Does anyone remember what radio announcers in my day used to say about fluke hits — before video of every pitch was available at one’s fingertips and before statcast? “It will look like a line drive in the box score.”
In Japan, at least, they often look like line drives in the text wrap-ups as well. Take Saturday’s practice game between the Yakult Swallows and Rakuten Eagles, when 21-year-old slugger Munekata Murakami drove in the game’s first run off Tanaka, a pitcher he’d grown up watching on TV.
The Nikkan Sports reported the at-bat as follows:
There were runners on first and second with one out.
“Perhaps I should say he looked imposing–as I could see him up close ,” Murakami said to put into ordinary words the intimidation involved in facing a pitcher with 177 wins between NPB and the majors.
Murakami stood stock still taking the first pitch, a breaking ball low and inside that missed, but the tension ratcheted upward. With a 3-1 hitter’s count, Murakami finally offered at Tanaka’s fifth pitch, a 148-kph (92 mph) fastball that he shot into shallow right field to open the scoring.
Of course, the video makes the details look silly, although to be honest, I loved the stories about the two facing each other for the first time. But a few feet either way left or right and that sharp ground ball is an out, but that would have rendered most of the writers’ anticipated storylines inert.
The real story of the game was that except for some fumbling in the first inning, Tanaka was razor sharp.
Heroes are made not born
Murakami’s headline hit brought to mind, what was for me, Japan’s most memorable flare single, the pinch-hit that made Yoshihito Ishii the MVP of the 2012 Central League Climax Series.
This was a great, great series. The Dragons used three starting pitchers the Giants had barely seen all year to move within one win of an upset sweep at Tokyo Dome. By then, however, Chunichi skipper Morimichi Takagi had run out of starting-pitching surprises and turned the series over to his bullpen.
The Giants won Game 4 behind six scoreless innings from second-year righty Hirokazu Sawamura, who faced off against Chunichi’s former ace, and by then former Atlanta Brave, Kenshin Kawakami, who did a workman-like job, allowing two runs over four innings in the 3-1 loss.
The Dragons’ bullpen and a two-run Tony Blanco homer off Giants ace Tetsuya Utsumi left the game tied 2-2 going into the ninth. Scott Mathieson pitched a scoreless ninth for Yomiuri, but the Giants rallied against Japan’s career saves leader, Hitoki Iwase, to avoid elimination.
The Giants loaded the bases with one out, and after a right-handed pinch-hitter was announced, Takagi pulled the lefty Iwase in favor of Chunichi’s two-time Japan Series hero, right-hander Daisuke Imai.
Imai pretty much overpowered Ishii, and jammed him with a 1-2 fastball that landed in shallow left for the game winner.
After the series, whoever decides the awards named not Sawamura, who allowed a run over seven innings, and not Mathieson, who allowed one hit and one walk over four scoreless innings, but the guy who went 1-for-3 with a bloop RBI single as a pinch-hitter.
Japan and America are different
One may ask why this video didn’t get posted with yesterday’s story The answer is, again, because home teams own all the broadcast rights and sell them to whom they will, what one sees on the net depends on who the home team is. Pacific League video, which is jointly marketed and sold, goes up within 30 minutes or so.
The Central League’s Giants, Tigers, and BayStars make theirs available, but the Carp and Dragons don’t–due I’m told to the nature of existing contracts with their local broadcasters.
The Swallows fall in between. Their home game highlight videos are occasionally available on the net, through the TV Tokyo network. This clip was posted at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
In addition to “It will look like a line drive in the box score” another phrase I’m not certain people use anymore is “Japan and America are different.” Thirty years ago, used to be the pat answer to every “Why” uttered to a Japanese by a person who might potentially be an American.
It also used to be common for packs of school children to ambush foreign-looking individuals on the street, so that one of them could shout, “This is a pen! My name is Shogo Kitamura! How do you do!” to howls of laughter from their friends. But like that fad, perhaps Japan has outgrown the need to remind people living here that they were, in fact, no longer in their home country.