Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lions Weekly Digest: Mejia powers Lions to series win over Buffaloes

 Coming off a long break for makeup games after Interleague play ended, the Saitama Seibu Lions took two out of three from the lowly Orix Buffaloes. It wasn't a cake walk, but they made sure to put pressure on the rest of their competition.

Game 1 against Orix saw a battle of top pitchers with the off time happening where there were two makeup games earlier this week. Brandon Dickson faced Takayuki Kishi in what has been a battle of aces.

The Lions drew first blood in the second inning when Yuji Onizaki ripped a two-run double down the right field line, scoring Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Anthony Seratelli. However, that was all the offense the Lions would get as they squandered other opportunities.

After having some early scares, Kishi appeared to have settled down after four innings, but after an extended 35 minute rain delay, he escaped a jam allowing one run. The bases were loaded in the fifth and Ryoichi Adachi would make them pay with an infield single and Yuki Miyazaki would dodge a tag attempt by Ginjiro Sumitani for the Buffaloes' first run.

Eiichi Koyano would ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat, but Orix was just warming up. Kishi went through the sixth inning without any damage, but the seventh is where it would cost him. A leadoff hit and a barrage of players getting on base would catch up to him. He already entered the seventh with 113 pitches, but Norio Tanabe kept him in, displaying a vote of no confidence in the middle relief.

Adachi would single again and tie the game with runners on 1st and 2nd. Then former Lion Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a two-run gapper to put Orix up for good and putting his former team away. Koyano would score on a sacrifice fly from Takahiro Okada to make the final score 5-2.

This was a game where Tanabe left Kishi in too long. Even though his pitch count was high, he needed to display faith in his bullpen to finish the job. Kishi was pitching off a long rain delay earlier and going six innings with one earned run was enough to win this pitcher's duel. Unfortunately the bats were also unclutch when they had Dickson on the ropes.

In Game 2, it was a lopsided affair from the start, but it wasn't easy to put Orix away at first. Sachiya Yamasaki nearly got out of a bases loaded and no out situation in the first inning, where Okawari-kun grounded into a 1-2-3 double play. However, Ernesto Mejia came through with a two-out, two-RBI single to give the Lions first blood.

Seibu would have a runner on base for every inning and Orix put in Alessandro Maestri for middle relief for the third inning, but the Lions would be good with situational hitting, adding two more runs through sacrifice fly balls from Mejia and Tomoya Mori.

Every starting Lion got on base or had a base hit except Sumitani and the Lions were up 8-0 after five innings thanks to a two-out slicing double by Naoto Watanabe. Even Kyohei Nagae had two hits off the bench with four RBIs late in the game and Mejia hit his 12th home run of the season.

Ken Togame earned his first win since May 12 with eight shutout innings. It wasn't a dominant outing, but he did a good job getting the key strikeout or pop out when runners were on base. In the third, there were runners on the corners, but Togame got a key strikeout against Takuya Hara to end any threats. The 14-0 win was their largest of the season and first on the road against Orix. The home team had won the previous nine games between both clubs and it snapped a four-game win streak by the Buffaloes.

In the final game of the week, the Lions had a difficult task on their hands facing the ace of the Orix Buffaloes, Chihiro Kaneko. The red hot, Yusei Kikuchi was on the mound for the Lions and it would be the middle of the order who would propel the Lions to a win in this game. Okawari-kun would hit his 20th of the year in opposite field fashion.

The Lions would do a great job of making Kaneko work to get outs and as a result, he would be fatigued and give up the game-deciding bomb to Mejia. It was a 3-run shot that extended the lead to 4-0 Lions, and with Kikuchi in cruise control on the mound, that would seal it.

The Lions would add on a few more to make it 8-0 and with Kikuchi tossing 7 shutout innings, the Lions would earn the 8-0 victory and the series victory that went along with it.

Mejia had three home runs in two games this week which would keep the Lions at the same level with the rest of the Pacific League. With the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters swept by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, the Lions' homestand will become intense as they host both teams this week, including one outdoor game on Tuesday in Omiya.

A .500 week against the top teams in the Pacific League would be acceptable, but it's easy to get greedy. In perspective, the Hawks will be a tough outing as they are coming off as the winners of Interleague play and a four game winning streak. The Fighters however are vulnerable and they need to win that series at minimum.

With the pitching being as impressive as it is, this Lions team can really make a statement against a top hitting Hawks team that is loaded with star talent. It is an uphill battle, but the Lions took care of business against Orix to keep pace with the top of the league. Ganbarre Raionzu!


Wes Mills also contributed to this report.  Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

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