Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 7

The Nippon Ham Fighters visited Seibu bringing Yu Darvish into battle with them. Darvish would face budding ace Hideaki Wakui in a marquee matchup of Pacific League hurlers. In Japan, even to a greater degree than in the US, the marquee pitching matchup has a way of ending 1-0 on some kind of late inning breakthrough. It's a lot like a prize fight between two superb technicians.

The Fighters would draw first blood in this game pounding out three hits in the first four batters. The lone out was a typical sac bunt by the number two hitter, Takahito Kudo. The 1-0 lead handed to Darvish became 2-0 after another rally by the Fighters in the top of the 2nd. Seibu third baseman, Takeya Nakamura, blasted a two out home run against Darvish in the bottom of the 2nd to announce that the Lions would not go quietly into the night.

Both pitchers would settle down a bit and show the ace form that we've come to expect from each young star, but Nippon Ham scratched out a run in the top of the 5th to give Japan's ace, Darvish, a bit of cushion to work with. It was just that kind of game, however, as catcher Tooru Hosogawa smoked a one out homer to keep it close in the bottom of the frame. Wakui continued to work strong as the game progressed, while Darvish again faced some problems in the bottom of the 7th.

A leadoff double prompted a quick sacrifice, allowing light-hitting, part-time first baseman Hiroyuki Oshima to drive in the runner from third on a ground out. Game tied. Wakui gave way to the bullpen after eight complete innings and 135 pitches, while Darvish labored on. The bottom of the ninth saw the game still knotted and a rally in the works for Seibu. A one out double by Nakamura saw Darvish fall apart as he issues walks to the next two batters. The bases were loaded with only an out on the board, and the number nine hitter Hiram Bocachica representing the potential winning at bat. Bocachica popped out to second to end the threat of a game tying sacrifice, however that bit of good fortune was met by heartbreak as leadoff man Yasuyuki Kataoka hit a seeing eye grounder to left to score both the tying and winning runs on Darvish's 136th and final pitch.

As they say in Japan, "Zannen," or "too bad."

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