First of all, congratulations to the BayStars on their second straight trip to the Climax Series Final Stage! Hanshin lost to a strong team, and I hope they can take down the Carp next!
Ryo (@baystarsEN) is back to share some of his thoughts on the series between Hanshin and his Yokohama DeNA BayStars. Our writing formats differ in this column, but we both give our perspectives on what went down in each game. Hope you enjoy reading over the ups and downs of the series once more.
Game 1 – Saturday, October 14: Hanshin 2, Yokohama 0
About the Game: It was even more of a pitchers’ battle than I thought it would be. I expected Hanshin to get to Inoh a little more than they did. I also didn’t think Randy Messenger would be *that* dominant. Key at bats are pretty obvious, but two plays that helped Hanshin win were: (1) Swing-out throw-out in the top of the fifth. Kajitani reached base as the first leadoff base runner for either team, but Hanshin avoided a potential crisis when Ryutaro Umeno gunned him down at second on Minei’s strikeout. (2) Kentaro Kuwahara vs. Masashi Kuwahara. The only time Yokohama had runners in scoring position, our pitcher got an inning-ending strikeout against the guy Kanemoto called “the key to stopping the BayStars.”
About Management: First, kudos to Kanemoto for switching up the order of relievers, bumping Marcos Mateo up to the seventh and putting Kuwahara in the eighth. Mateo had the tougher matchups but came through. Kuwahara faced “easier” batters but almost blew it. Had Kanemoto stuck to the usual order, the game might have been lost. BUT… I would have pinch hit for Umeno in the bottom of the eighth. We had two runners on base and it would have been nice to get an insurance run. Umeno has looked pretty horrible at the plate, and this at bat was no exception. Okazaki or Sakamoto could have handled the ninth. Anyone can catch for Rafael Dolis when he’s pitching that well.
Hanshin Man of the Match: Hands down, our best player was Messenger. No one made it into scoring position against him, and no ball was hit very hard. No walks. Full control for the first two-thirds of the game.
Pitching: Surprisingly, Ramirez chose Inoh to pitch on the first game of the series instead of Imanaga. Inoh’s stats aren’t as impressive vs Tigers nor at Koshien, but Ramirez’s choice came from the fact that he pitched very well in last year’s playoffs. As a result, it wasn’t a bad decision at all. Inoh pitched 6 innings and allowed 2 runs, which was better than what I had expected. The relievers, Mikami and Tanaka were shaky as usual, but Escobar and Patton cleaned up their mess.
Batting: We were shut down by Messenger and their relievers. We haven’t been able to score runs from their relievers all year so if we were to score, it had to be from Messenger. He had good command and speed, and almost had no chance. That double play when Minei struck out and Kajitani failed to steal second base was a big downer. Another chance at 8th inning, but (CF Masashi) Kuwahara could not become a threat as Kanemoto feared.
Overall: There was basically no chance against Messenger and a part of me was glad that we didn’t use Imanaga or Wieland who are most reliable starters. I think it was a loss that was not hard to shake off.
Game 2 – Sunday October 15: Yokohama 13, Hanshin 6
About the Game: To state the obvious, this game should not have even happened. It rained overnight on Saturday and then started raining around 11 am and never stopped. Anyhow, poor weather aside, this was an exciting, back-and-forth game until the seventh. Lots of clutch hitting. To me, the key matchup at the plate is the one that never happened. Akifumi Takahashi was created in a lab to stop Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, but his 4 outs came against mortals. One result of not saving Takahashi for a clutch moment was that Tsutsugoh collected 4 hits, including the go-ahead RBIs in the seventh. The nail in the coffin, obviously, was the pinch hit home run by Otosaka right after Tsutsugoh put the team ahead.
About Management: I kind of already mentioned it, but not using Takahashi against Tsutsugoh was a mistake. Hard to completely fault Kanemoto, though, as the rains, delays, and the physical effects of pitching long innings in these conditions meant that the bullpen got worn out extremely quickly. For the record, Yokohama picked up three infield singles that probably would have been outs on a normal day. Not making excuses, though – Hanshin batted on the same field, and their hitting just didn’t come through the way Yokohama’s did.
Hanshin Man of the Match: None other than Yusuke Ohyama, who went 4-5 with a home run and two doubles. He scored the first and third runs, both of which gave the team the lead, and the fourth (game-tying) run as well. Obviously on the other side, the goats were victims of poor weather. Kuwahara and Mateo live and die by their sliders. Rain = poorer grip = less movement on sliders. The ‘Stars pounded them mercilessly for 9 runs in 1 1/3 innings combined. That’s the ballgame right there.
Pitching: I expected Imanaga to do better than he did, but every pitcher on both teams was struggling in a terrible ground condition.
Batting: Despite being covered in mud, it was great to see all the players showing team spirit and effort. Lopez seemed to have shaken off any negativity towards the Tigers pitchers with his 2-RBI hit that tied the game. Tsutsugo was well focused and looked like he would hit any ball into the outfield. Kajitani looks great hitting second again, and that probably takes pressure off Kuwahara’s shoulders too. Otosaka finally shined as a potential slugger. That big inning with Tsutsugo’s hit that took the lead and Otosaka’s homerun was the highlight of the game.
Overall: Kudos to the Koshien ground crews for making this game even possible.
Game 3 – Tuesday, October 17: Yokohama 6, Hanshin 1
About the Game: Horrible. The key matchup that set the tone for the game was the first batter of the game, Masashi Kuwahara against Atsushi Nohmi. I was saying to my mates as we watched the game from the Ivy Seats that the first batter was absolutely crucial to retire. Had Nohmi not walked him, there would not have been such a wide gap for Kajitani and Lopez to hit the ball through, as our defense would not have been lined up for a double play. Those first three runs would not have scored were it not for that. And that would have changed the game’s outcome entirely. The BayStars did not hit the ball particularly hard most of the night (save Lopez’s home run), while Hanshin’s hitters got some good wood on a lot of balls, but happened to hit right where the defenders were waiting. Yes, the BayStars defense was spectacular at times, too, but the game was truly determined in that first at bat.
About Management: The guy behind me kept saying, “I keep telling him to change the pitcher!” In Japanese, of course. だから、代えろって言うたやろ？ If he had had a direct line to Kanemoto, perhaps the game would have had a different outcome. No in all seriousness, there wasn’t much Kanemoto could do in this one. I will say this, though. Nohmi dominated the BayStars on September 28. They obviously made adjustments and pounded him. Wieland dominated us on September 25. We clearly did not change anything. That’s partly management and scouts’ fault. Also, Taiga Egoshi has no business pinch hitting for anyone. Even a pitcher. Kid is LOST. I’m also not sure I would have started Shunsuke in this one. He was not good in the first two games, and leaving Masahiro Nakatani on the bench for the game’s first 53 outs was a waste. (Note: His series-ending strikeout was his lone appearance in the entire series!)
Hanshin Man of the Match: Shintaro Fujinami, who for one night, when nothing whatsoever was on the line, looked like his dominant self for two innings. Here’s to hoping we see this version of the lanky beanpole in 2018 and beyond.
Pitching: Joe Wieland pretty much did what Messenger did to us in the first game. He had great command of both his fastballs and breaking balls and allowed only 1 runs in 7 innings. As he said, the 3 run lead probably eased his nerves a bit, but it was good to see that he was never careless throughout the game.
Batting: Just like last year’s playoffs, Kajitani seems to shine in these very important games. Him batting second makes a great lineup. Lopez shined with 4 RBIs and I nominate him as the Climax First Stage MVP among the batters.
Overall: We were able to make a runners-on-first-and-third situation twice in the first inning, thanks to Kajitani’s speed. On the other hand, Shibata’s great defense as second baseman prevented that from happening for the Tigers. We played great defense yesterday as Wieland said as well, and if it wasn’t for Shibata, the game could have turned another way.
Also, if Ramirez deliberately planned ahead and had Inoh start for Game 1, assuming the possibility of us being owned by Messenger, and left Imanaga and Wieland for the two games where Tigers’ starters are not as dominant…I would be genuinely impressed with his management skills and tell the owners to offer him a 5+ years contract instead of 1.