0 0 .158   Araki 2B 4 0 0 0 0 1 .350
K. Tanaka 2B 3 0 0 0 0 1 .056   Ibata SS 4 0 1 0 0 1 .211
Inaba RF 3 0 0 0 0 0 .059   Morino LF 3 0 0 0 1 2 .308
Seguignol 1B 3 0 0 0 0 1 .333   Woods 1B 3 1 2 0 0 1 .235
Kudoh LF 3 0 0 0 0 1 .250   Nakamura 3B 3 0 1 0 0 0 .444
Inada 3B 2 0 0 0 0 1 .091   Lee RF 3 0 0 0 0 2 .111
  a-Tsuboi PH 1 0 0 0 0 0 .333   Hirata CF 2 0 0 1 0 2 .143
  H. Takeda P 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000   Tanishige C 3 0 1 0 0 2 .250
M. Kaneko SS 3 0 0 0 0 2 .333   Yamai P 2 0 0 0 1 0 .000
Tsuruoka C 2 0 0 0 0 0 .000     Iwase P 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000
  b-Takahashi PH 1 0 0 0 0 0 .200    
Darvish P 2 0 0 0 0 1 .000    
  Koyano 3B 1 0 0 0 0 0 .200    
Totals   27 0 0 0 0 7     Totals   27 1 5 1 2 11  
   
a-Flied to center for Inada in the 8th. b-Flied to left for Tsuruoka in the 9th.    
     
BATTING
Team LOB: 0.

FIELDING
DP: 1.

  BATTING
2B: Ibata (3rd inning), Nakamura (2nd inning).
TB: Woods 5; Nakamura 2; Ibata 2; Yamai; Morino; Tanishige.
RBI: Hirata
Sac-Fly: Hirata.
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Tanishige.
Team LOB: 5.

 

Nippon Ham IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA   Chunichi IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Darvish (L) 7.0 5 1 1 2 11 0 1.13   Yamai (W) 8.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
H. Takeda 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3.00   Iwase (S) 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0.00
     

Pitches: Darvish 109, H. Takeda 14, Yamai 86, Iwase 13.
Ground outs-fly outs: Darvish 6-3, H. Takeda 2-1, Yamai 12-6, Iwase 1-1.
Batters faced: Darvish 25, H. Takeda 3, Yamai 24, Iwase 3.
Weather: 75 degrees, indoors.
Wind: 0 mph, None.
T: 2:26.
Att: 38,118.

The Fighters were set to send their ace Yu Darvish to the mound. The Dragons were expected to counter with Kawakami Kenshin but just before first pitch they changed and instead sent a young Daisuke Yamai to the mound. Yamai took the mound in what must have been the most important game of his young career. He had an opportunity to bring home a championship to a city who had not tasted victory in 53 years. Yamai did not disappoint. For the first eight innings he was brilliant setting the Nippon Ham Fighters down in order. In 86 pitches he recorded 24 outs. No one in the Japan Series had ever pitched a perfect game and now here was a pitcher 3 outs away from doing just that. The Dragons had scored on a sacrifice fly in the second inning and clung to a 1-0 lead. All eyes were on the pitcher’s mound in the top of the ninth waiting for Yamai to come out and write himself into the history books.

But Yamai did not emerge from the dugout and stride to the mound to finish the game. Instead Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai decided to pull his starting pitcher and go to his bullpen bringing in closer Hitoki Iwase for the ninth inning. Yes you read that correctly. The manager removed the starting pitcher who was 3 outs away from making history and recording the first perfect game in Japan Series history. A starting pitcher who had only thrown 86 pitches and allowed less than a handful of batters to even get a full count. I tried to put that into some context that I could fathom. That would be like Josh Beckett going 8 innings against the Rockies having thrown only 86 pitches with only 3 batters getting more than 2 balls against them and then inexplicably Terry Francona decides this would be a great time for Jonathan Papelbon to come in and get a save so he could do the River Dance on the mound. Can you even imagine the exchange in the dugout if Francona had suggested that Beckett should just rest this last inning and let the bullpen do its job? The Japan Series game was being played in Chunichi so in our analogy that would mean that Beckett would be pulled at Fenway Park. I don’t think there are enough policemen in New England to protect Terry Francona if he made that decision. Now remember this was game 5 of the Japan Series and your team has not won it in 53 years when the manager makes this pitching change. I seem to remember a pitching decision that Grady Little made during the ALCS a few years back when he let Pedro Martinez stay in an extra inning. The Red Sox imploded and the Yankees went to the World Series. Boston ran Little out of town on a rail. I have to imagine there were a few fans in Chunichi that were on the edges of their seats trying to maintain their composure and not leap down into the dugout and strangle Ochiai.

Iwase came in and fortunately he did his job. He set the Fighters down in order facing 3 batters and not allowing a hit or a walk. The game ended perfectly for the Dragons and for Yamai and Iwase. It goes into the history books as a perfect game but instead of one pitcher’s name next to the record it is shared by two. Baseball seems to be a much different game in Japan than it is in America.


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