The Saitama Seibu Lions went 4-2 this week against the Yokohama DeNA Baystars and Hanshin Tigers. They're now 2.5 games behind the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for a playoff spot and three behind the Chiba Lotte Marines.
In Game 1 against the Baystars, it was Isamu Sato taking on Guillermo Moscoso. The Baystars struck first with an RBI single from Toshiro Miyazaki.
Despite the opening score, Moscoso would allow multiple base runners, but the team couldn't get consecutive hits. Yuji Onizaki and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura would strike out in different innings with a chance.
In the fourth inning, the damage would be done as Sato allowed hits to Miyazaki and hit Yoshitomo Tsutsugo with a pitch. Jose Lopez hit a no-doubt home run to make it 4-0 and all but end the game. Tsutsugo would add another run to make it 5-1 in the 5th.
The only silver lining was Ernesto Mejia hitting his 17th home run in the bottom of the 6th, but otherwise this was a dominant game from Moscoso.
Moscoso, a former Oakland Athletics pitcher, had one of his best outings of the season with 7 IP and eight strikeouts, only giving up the solo HR to Mejia.
The Lions had a chance in the bottom of the 8th inning with the bases loaded. Tomoya Mori, in his first game back with the ichi-gun, would patiently take ball 4 and a run would be walked in. Unfortunately, Naotaka Takehara would strikeout and Masatoshi Okada would flyout with minimal hope at the bottom of the order and it would be 5-2 after eight innings.
Yasuaki Yamsaki shut the door with a 1-2-3 9th inning and the Lions lost to the Baystars for the first time since 2014. A hindsight card of pinch hitting Tatsuyuki Uemoto for Okada seems like a better percentage call, but it is what it is.
Baystars 5, Lions 2
-Tatsuya Oishi was the corresponding move to make room for Mori. In his early at bats, Mori was looking too anxious swinging early and not getting results.
In Game 2, it was Kenta Ishida vs. Yusei Kikuchi. The game lived up to the hype as both pitchers would not allow a run through five innings. Kikuchi didn't even allow a base hit until the fifth.
In the bottom of the sixth, the third time through the order penalty would strike on Ishida. He would walk Shogo Akiyama and Takumi Kuriyama to leadoff. Mejia would single for the first run. After Okawari-kun singled to load the bases, Hideto Asamura had a huge chance. He would hit an opposite field grand slam and make it 5-0.
Akiyama added a two-run home run in the bottom of the 7th to erase any late doubts. Kikuchi would have a great outing going seven innings with 11 strikeouts. Yasuo Sano worked two scoreless innings in low leverage to preserve the team's 6th shutout of the season.
Ishida looked like he would cruise with an efficient pitch count, but his control faded by the 6th and it led to a crooked inning for the Lions. Kikuchi's outing was promising again with a strong quality start, the 5th straight since Shinji Mori became the pitching coach.
Lions 7, Baystars 0
-Isamu Sato was deactivated in place of Nien Ting Wu, a rookie who was drafted from the 2015 class.
For Game 3, Kona Takahashi would face Shoichi Ino in another pitcher's duel. Like Kikuchi the night before, Takahashi wouldn't give up a base hit until the fifth inning. Asamura would open the scoring in the first with a two-out single.
In the fourth inning, a two-out rally came out of nowhere after Onizaki had an infield single to get on base. Ginjiro Sumitani would slice an opposite field triple and score Onizaki from first to make it 2-0. Okawari-kun added on with a two-out single in the 5th inning making it 3-0.
Takahashi would cruise for most of the game and allowed only one walk and one hit through seven innings. After the Lions had a huge chance with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th, Kyohei Nagae would pinch hit for a struggling Mori. The move paid off as he would work an 0-2 count and force a walk, making it 4-0.
After allowing a base runner in the 8th, Takahashi recorded his 10th strikeout of the game and would pitch in the ninth as well. A late double from Tatsuya Shimozono would deny the shutout opportunity of two consecutive games, but Takahashi still recorded the complete game with his 11th strikeout to finish it.
This game was dominant from Takahashi as he attacked hitters more on this particular night. It was somewhat irrational to leave him in for the 9th to force the achievement of a complete game, but it was still a win. He was getting hit hard in the 8th, but Norio Tanabe didn't care. It's still quite an accomplishment to have three complete games in less than year of time with the ichi-gun.
Lions 4, Baystars 1
-With Takahashi earning a complete game, the medical staff had to spend time icing his arm and putting the pitcher's coat on him. OF Masato Kumashiro took the hero interview in his place "pretending" to be Kona Takahashi. He also signed the camera with "Kona" in Hiragana as seen here.
In Game 1 against the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien, it was Andy Van Hekken making his first start since April 23 against the young Yuta Iwasada. There was little fanfare until the top of the third inning, where the Lions would load the bases thanks to two walks and a single. Mejia hit a no-doubt grand slam to make it 4-0.
Van Hekken would cruise through the first three innings, but danger came in the fourth. He would allow five consecutive base hits which would make it 4-2 and it was only the second time through the lineup. After getting Fumihito Haraguchi to strikeout and Shun Takayama singled another run, he would limit the damage to three runs. Van Hekken struck out Yamato Maeda and Iwasada to end the frame.
The top of the fifth featured another rally as Kuriyama would get a two-out triple to plate Akiyama making it 5-3. Van Hekken's day would end in the fifth, where he failed to record an out after facing two batters. Onizaki would misfield a double play ball and Hirotaka Koishi came in with inherited runners. He would get Matt Hague on a comebacker to force a 1-6-3 double play and strikeout Keisuke Kano to earn a Houdini.
The top of the 6th would be rewarding as the Lions pulled off a hit and run with Asamura running and Mori hitting. Onizaki would get an infield single, which functioned like a bunt to make it 6-3. After Sumitani would bunt both runners over and Naotaka Takehara flied out, Tigers manager Tomoaki Kanemoto made his first large mistake. He left Iwasada in with the fourth time through the order and Akiyama batting with first base empty. Akiyama made him pay with a double down the RF line to make it 8-3. Kaneko added an RBI single and it was 9-3 in the 6th.
In the top of the 8th, the Lions padded the lead which included a two-run home run from Mejia, his 2nd of the game and 19th of the season. In the end, Sano would be credited with the win after pitching three innings in long relief.
This was a game where the Lions played "Lawyerball" by taking close pitches and forcing the umpire to make a decision. More times than not, the umpire wouldn't call a strike on some that were in the zone. Patience paid off and Iwasada had no chance by the 6th inning.
Lions 12, Tigers 3
-Wu was deactivated as the corresponding move to make room for Van Hekken.
In Game 2, Tigers ace Randy Messenger would take on rookie Shinsaburo Tawata. It would be a slow start immediately as Tawata gave up three consecutive singles for the first run of the game. Mauro Gomez would plate another run with a single.
The Tigers would bite again in the third inning, where a crucial throwing error from Kaneko led to two more runs with base hits from Takayama and Ryota Imanari making it 4-0. It wasn't an impossible game, but the Lions bats squandered their chances when there were three instances with two runners on base. Okawari-kun came in with runners on the corners, but also struck out with two outs.
Messenger would go seven innings with 10 strikeouts and limited the damage in the top of the 7th. Akiyama would get a gift single with runners on the corners to prevent a shutout as the consolation run. Esmerling Vasquez coughed up a run to Gomez, his fellow countryman and it would be 5-1.
The Lions just couldn't overcome a slow start from Tawata which included a barrage of hits in the first and third innings. He was attacking hitters, but his control was inconsistent and it was rather lucky to only be down 4-0 after four innings.
Tigers 5, Lions 1
In Game 3, it was Suguru Iwazaki vs. Ryoma Nogami for the rubber match. The Lions started the scoring with a two-out double from Mejia. The lead wouldn't last long as Nogami would give up multiple two-out hits including an RBI single from Takayama to tie it.
Both pitchers appeared to have settled in after a scoreless second, but the third inning provided some thrills. Akiyama would hit a regular single, but the ball would get past Takayama and result in a single and error. With Akiyama on third base, Kaneko made important contact to draw a sacrifice fly and give the Lions a 2-1 lead.
Nogami looked like he was cruising not allowing a run after the first. However, a 6th inning rally would come out of nowhere after he walked Takayama on a full count and rookie Fumihito Haraguchi smacked a gapper to left field to tie the game at 2-2.
The Lions ruined a chance with two walks in the 8th off Rafael Dolis. Mejia would strike out while Asamura and Mori grounded out to end any threat.
In the bottom of the 8th with Kazuhisa Makita on the mound, Kyohei Nagae would misfield a ball on the infield and Gomez would single to give the Tigers their own chance of two on and nobody out. Takayama was ordered to bunt and Sumitani, coming in as a defensive sub threw out the lead runner at third. After Nagae fielded a groundout, the Lions chose to pitch around and walk Ryota Imanari to face pinch hitter Keisuke Kano. The call proved to be the right one as they forced a flyout to escape.
Both teams would fail to sacrifice bunt in the 11th, making the game go to its maximum length of the 12th inning. In the top of the frame, Tatsuyuki Uemoto would get a leadoff single. After Sumitani would bunt him to second, Akiyama struck out. An injured Okawari-kun would pinch hit and the Tigers would intentionally walk him to face the hot hitting Kuriyama. This move would backfire for the Tigers as Kuriyama would single home a pinch running Kumashiro to give the Lions a 3-2 lead.
Koishi would take the bottom of the 12th in an unfamiliar closing situation. He would go 1-2-3 against the top of the Tigers order and the Lions would take the series in Koshien. It was a dramatic game with all position players used and errors on both sides, but in the end, the Lions prevailed.
Lions 3, Tigers 2 (12 innings)
-This was the first career ichi-gun save for Hirotaka Koishi since first appearing with the Lions in 2012.
This was the Lions third consecutive winning week, something we're not even used to with how this season has gone. Errors need to stop, as the syndrome came back in the series against the Tigers.
With Okawari-kun nursing an injury, we can only hope that he recovers soon, but the best part is that the next week is all at home so he can be the designated hitter.
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