The Saitama Seibu Lions went a combined 1-5 against the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and Tokyo Yakult Swallows on the six game road trip. Interleague play has officially ended with no makeup games coming this week.
In Game 1 against the Carp, Yusei Kikuchi faced Takaya Toda. The first run of the game would come on a two-out single from Seiya Suzuki in the fourth inning. Brad Eldred would double the lead in the 6th with a solo home run.
The Lions blew multiple chances in the first three innings with double plays in each inning happening from strikeout/throw out and a failed bunt attempt. They also loaded the bases in the fourth inning, but Yuji Onizaki's hard grounder was fielded by Takahiro Arai to save two runs.
Ernesto Mejia would bring the Lions within one with a solo home run off Toda. Yuji Kaneko would be on second base with Tatsuyuki Uemoto pinch hitting, but he struck out on full count and ended the threat.
Toda and Kikuchi would go seven innings each. Kikuchi didn't have a bad outing, but his control was lacking by the time it was the fifth inning, fortunate to last as long as he did.
In the 9th, Mejia grounded into a 6-4-3 double play and Tomoya Mori would be the last chance with two outs. He would take a solo home run into right field off Shota Nakazaki and tie the game at 2-2.
Tatsushi Masuda came in the bottom of the 9th looking to extend the game to extra innings. After retiring the first two batters, Ryosuke Kikuchi would get a single and steal second base. Uemoto intentionally walked Yoshihiro Maru with two strikes to face Masato Akamatsu, who was a pinch runner for Arai earlier in the game. He would single up the middle and R. Kikuchi was initially ruled out at the plate.
However, after further video review, Uemoto blocked the path to the runner and potentially missed the tag on R. Kikuchi which ended in a Sayonara win for the Carp. A video can be seen of this play here.
The call decided the final game, but the Lions bats had too many double plays throughout the night and blew their chances earlier. Unfortunately the call is controversial with the obstruction of the base path rule being enforced, which in this case, the throw from Shogo Akiyama lead the catcher to standing there. However, it's possible there was no tag altogether. Still, that's inconclusive to overturn the tag part in my eyes, but the rule of blocking the base path was evident.
Carp 3, Lions 2
-Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura remained only available to pinch hit with no designated hitter. He was on deck in the 7th to bat for the pitcher's spot had Uemoto reached base.
In Game 2 against the Carp, Kona Takahashi faced Kris Johnson in a battle of a foreigner vs. first round draft pick. The Carp struck first with a two out single from Suzuki. Kaneko would tie the game on a single in the top of the third.
After an improbable double off the second base bag from Maru, Brad Eldred would plate him on a ground ball that resulted in an E5 on Okawari-kun, but there was also no chance to throw home. Kikuchi would show he's human with an E4 to put Akiyama on base. Kaneko would plate him and tie the game after he stole 2nd, making it 2-2.
Takahashi would have a shaky outing despite seven strikeouts and one walk. He would give up eight hits and the Carp would get on base. This continued in the bottom of the fifth where there were runners on second and third with one out. Ryuhey Matsuyama would ground one to Onizaki and an improbable 6-2-3-5 double play would happen with some base running blunders by Kikuchi and Maru.
Okawari-kun would end the inning out-running Maru when trying to score. This would prove to be costly as he wouldn't last the entire game. After squandering a chance in the top of the 7th, the Carp would nail the Lions in the bottom frame
Shota Takekuma nearly got a houdini, but it would turn into a two out disaster with runners on second and third. Arai would send one to right field and the Carp regained the lead at 3-2. Matsuyama would redeem himself with a two strike pitch, taking one deep to right field over Kaneko's head and score two more runs. Suzuki added a fourth run and it put the game away for good.
The Lions held their ground against Johnson to make it competitive, but Takahashi should have allowed more runs. Takekuma allowed them in his place against a talented lineup.
Carp 4, Lions 2
-Kazuhisa Makita and Okawari-kun were deactivated after the game. Hotaka Yamakawa was called up.
-Shogo Kimura got applause from the Hiroshima Crowd after a pinch hit appearance.
In Game 3, the Lions started Andy Van Hekken to take on Yusuke Nomura. The bases would be loaded for the Carp in the third and Van Hekken walked Maru to give Hiroshima their first run. Suzuki would get a bunt single in the fourth and Masatoshi Okada took an ill-advised throw leading to a one-base error.
Ko Shimozuru would double the Carp lead at 2-0. The Lions had plenty of chances against Nomura, but continued to strand runners on the night. They had a base runner in scoring position for the first five innings, but they would all end with strikeouts, groundouts or flyouts.
Maru would pad the lead in the 5th with a double and Hector Luna, coming in for an injured Eldred singled making it 4-0. The Lions bats would continue to falter and Kikuchi made sure the game was not in doubt with a two-run home run off Yuta Nakazaki.
The Lions would be swept for the first time in a three-game series for 2016. Bats were dead, combined with late game pitching being an issue.
Carp 6, Lions 0
-The Lions deactivated Van Hekken after the game to make room for someone else. Ryo Sakata was also activated to the main roster.
In Game 1 against the Swallows from Jingu, Takayuki Kishi made his return and first in nearly two months against Hirofumi Yamanaka. An early jam for Kishi would result in a 1-0 lead from the Swallows on fielder's choice from Wladimir Balentien. Despite the run, Balentien would shortly leave the game after the inning.
The Lions tied it with a two out double from Sakata, making his first start since early May to make it 1-1 in the fourth. Unfortunately the bottom of the frame would hurt, as substitute left fielder Naomichi Nishida would hit a home run off Kishi to LF as the Swallows reclaimed the lead.
Catcher Yuhei Nakamura, celebrating his 26th birthday would get an RBI double to right field in the 6th as Sakata couldn't run it down to make it 3-1. The Lions squandered multiple chances throughout the night and none came bigger than when the bases were loaded in the top of the 7th. Kaneko would flyout to RF against Josh Lueke.
Reigning Central League MVP Tetsuto Yamada showed why he was the best, hitting a two-run home run off Yasuo Sano to put the game away. He now has a HR off all 11 other NPB teams as a result.
The Lions would lose their fourth straight game and fail to have an RBI with RISP for the second consecutive night. Kishi wasn't bad through six innings, but still required a load of pitches to get out of jams. There were some definite signs of rust through it all.
Swallows 5, Lions 1
In Game 2, Felipe Paulino made his NPB debut against foreigner Kyle Davies. The Swallows opened the scoring in the bottom of the 2nd from a single by Nishida and a squeeze bunt from Y. Nakamura to make it 2-0.
The Lions answered back in the fourth with a two-out triple from Ginjiro Sumitani. A two out rally in the top of the 5th is what made it interesting. Sakata appeared to have hit an inning ending pop fly, but Yasushi Iihara would lose it in the sun, resulting in a double and the Lions tied the game at 2-2. Onizaki ripped a triple down the right field line and the team picked up their first lead of the week. Kaneko joined in on the fun with an RBI single making ti 4-2.
Paulino would get a shutdown inning in the bottom of the 5th and his day was done with only two runs allowed, drawing weak contact. Ryoma Nogami would enter in the 6th inning with struggles.
After allowing hits to Yamada and Shingo Kawabata, the Swallows would bunt them over to 2nd and 3rd. Nogami would strike Nishida, but Y. Nakamura did the damage with a two-out single to tie the game at 4-4. The negative momentum only continued in the bottom of the 7th, as he allowed a leadoff opposite field home run to Keiji Obiki to break the tie.
The Swallows bullpen, which had been struggling coming into the series, would shut down the Lions and win the second game. Seibu's bats were once again cold and it was a gift hit from Iihara for losing the ball in the sun as the inning should have ended.
Swallows 5, Lions 4
In Game 3 against the Swallows, Shinsaburo Tawata would face Toshihiro Sugiura. The Lions struck first on a single from Mejia. Yamada would overpower Tawata on a two out, two-run home run for the Swallows first runs of the game making it 2-1.
The Lions answered back in the top of the 2nd as Tomoya Mori would get a gift hit. Like Iihara losing it in the sun in Game 2, Jun Matsui mistimed his jump as the bases were loaded, scoring two runs for the Lions making it 3-2. Mejia hit a sacrifice fly to double the lead at 4-2.
After the Swallows countered on an RBI groundout, Takumi Kuriyama would hit a double after Akiyama hit one to make it 5-3. Obiki would give the Swallows a run with an RBI triple in right field as Mori couldn't catch it. Yamada tied the game with a sacrifice fly and it would be 5-5 after the fifth inning.
The top of the 6th gave the Lions some life. With the bases loaded and no outs, Kuriyama would get a sacrifice fly to give the Lions a lead. Mori followed up with a blooper as the Swallows infield was playing in to make it 7-5.
Nogami entered the game again for the 6th inning and gave up two hits to start. However, Y. Nakamura would ground into a 3-5-4 double play where Mejia attacked third base. It was controversial as Y. Nakamura appeared to be safe at first. However, Iihara would groundout on the next at-bat in what would have been a double play ball.
The Lions bullpen looked reliable after Nogami's scare, as Takekuma fought off a two out scare and Esmerling Vasquez had a clean 8th inning. Masuda would have a jam with two runners on base and Yamada batting as the last hope. However, he would pitch two strikes and forced a groundout to stop the bleeding.
Tawata would earn his first carer win in NPB going five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and getting two strikeouts. It wasn't his best career outing, but the Lions bats were able to score in the 6th for him to earn a win which he should've had last week.
Lions 7, Swallows 5
-Tomoya Mori would bat third and start in right field. He would get three important hits on the day.
-Kuriayama reached a milestone of getting his 1,500th hit in NPB. He went 2-2 with two walks to reach that number.
-Mejia failed to hit a home run against all other NPB teams as he couldn't hit one vs. the Swallows. The Lions didn't hit a home run the entire season in Jingu, which is known as a bandbox ballpark.
Interleague play ends with a 9-9 record after a strong start. The disappointing 1-5 finish can leave a sour taste, but we can only hope that Okawari-kun can use the makeup week as a time to recover from his injury. Makita should return, who has been a vital piece of the bullpen.
The bats were cold for most of the week until the final game and if it weren't for some gifts, the run production would be even less. Can the bats wake up against Pacific League teams? We'll find out.
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