Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lions Weekly Digest: Mejia's HR steals series in winning road week


In their first road week of the season, the Saitama Seibu Lions would have to play exclusively on the road against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and the Chiba Lotte Marines.  How did they do?

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After the first game of the series that was scheduled to be played in Koriyama, Fukushima was washed out, the two teams would start their series in Sendai on Wednesday with Shinsaburo Tawata making his second start of the series against Rakuten's ace, Takahiro Norimoto.

It would be the Eagles who would tee off early on Tawata with Carlos Peguero crushing a 2-2 breaking ball from Tawata that caught too much of the plate as it would be his fourth home run of the season to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead two batters in. After retiring the struggling Zelous Wheeler and Japhet Amador, Tawata would then give up three straight singles with Takero Okajima getting an RBI-single to make it 3-0. Then Hideto Asamura would make a fielding error on a ball up the middle which would load the bases for Motohiro Shima, and Tawata would get him to fly out and end the disastrous inning with only three runs given up.

With three early runs, the Eagles probably felt pretty good about the prospects of this game with Norimoto on the mound for them. However, as early as the third inning, it was clear that Norimoto didn't have his best stuff in this game, as he'd give two runs right back to the Lions. Fumikazu Kimura out of the 9-spot in the order would leadoff the inning with a single up the middle. He'd hustle his way to third after Norimoto bounced a pitch to the next batter and the ball bounced far enough away from Rakuten catcher, Motohiro Shima to allow him to go to third. From there, Shogo Akiyama would grind a walk, one of four on the day. Norimoto would strikeout Sosuke Genda, but Hideto Asamura would line a single the other way to bring home Kimura and make it 3-1. Norimoto would then walk Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura to load the bases, and Takumi Kuriyama would bring home Akiyama with a sac fly to cut the score to 3-2.

In the top of the fourth, the Lions would take the lead for good with Naoto Watanabe grinding Norimoto for a nine-pitch at-bat that would result in a double after Rakuten's outfield misplayed the sure hit and allowed Watanabe to race to second. Masatoshi Okada would bunt Watanabe over to third, and then Kimura would drop one in for an RBI-single to tie the game at 3-3. Both of the early rallies for the Lions were created out of the bottom of the order. Shogo Akiyama would then walk, and Sosuke Genda would single to load the bases for Hideto Asamura. Asamura would single home Kimura and that would give the Lions a 4-3 lead.

With the Lions in front, Shinsaburo Tawata would go into the fourth but would fail to record any more outs. Shima would start the bottom of the fourth off with a single and Eigoro Mogi would walk and with Carlos Peguero coming to the plate Tawata would be pulled in favor of Tatsuya Oishi. Oishi would get Peguero to ground into a 4-6-3 double play and that would give the Lions a huge lifeline out of the inning as the Eagles would fail to score.

The Lions would tag two more runs on the board in Norimoto's final inning with Watanabe getting on thanks to a throwing error from Zelous Wheeler. Norimoto would walk Fumikazu Kimura to make it two on and two outs and set up the big hit from Shogo Akiyama. Akiyama would hit a swerving ball into the corner that would direct off the wall and score both baserunners to give the Lions a 6-3 lead off Akiyama's 2-run double.

This would effectively KO Norimoto as he was pulled after the completion of the fifth. From there, Oishi would pitch one more inning of relief for the Lions and from then on, it would be Okawari-kun who would own the latter part of the game with two home runs to turn the game into a rout. Okawari-kun would hit a solo shot in the sixth to make it 7-3, and then in the 9th, he'd sneak one just over the right field wall for a 3-run homer in the 9th to make the score 10-3. Japhet Amador would hit his first home run of the season for Rakuten in the bottom of the 9th to complete the final score of 10-5 Lions.

Shuta Takekuma, Kazuhisa Makita, Brian Schlitter, and Hirotaka Koishi would each toss an inning of relief with Koishi the only pitcher to surrender any runs.

Lions 10, Eagles 5

Game Notes:

-Okawari-kun hit career home runs number 331, and 332 which stands as the franchise record for home runs in a Lions jersey with Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Koji Akiyama behind him at 329 and 328 respectively

-Takahiro Norimoto threw 71 of his 116 pitches for strikes but the Lions still grinded four walks off him thanks to long at-bats from Naoto Watanabe and Shogo Akiyama. In total, the Lions drew seven walks in this game.

-Naoto Watanabe started at DH for his first game of 2017 and went 3-5.

-The makeup game from the rain out in Fukushima prefecture will unfortunately be in Sendai on September 14.

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The week would then shift to the new name Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba to face the Marines. It would be Kota Futaki vs Yusei Kikuchi in the series opener.

It would be a slow start, but Kikuchi showed off some impressive fielding with an early 1-3 double play. The game would remain scoreless as the Lions squandered a leadoff triple by Sosuke Genda in the top of the 4th. Asamura would flyout, Okawari-kun struck out and Kuriyama would flyout to ruin the chance.

Kikuchi got a Houdini of his own by allowing the first two batters on base on the bottom of the inning. He would then strike out Kei Hosoya and Matt Duffy while getting Tatsuhiro Tamura to groundout and end the threat.

There wouldn't be any scoring until the 6th inning, where Hosoya picked up an RBI fielder's choice beating a double play attempt by the Lions. Futaki would finally budge as Okawari-kun took one deep for a solo HR in the top of the 7th.

It would be another jam for Kikuchi for the bottom of the 7th as Tamura would earn a leadoff single and they Marines would bunt him over to second base. Shota Ishimine would get a bloop single to fall and Chiba retook the lead at 2-1.

Kikuchi would end the day with eight strikeouts and four walks while giving up six hits over the course of seven innings. Futaki would also go seven innings as he scattered four hits and had nine strikeouts.

They Lions would have their best chance of the night in the 8th inning as Akiyama got an infield-single and stole second base with two outs. However, Genda would hit a weak flyball to end any chance to score against Tatsuya Uchi.

There would be one final gasp for something to happen in the top of the 9th with Naoya Masuda pitching for the Marines. Asamura hit a leadoff single, but Okawari-kun and Shogo Saito (who came in as a sub for Kuriyama) would strikeout. With a full count, Mejia would hit an improbable two-run home run to deep left-center field as the Lions were one strike away from losing the game to give the team a 3-2 lead.

Despite the home run, the game was far from over as Tatsushi Masuda took the bottom of the 9th. Duffy created some early trouble with a leadoff double and Taiga Hirasawa would be pinch running for him. Even with Tamura showing bunt, Masuda would walk him on 5 pitches. Ikuhiro Kiyota would move both runners by 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt of his own to put the winning run in scoring position.

T. Masuda and the Lions would choose to intentionally walk substitute Ryo Miki and load the bases with one out. On a full count Masuda would get the ground ball needed from Kazuya Fukuura to force a 4-3 double play and create the ultimate Houdini and end the game. The Lions would win their fourth consecutive game.

Lions 3, Marines 2

Game note:

-Hotaka Yamakawa would start at DH. He went 1-4.

-Oishi would pitch a clean 8th inning and earn a win as a result. His second consecutive victory.

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Game 2 would feature our old friend Hideaki Wakui facing Ryoma Nogami. Both sides would bring a classic pitcher's duel as Nogami had only one blemish. He would give up a double Seiya Inoue and a single from Hosoya in the bottom of the 4th inning.

Wakui would scatter four hits through seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts on the day. Nogami went eight innings with only three hits allowed and five strikeouts.

The best chance came for the Lions in the top of the 7th with two runners on. However, Hotaka Yamkawa would ground into a fielder's choice and end the threat. Like the previous night, there was one final chance in the top of the 9th against N. Masuda and Asamura on first base, but Okawari-kun would also ground into a fielder's choice and the Marines snapped the Lions four-game winning streak.

Marines 1, Lions 0

Game note:

-Shogo Saito started in LF in place of Kuriyama, who was resting from exiting on Friday with inflammation in the right calf.

-Nogami would earn a complete game in a losing effort.

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The rubber match would have Yuki Karakawa against Brian Wolfe. This one would be a laugher from the beginning as the Lions jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to back-to-back RBI singles from Asamura and Okawari-kun. With two outs in the 2nd, Genda would score from first on a gaffe read by Shota Ishimine for the third run.

Hotaka Yamakawa put the exclamation point on this game from a two-run blast in the third inning, where it ended Karakawa's day. Karakawa would give up eight hits and five walks in 2.2 innings pitched.

Wolfe would go on to win his 7th straight start dating back to last season. He pitched six scoreless innings and scattered four hits with an early Houdini in the first.

Asamura would be the player of the game with four hits and five RBIs and the Lions took the series with a big win.

Lions 10, Marines 2

Game notes:

-Kuriyama sat out again resting the calf muscle. Shuta Tonosaki would start in LF in his place.

-Mejia, Genda and Sumitani had modashos and the Lions had 16 hits total. It would be Genda's first career three-hit game.

-Besides the home run, Yamkawa would walk three times.

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While this is officially the first time through the order for the Pacific League, the Lions have only seen the Eagles once. That will change as they face them next on the schedule, but the bats did just enough to steal one from the Marines on Friday.

Like anything, this team is competing despite Tawata's struggles. It's early, but the bats continue to be alive for the most part and Genda is living up to the hype as a defensive whiz.

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