Saturday, June 09, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 11

Interleague play continues in Japan as the Nippon Ham Fighters, now firmly in second place in the Pacific, took on the Yakult Swallows and All World outfielder Norichika Aoki. The Fighters have used a strong run prior to interleague, and a ridiculous 12-0 record against the Central to establish themselves as the hottest team in the sport. 14 consecutive wins to be exact! Darvish would look to continue Nippon Ham's string of victories, and their unblemished mark in interleague, on this steamy Saturday evening.

Continuing the trend of sluggish starts this season, Darvish gave up a scorching leadoff double to Aoki on a 1 and 1 cutter that was clocked at 89, but stayed a little too high and wasn't quite outside enough. Darvish then needed 8 pitches to fan Tanaka on a 91 mph straight fastball that the right fielder couldn't quite catch up to. After easily retiring Alex Ramirez, the Nippon Ham ace decided to double up on the "shuuto" to Aaron Guiel and looked to have the inning in the books until an error on the second baseman cost him the runner on base and a chance at an easy escape. 1-0 Yakult.

In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Darvish led off by issuing a walk. Fortunately, Japanese baseball clubs love to sac bunt and Darvish managed to retire the remaining two batter easily, stranding the runner at second. What if? We'll never know.

From the 3rd inning through the last out of the 9th, the young ace of the Fighters allowed 3 baserunners. A double, a home run to Alex Ramirez, and a single walk was all she wrote for Yakult. Darvish briefly had the lead after his teammates put 2 on the board in the top of the 6th inning, but Ramirez' solo shot evened the score and created a marathon of a game that didn't end until Yakult's 20-year veteran Ken Suzuki hit a pinch hit, walk off home run off Nippon Ham reliever Hisashi Takeda of the 1.85 ERA in 2007.

Suzuki (pictured at left and right) has played in a total of 122 games since the start of the 2005 season with 309 at bats and a combined .240 average and 8 home runs. The hit was his first of the 2007 season in 11 total at bats. Congratulations Ken. I suppose Trey Hillman may wish he'd stuck with Darvish for one more inning, as his ace had only thrown 124 pitches to that point, and we all know that means he has at least one more inning in him.

Norichika Aoki went 1 for 3 with a double and a run scored. He also worked a walk against Darvish, and saw his batting average drop to .350 on the year. Maybe he'll have better luck tomorrow. ;)

So, Nippon Ham's unblemished record in interleague is no more. Darvish did everything he had to do to get the win, but you can't win them all. 9 IP, 3 hits, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts, one earned run. Click below for updated stats:

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