The Saitama Seibu Lions went a combined 4-1 against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Chiba Lotte Marines with one outing in Tokyo Dome. They remain in first place of the Pacific League riding a hot streak with some ridiculous outings.
Here's how it all went down:
The first game from Tokyo Dome had Ken Togame against Naoyuki Uwasawa. This game proved to be a disaster on the field, as the Lions allowed at least one run. Togame struggled with walking batters, allowing hits and timely moments, where home runs came from Sho Nakata, Oswaldo Arcia and Yushi Shimizu.
In a game filled with nostalgic songs and Ouenkas, the Lions stranded more runners than night with several threats. Uwasawa was even ejected for a dangerous pitch on Sosuke Genda, but the Fighters bullpen stood firm with Tashio Tamai and Toru Murata keeping the Lions on base and not to home plate.
It was all over when Togame was left in for the 6th inning and allowed a two-run HR to Shimizu with two outs, making it 5-1. This was the second consecutive loss for Togame.
Fighters 7, Lions 2
-Tatsuya Oishi was called up as Brian Wolfe was taken off due to an elbow injury. He appeared in the 8th inning and gave up a run with three walks.
The second and last game of the series had Fabio Castillo facing Hirotoshi Takanashi. This game had the makings of a solid pitcher's duel with the only run allowed between both pitchers being in the 5th inning, where Haruki Nishikawa delievered a two-out RBI triple in the 5th inning.
Castillo went 6 innings, while Takanashi had 7 scoreless frames. For the Lions bats, it was a left on base party with several chances being blown up to that point.
Shota Takekuma took the 7th inning and didn't fare better, with Nishikawa recording another RBI triple for a 2-0 lead. Katsunori Hirai couldn't clean up the mess, where he allowed a three-run HR to Sho Nakata, making it 5-0.
Shunta Nakatsuka took the top of the 8th and allowed a bases clearing double by Kensuke Kondo, putting hopes of a comeback to very slim at 8-0.
With Kenta Uehara pitching, the Lions had two base runners on with only one out before another change was made with Toyoki Tanaka in. Three consecutive walks made the bases loaded and two runs came in. Timely hits by Shuta Tonosaki, Takumi Kuriyama and Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura kept the inning moving as it was 8-6. Yuji Kaneko grounded out and another run scored from 3rd to bring the team within one inning.
Neil Wagner struggled in the top of the 9th with two runners on, but he escaped with two strikeouts to keep it a game. The bases were loaded when Naoya Ishikawa came in and allowed two hits and a walk. Tomoya Mori ended up hitting a sayonara double with the outfield playing in and the Lions had their first walkoff of the season.
Lions 9, Fighters 8
-This was Mori's first sayonara hit since 2016.
Tape of the comeback can be seen here:
The homestand continued against the Marines with Mike Bolsinger against Yusei Kikuchi. Shogo Nakamura started the scoring in the first with a solo HR. Kikchi gave up another HR in the 4th to Seiya "Aja" Inoue, but continued to pitch efficiently without taking too many throws per inning.
A third run by Chiba came in the 5th with two outs, as Ryo Miki hit a gapper out of nowhere and scored another runner to make it 3-0. The Lions continued to strand runners against Bolsinger, but found life in the 6th.
As Bolsinger fielded a ball that went off his foot, he threw it to right field and a runner scored from 3rd as the first Lions run of the game. Shuta Tonosaki then tied the game with a two-run HR off Tomohisa Otani to knot it all even at 3-3.
Kikuchi appeared to have settled in with a 1-2-3 7th inning, but ran into trouble in the 8th. With his pitch count nearing at 100, his control faded and several walks were drawn. With the bases loaded, Aja ended up getting a single to plate two runners and make it 5-3. Tonosaki made a diving catch soon after and saved multiple runs to keep the game within striking distance.
Kikuchi's night included 8 IP, 5 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP and 7 K. Tanner Scheppers came in for the Marines in the bottom of the 8th and allowed multiple runners, forcing Tadahito Iguchi to bring in lefty Takahiro Matsunaga to face Mori. An improbably infield single was legged out by Mori and he earned a modasho to load the bases.
Naoya Masuda came in after Matsunaga left for one batter and Tonosaki grounded into a potential double-play ball, but Shogo Nakamura threw it away, scoring two runners and tying it up at 5-5. Takumi Kuriyama came in to pinch hit for Ginjiro Sumitani and made no mistake, hitting an RBI single to give the Lions their first lead of the night.
Yuji Kaneko reached on an error from Yudai Fujioka to score another run and Shogo Akiyama hit a gapper two score two more runners and pad the lead even more at 9-5.
This game was far from over, as Tatsushi Masuda gave up three runs from a gapper by Takashi Ogino and a clutch single by Taiga Hirasawa. With runners on the corners, Daichi Suzuki ended up grounding out 5-3 in what was a scary finish, but the Lions won their second straight.
Lions 9, Marines 8
The second game had Shinsaburo Tawata against Tomohito Sakai. After no score through three innings, Hirasawa struck with a bases-clearing triple in the top of the 4th inning to give Chiba a 3-0 lead.
This lead didn't last for long, as the Lions loaded the bases in the bottom of the 4th after drawing some walks. Tonosaki hit a sacrifice fly, then Kuriyama followed it up with a three-run HR to give the Lions the lead.
After Tawata earned a shutdown inning the hard way when stranding runners on the corners, the Lions padded the lead even more in the 5th. On a 3-0 pitch with two outs, Hideto Asamura took green light and hit it just left of the batter's eye for a two-run HR. Hotaka Yamakawa followed that up with a solo HR of his own.
Tawata's day was finished through six innings of only one bad inning and a Houdini. He also had four strikeouts, one walk and six hits allowed.
After Katsunori Hirai pitched a scoreless 7th, a timely RBI double from Asamura to secure a modasho and gave the Lions an extra insurance run. Yamakawa added on with an RBI single as well.
Neil Wagner cleaned up the 8th, while the 9th inning was finished by Hirotka Koishi to secure the third straight win.
Lions 9, Marines 3
The final game of the week had Hayato Takagi making his first start in a Lions uniform against Kota Futaki. Scoring came early when a grounder misfielded by Aja had Akiyama score from second base. Asamura then hit a two-run HR to make it 3-0.
Genda picked up two more runs when a bloop single dropped over Takashi Ogino's head, allowing two more runners to score in the bottom of the 2nd.
Hotaka Yamakwa broke the game open with a three-run HR in the bottom of the 4th inning. After the Marines got a run back on a sac fly from Ogino, the Lions padded it on even more in the bottom of the 5th. Three runs were added on a sac fly from Kaneko as well as timely hits from Genda and Asamura for an 11-1 lead.
Takagi had a solid outing, allowing only two runs, four walks, three hits and three strikeouts through six innings. While he had walks, he didn't allow a hit until the 5th inning.
Sho Ito came in to make his home debut as he gave up several hits and walks, cutting the lead to 11-5. He recorded his first career strikeout, but Shogo Noda had to come in and clean up the mess. Kaneko gunned down Shogo Nakamura at the plate to prevent further damage.
Noda completed the 8th on his own while Shota Takekuma closed it out as the Lions swept Chiba.
Lions 11, Marines 5
-Okawari-kun (shoulder) and Shunta Nakatsuka were taken off the roster to make room for Ito and Kyohei Nagae.
-The Lions have not lost a home game at MetLife Dome to start the year, currently 9-0. It will stay this way until April 28 at the earliest with that being their next home game.
The Lions climbed the mountain this week with an improbable win on Wednesday, combined with an offensive outburst against the Marines, who looked competitive. Didn't think we'd see a 4-1 week with some crazy comebacks inbetween, but we have.
Like anything, be thankful for every win at this point, because the real test comes in Fukuoka as the defending champions will be angry. This bullpen is still very flawed, but the offense has shown how powerful they are. There's no question this lineup is dangerous at any time.
Lots of work to do, but so far, so good. Seeing Takagi progress as a starter is a good sign going forward, where his relief appearances should be taken with a grain of salt.
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