|Photo Credit: Seibu Lions|
In Game 1, the Lions took it to Fighters' starter, Mitsuo Yoshikawa, chasing him in the fourth inning after an 8 run frame, punctuated by a grand slam by Hideto Asamura, which was his first home run of the season. Impressively, all the Lions runs scored in that inning came with two outs.
A Gin-chan ground rule double was so poorly played by Fighters' right fielder, Shingo Ishikawa, that it landed in the visiting bullpen after landing in fair territory. The next play would see Ryo Sakata double one into the gap that would score two and make it 3-0 Lions.
After a single by Tonosaki and a walk for Akiyama, the bases were loaded for Yuji Kaneko who would draw a walk of his own and expand the Lions lead to 4-0 Lions. Then came the big blast from Asamura on a 1-0 pitch that soared into the Lions Ōendan and made it 8-0.
Tomoya Mori would later tag a home run in the 5th off of Yohei Kagiya, for his first home run of the season.
The Lions would see Ryo Sakata add to his big day with a solo homer in the 8th to give the Lions the double digit mark of 10-0, it would be the final tally of the game.
On the mound, Takayuki Kishi was nothing short of brilliant as he threw his changeup early and often. It proved to be quite effective in producing weak contact. He'd finish with a complete game, one-hit shutout. His line would read 9.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BBs, 4 Ks, and 1 HBP, giving him a Bill James Pitching Game Score of 88. Kishi earned his 2nd win of the season and hasn't given up any runs in his first two starts of this season.
-Okawari-kun hit a triple during the 8 run inning which is noteworthy because it is the 11th of his career and the first since 2014. The triple gave the Lions the "inning-cycle," and provided an interesting note for those of us who love Takeya Nakamura.
-Yuji Kaneko made the start in RF for the Lions and looked quite comfortable, Sakata would play in left field with Kuriyama getting the night off due to cramps. Shotaro Tashiro would come in to play right as a defensive replacement and Kaneko would end up finishing the game at his more natural shortstop position.
Lions 10, Fighters 0
In game two, the matchup between Anthony Bass and Ryoma Nogami took place at the Seibu-Prince Dome and it was the second inning that ended up defining the game.
Nogami would see Fighters' third baseman, Brandon Laird taking him deep to give the Fighters' a 1-0 lead, but Laird would be involved in a critical play that would in many ways decide the game.
A leadoff walk to Tomoya Mori would be followed by consecutive singles by Ernesto Mejia and Ryo Sakata which would tie the game. Gin-chan would then lay down a sac bunt to make the situation runners on second and third with one out for Yuji Onizaki.
Bass then tried to catch Ernesto Mejia napping at third by trying to pick him off, and unfortunately for Bass, his third baseman, Brandon Laird was not paying attention on the play and the ball rolled to the bullpen wall and allowed both Mejia and Sakata to score, giving the Lions a 3-1 lead with the error charged to Bass. The play in my view was ill-advised since it's a low percentage play that's usually quite awkward since third basemen don't hold runners, but Laird is still equally to blame for the brain fart.
Nogami would settle in and deliver a fine performance that saw no resistance during his 6 inning outing after Laird's home run. And uncharacteristically, Nogami missed a lot of bats during this start as he'd strikeout 6 batters. And he'd finish with a line of 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 BBs, 1 HBP, 6 Ks, 1 ER.
More defensive calamity would ensue for the Fighters in the 5th with Gin-chan starting off the inning with a leadoff single, Yuji Onizaki would bunt him over to second with Shogo Akiyama at the plate. Anthony Bass would then throw a ball that landed a whole foot in front of the plate and proved to be trouble for Fighters' catcher, Tomoya Ichikawa who could not corral the wild pitch and couldn't find it after the ball kicked off his body. It took so much time for Ichikawa to find the baseball that Gin-chan was able to score all the way from second to make it 4-1 Lions.
Bass would then give up back to back hits to Akiyama and Yuji Kaneko, therefore spelling the end of his day at 4.1 IP with 2 ER charged to him.
The Lions would need to build a bridge to end of the game, and that bridge would start with Kazuhisa Makita who pitched one inning and allowed two hits, but no runs. Then Norio Tanabe would give the 8th to Tomomi Takahashi who'd complete a 1-2-3 top of the 8th.
The Lions would stretch their lead to 5-1 thanks to a leadoff single from Okawari-kun that would start off the bottom of the 8th inning. Shuta Tonosaki would come in to pinch run for Okawari-kun and Tonosaki would steal a bag right away off of Hirotoshi Takanashi. Tonosaki would score after back to back singles from Ernesto Mejia and Ryo Sakata.
In the 9th, Tatsushi Masuda would struggle in a non-save situation giving up two hits and a walk which would see the Fighters make it 5-2 on a fielders choice. Masuda would give up no more runs and the Lions would complete their sweep of the two game set over the Fighters.
Lions 5, Fighters 2
The week shifted to Chiba as the Lions would take on a red hot Marines time who came off a series win in Fukuoka. Yusei Kikuchi faced Takuya Furuya in Game 1.
After the Marines struck first on a key gapper from Alfredo Despaigne, Ikuhiro Kiyota was safe at the plate for the opening run. The Lions would answer in the second with two runs of their own, one coming off a sacrifice fly from Asamura. He would add a third run off an RBI fielder's choice.
Kikuchi wasn't the most dominant in his start, allowing two runs over six innings with six strikeouts. Each strikeout was huge in the 5th and 6th inning where he got Kiyota and Shogo Nakamura swinging in the 5th. The sixth inning had the Marines get a run through a sacrifice fly from Daichi Suzuki to bring them within 1. With two outs and runners on the corners, Kikuchi got Tadahito Iguchi to strikeout and end any threat.
In the 7th, Hideto Asamura had magic on his side, as he hit one to 3B Kei Hosoya. With two in scoring position after bunting them over, Hosoya couldn't field the ball cleanly and it bounced into no-man's land and two runs would score.
In the bullpen, Makita would allow a run, but no more in the 7th while Takahashi had the most encouraging outing of the year with two strikeouts in the 8th. Masuda would end the game in the 9th after getting a comebacker 1-6-3 double play from Despaigne.
Lions 5, Marines 3
In Game 2, it was Ken Togame taking on Yuta Omine in the battle of mid rotation starters. Togame would blink first allowing the first two runs of the game off an easy gapper from Tatsuhiro Tamura. A brutal error from Okawari-kun would keep the rally alive and the runs came with two outs.
The Lions tied it up in the third after Mori walked with the bases loaded for the second straight game and Asamura had an RBI double play. Togame coughed up another run after Kiyota doubled and plated Yoshifumi Okada. Chiba would add a fourth run off a sac fly from Shogo Nakamura.
Despite the two run lead, the Marnies couldn't get a shutdown inning. Gin-chan was on base and Shogo Akiyama worked from an 0-2 count to a full count and hit a home run to the Marines' Oendan to tie the game.
Togame's day was done after four innings, where he was getting hit hard all afternoon. Kazuhisa Makita took over and delivered a strong outing of four scoreless innings in long relief as the bullpen ace. He would only strike out two, but kept drawing weak contact in order to get outs.
Ernesto Mejia was up to bat in the 5th and Masaki Minami was on the bump for Chiba. With two strikes, Minami would hang a slider for Mejia to crush deep to left-center field and the Lions were in front for the first time at 5-4.
Even though Makita had a great outing, the 9th inning didn't come without some drama. Masuda would come in and walk Okada with one out. Hosoya would find a gap to right field where there two in scoring position and one base hit could've ended the game in sayonara fashion.
The Lions would choose to intentionally walk Kiyota to load the bases, meaning Masuda would have to pitch to Despaigne. He would foul out to 1B and then it all hinged on Katsuya Kakunaka. On a 2-1 pitch, Kakunaka would flyout to centerfield and Masuda pulled off the houdini to secure the team's fourth straight win.
-Kuriyama was the DH as he continued to battle cramps. Tomoya Mori would bat second in the lineup for the fourth consecutive game.
Lions 5, Marines 4
Game 3 was a battle of foreign pitchers in Jason Standridge and Andy Van Hekken. Both of them were looking for their first win of the young season.
Standridge gave up the first two runs with hits from Okawari-kun and Mejia, but would settle in for the next six innings. Van Hekken would allow one run through a two out hit by Nakamura. In the third, Tadahito Iguchi would golf swing a three-run home run which gave Chiba the lead for good. An error by Mejia is why the inning was kept alive.
The best chance from the Lions came in the 5th inning with runners on the corners, but Okawari-kun would ground into a double play to end any threats. Tatsuya Uchi retired the order through the 8th and Yuji Nishino shut the door in the 9th inning to close the game.
While the bats were dead majority of this game, the Lions still made Standridge work for outs. It wasn't until late in the game where he was on cruise control.
Marines 4, Lions 2
With a successful week in the books, we can only hope the momentum carries forward as they see the Hawks and Buffaloes in the coming week. The win in QVC combined with a Fighters beatdown is encouraging. Pitching will need to get better, but it's a good sign how Nogami and Kishi looked, in contrast to Togame.
Christian Gin also contributed to this report.
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