Groundhog Day II: Juan Francisco in Hiroshima

In three Central League games this week between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hiroshima Carp at the Carp’s Mazda Stadium, we saw:

A play few of us had ever seen before in the opener, a Groundhog Day inning which seemingly went on for ever in Game 2, and new Giants first baseman Juan Francisco doing his best Bill Murray impression by making his fielding a focal point of all three games.

The video above is from the bottom of the ninth inning of Monday’s game, with the score tied 2-2 and the Carp batting with one out and the bases loaded. Facing Canadian right-hander Scott Mathieson, pinch hitter Tetsuya Kokubo hits a high pop in front of home plate. Francisco and third baseman Shuichi Murata converge on the ball, while third base umpire and crew chief Koichi Tanba calls Kokubo out on the infield fly rule, although nobody seems to notice other than Carp third base coach Takuro Ishii.

Murata stabs at the ball after taking his eye off to ensure he doesn’t collide with Francisco, who picks up the ball, steps on home, where home plate ump Hideto Fuke calls a force out on the runner from third. Francisco turns his back on the plate to check the bases. Saying later he thought he was being forced at the plate, rookie Takayoshi Noma headed home.

After Noma crossed the plate, Ishii dashed down the line to inform the ump that the Carp had scored because Kokubo’s out had eliminated the force at home and Francisco had neglected to apply a tag to the approaching Noma. Ishii was soon joined by rookie Carp skipper Koichi Ogata, who said he’d once played in a game against Ishii’s old club, Yokohama, when a similar play had unfolded. They convinced Fuke to consult with Tanba, who informed him the run should count. The home plate ump signaled safe.

When Francisco stepped on home, Fuke had no business calling Noma out, which contributed to the Giants’ confusion.

So the Giants come out the next afternoon and after being retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first, they have two on with one out, when Francisco drops a foul pop behind first. He was not charged with an error, so the 10 runs that scored in that inning, starting with a two-run double, were all earned as batter after batter reached base against some poor pitching by southpaw Toshiya Sugiuchi, who was charged with six runs, and his successor.

“When you give up so many hits in a row like that, I think the pitches are a problem,” was Giants’ catcher Kazunari Sanematsu’s appraisal.

On May 6, the Carp scored twice in the first after Kosuke Tanaka reached on a leadoff double and Ryosuke Kikuchi reached on a bunt back to pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano. The third inning started the same way. With the infield playing in against the speedy Kikuchi, Francisco was left on his own to defend against the bunt and cover first. Sugano fielded the ball, Francisco retreated to where he could tag Kikuchi going by but dropped Sugano’s poor throw as he tried to apply the tag.

Francisco was pulled for defense after the top of the fifth inning, and was dropped from Yomiuri’s the 28-man active roster the day after the 4-1 defeat. In the video above, you can see the Shinkansen running just behind Mazda Stadium’s left field stands.

 

 

Author: jballa5_wp

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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