The Saitama Seibu Lions had a mixed bag of results for the week. They would go 3-3 against the Softbank Hawks and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Figters while gaining ground on the Orix Buffaloes for an 8.5 game lead in the race for A-class. Here's how we got there:
The first game from the Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome had Ken Togame up against Nao Higashihama. The Lions squandered an early chance in the third inning by only scoring unconventionally. Ernesto Mejia would be tagged out trying to advance home on a ground ball prior to Shogo Akiyama scoring Shuta Tonosaki on an RBI groundout.
Alfredo Despaigne tied the game in the bottom of the 4th inning with a solo HR. The bases were loaded against Togame in the 5th inning and Seiichi Uchikawa delivered with an RBI single to give the Hawks the lead. Some good defense prevented another run from coming in as a runner was tagged out at the plate.
Higashihama dominated through 7.2 innings with six strikeouts and only five hits allowed. The tying run was on second base in the top of the 8th as Shogo Akiyama was batting. Manager Kimiyasu Kudo went with a lefty specialist Shinya Kayama and he struck out Akiyama. Tatsuya Oishi loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th and allowed a run off a wild pitch. Dennis Sarfate made it easy in the 9th as the Lions came back from the All-Star break with a loss.
Hawks 3, Lions 1
-Masatoshi Okada would start at catcher, Hotaka Yamkawa was the 1B while Mejia was the DH.
The second game had Ryoma Nogami facing Rick van den Hurk. After some early jams by both sides, the Hawks scored first on a solo HR by Tomoki Takata. Akita Nakamura would slap an RBI double down the LF line for a second run in the bottom of the 4th.
Takata added another run off an RBI double in the bottom of the 5th, making it a tough 3-0 Hawks lead. Van den Hurk would cruising and didn't allow a hit through five innings, but Shogo Akiyama would break it up with a solo HR in the 6th.
The Hawks bullpen showed some vulnerability in the late innings as the Lions loaded the bases in the 8th. Unfortunately, Mejia would pop out and end the threat. With Sarfate pitching in the 9th, the Lions had a last gasp chance with two runners on and Takumi Kuriyama pinch hitting, but Daichi Mizuguchi was caught trying to advance as the Lions attempted a double steal. The former Lions captain would strike out, ending the game with an identical score from the previous night.
Hawks 3, Lions 1
-Sosuke Genda picked up his 25th stolen base of the season, tying a franchise record for a rookie. Yasumitsu Toyoda (1953) and Hiromichi Ishige (1981) were the predecessors to reach 25 stolen bases as a rookie.
The final game would take place in Kitakyushu with Stephen Fife against Yuki Matsumoto. The Lions struck first on a two-run gapper by Mejia in the top of the 1st inning. Fife would get an early shutdown inning, but allowed a solo HR to Takuya Kai in the bottom of the third. The Lions picked up a run in the top of the 4th, but had multiple base running errors which led to outs, making it a disappointing frame.
Fife's day would end in the 4th inning as Kai would hit a second HR of the night, good for three runs and giving the Hawks a lead again. Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura responded with a two-run HR in the 5th, but Uchikawa tied the game with a solo HR in the bottom of the frame off Yosuke Okamoto.
Kai would do damage again in the 6th inning with a triple. He would score shortly after with a sacrifice fly. Despite the Lions trailing, Yuji Kaneko hit an improbable HR off Sho Iwasaki to tie the game in the top of the 8th.
Unfortunately, Kazuhisa Makita had a disaster 8th inning, where Seiji Uebayashi broke the tie with an RBI hit. Makita continued to give up timely hits, leading to a four run inning and all but ending the game, causing the Lions to be swept in Kyushu again.
Hawks 10, Lions 6
-Fife was taken off the roster after the game to make room for Yusei Kikuchi.
-Okawari-kun's HR was the 350th of his career and 20th of the season.
The Lions returned home as Yusei Kikuchi would take on Luis Mendoza. Asamura put the Lions on the board first with his 10th HR of the year for a 1-0 lead. The Fighters answered back as Kazunari Ishii tied the game with a two-out double. Sosuke Genda would commit his 13th error of the season, allowing the runner on base.
Mendoza struggled with control in the 4th inning, walking three consecutive batters to load the bases. Shuta Tonosaki would get the timely hit and plate two runners home as the Lions retook the lead. The 5th inning would be similar with Mendoza walking multiple batters and Mejia getting the timely hit this time to end his night. Okawari-kun added a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1.
Kikuchi started to struggle in the 6th with several runners on base. The Lions nearly turned a 5-4-3 triple play, but Asamura couldn't hold onto the ball and the Fighters would score two runs back.
Katsuhiko Kumon took the 6th inning and gave up a leadoff runner before a bunt moved him over. With two outs, Shogo Akiyama found a timely single to get one run back. A clean double from Asamura put the game away for good to plate two more runs.
Kikuchi's night ended in the 7th inning with multiple runners on base, but he recorded eight strikeouts with only one walk. Kazuhisa Makita came in and got two weak infield flys to earn the shutdown inning.
Brian Schlitter and Tatsushi Masuda allowed a run in the 8th and 9th innings each, but it was all academic as the Lions ended the losing streak.
Lions 8, Fighters 5
-Kikuchi matched a career-high 9th victory.
The second game from MetLife Dome featured Shinsaburo Tawata facing spot starter Akihiro Hakumura. After a slow start from Tawata escaping an early jam, Ernesto Mejia would take a ball deep with a two-out, two-run HR. Asamura forced a walk prior to the home run.
Shogo Akiyama would hit a gapper over Ishii's head in the third and it would result in a triple. With two strikes, Sosuke Genda battled and fought for a hard earned sacrifice fly for a 3-0 Lions lead.
Hakumura would last four innings, but it would be all about Tawata taking the show. He would settle in after two shaky innings to start with nine strikeouts, one walk and four hits through seven innings.
Genda added another run with a timely hit in the 7th inning while Shota Takekuma and Masuda closed this game easily to take the series.
Lions 4, Fighters 0
-Tawata had to be added to the roster. Tatsuya Oishi was taken off due to a shoulder blade injury and Keisuke Honda was called up for the first time in 2017.
-This was the Lions 6th shutout of the season, the third time it's happened against the Fighters.
-Masatoshi Okada threw out the speedy Haruki Nishikawa in the 1st inning to slow momentum down.
The final game of the series had Kenta Uehara against veteran Brian Wolfe. Tonosaki started the scoring with a solo HR in the bottom of the 2nd inning for his 8th of the year. Yuji Kaneko leadoff the 3rd with a single and a stolen base, only to be immediately plated by Shogo Akiyama for an early 2-0 lead.
Hokkaido would get both runs back in the 4th with two runners on and nobody out. An RBI groundout scored one, while an infield single from Kengo Ota would tie the game.
Uehara's day would end with two runners on base in the 5th inning, where an infield single would go off his foot. With Yohei Kagiya pitching, Shogo Akiyama took a no doubt HR to RF for a three-run blast. Takuya Nakashima would commit a rare error to keep the inning going and Takumi Kuriyama hit an opposite field HR into the Lions Oendan for another three-run HR in the frame.
Wolfe would escape an ugly jam in the 6th inning for a shutdown frame. He would have a season-high eight strikeouts on the afternoon before the game went to the bullpen. Katsunori Hirai had a scoreless 7th while Shogo Noda had the 8th inning. Sosuke Genda added an RBI single to make it a seven-run lead.
Keisuke Honda got to make his 2017 ichi-gun debut in the 9th and had a clean frame to complete the sweep.
Lions 9, Fighters 2
-To make room for Wolfe on the roster, the Lions deactivated Aito Takeda. This was Wolfe's first win since early June.
-Kaneko would have a modasho with three singles. Akiyama also picked up a modasho with the home run and four RBIs combined.
-The Lions are now a combined 10-0 when facing the Fighters in the Kanto region. This includes MetLife Dome, Gunma prefecture, Tokyo Dome and Omiya. They currently have an eight game head-to-head winning streak. The season series in 2017 is currently 14-2 in favor of the Lions.
Playing the Fighters is arguably the best remedy for the Lions with this week starting awful in Fukuoka. The good news? Orix has lost a tad and looks like things are going downhill for the Osaka based team.
The 6th starter spot could be a revolving door with Fife ineligible to play the front end of the week. Will it be Keisuke Honda or Yosuke Okamoto going? The decision ahead will be interesting. Overall, it was encouraging that the pitching held its ground throughout the whole week minus the game in Kitakyushu.
We have recorded our next podcast episode for the month of July. Stay tuned everyone!
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