Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 15

An outstanding pitching matchup awaited on July 6th as the two best clubs in the Pacific faced off with Yu Darvish going for the Fighters and Shunsuke Watanabe on the hill for Lotte. Watanabe was the third wheel in the starting rotation for the WBC Japan team. He's a side-arming righty with decent control and a very difficult arm slot. A low scoring affair would seem to have been the safe bet prior to first pitch. Speaking of which, let's go over Darvish's first inning.

Tsuyoshi (TSUYOSHI) Nishioka (G4)
Daisuke Hayakawa (P5)
Kazuya Fukuura (G4)

Yes! Woo hoo!!! A 1-2-3 first inning at last. It's a miracle. That had to bode well for the tall righty to start this highly anticipated contest. Would trouble come in the second? A little trouble manifested as Darvish allowed a leadoff single to Zaburo followed by a plunking of Benny Agbayani. A little Whoudini work later and no harm done. In fact, after the second inning, Darvish didn't allow another baserunner. You heard me. Young Yu Darvish retired the final 23 batters he faced against Lotte and won thanks to a 6th inning 2-run bomb by the ever amazing Inaba. The final line for Nippon Ham's ace included a lone hit, a hit batsman, and 10 strikeouts. It was a dominating complete game shutout. Just what the doctor ordered to solidify the growing lead in the Pacific and put Darvish in the Sawamura hunt with Softbank Hawks starter Toshiya Sugiuchi and 22-year old Lotte sensation Yoshihisa Naruse. Youth prevails in the Pacific and the Fighters have the lead.

Darvish Watch: Episode 14

Yu Darvish versus the Orix Blue Wave seems like an unfair matchup at first glance. The rising ace of the Nippon Ham Fighters against the aging and streaky boys from Orix...There's always that first inning thing though. Let's get right to it.

Keiichi Hirano (F8)
Arihito Muramatsu (groundball single to 1B)
Greg LaRocca (G6)
Tuffy Rhodes (looking K)

Well, Darvish passed the first test of the game. He survived the first inning unscathed. In fact, young Darvish retired nine consecutive batters after the Muramatsu single. The fourth inning began with a HBP for Muramatsu and a walk by LaRocca, but Darvish put those mistakes behind him quickly and retired the next 12 batters in order. Stupendous. In the 6th inning the Fighters scratched across a run on a leadoff double by Morimoto and an RBI single by the ever amazing Inaba. 1-0 would stand until the 8th inning.

Darvish completed his 12-in-a-row domination by retiring the last batter of the 7th. He was clearly gassed at this point, but Trey Hillman elected to stick with his big man. Base hit for the pinch hitting Kimoto. Catcher Takeshi Hidaka grounded out but Hirano took advantage of a tiring Darvish by lining a single to right field. Trouble was officially a-brewin'. Hillman stuck with Yu again, and I sat in my chair wondering if this was really happening. You just know when a pitcher is gassed. Everyone watching had to know it. Velocity was down, pace slowed, and good wood met each successive ball. Time to change.

No change came and the Fighters paid. RBI ground ball to short. Game tied. Hit by pitch. Bases clearing double for Tuffy Rhodes, which tallied his 1000th career RBI and prompted a fist pump from on top of second base. The double was a ringing shot off the wall that could easily have gone out. Still Darvish remained. Line drive single to center by first baseman Kitagawa. Darvish removed.

The Fighters went on to lose the game by a final score of 4-1. Questionable managing led to the Fighters demise on this night. You have to wonder if the young ace's reputation for complete games is getting the better of him with respect to pace and fatigue. The point is now moot as the Fighters dropped a game to Orix. The good news is that the Nippon Ham boys have put their miserable last place days of April behind them and now sit atop the Pacific. Darvish will have another night soon....