It was the best of times and the worst of times. A game of high drama and low pratfalls decided nothing, other than that the Chunichi Dragons would live to fight another day.
Fielding gems and bunt bloopers were the name of Japan Series Game 6, which ended tied 2-2 after 15 innings and left the Chiba Lotte Marines leading the Series 3-2 before Sunday's Game 7 at Nagoya Dome.
"It was an amazing game," said Dragons shortstop Masahiro Araki, whose eight assists were one short of a Series record.
The teams combined to fail on six bunt attempts in the 5-hour 43-minute Game 6, the longest Series game in history. Although Marines' rookie Ikuhiro Kiyota failed to sacrifice in the first inning, there was no hint that a bad-bunt bazaar was just around the corner. Once the Marines evened the score 2-2 in the eighth inning, however, the sacrifice suddenly became a lost art.
Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai twice ordered one-out bunts from his No. 7 hitter. Both failed, as did a no-out effort by his No. 1 hitter, Araki, in the bottom of the 11th.
Having made use of the two-out bunt twice already, the Dragons elected to have No. 3 hitter Masahiko Morino swing away in the 12th, only for him to hit into a double play.
The Marines did even worse. Lefty Akinobu Takahashi, who won Game 4 in Chiba with the help of a fluke double play with one out and the bases loaded, got lucky again. After walking the leadoff hitter in the 10th, Pacific League batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka tried to bunt the potential go-ahead run into scoring position. He popped back to the pitcher, and Takahashi doubled off the runner at first.
In the 11th, Takahashi surrendered a leadoff single and cleanup hitter Saburo Omura, 2-for-2 with two walks and two RBI singles, tried his hand and blooped it back toward the pitcher.
An inning after the runner on first had taken off and was easily doubled off, Tadahito Iguchi didn't over commit towards second. Takahashi, however, alertly let the ball drop and forced Omura at first before Iguchi was run down trying for second.
A two-out walk and a single had the Marines poised to take the lead despite their self-inflicted wounds. At that point the Dragons defense, which had repelled one Marines advance after another, intervened again.
Rookie Yohei Oshima, one of the Dragons' stars of the series, was in center field, playing shallow to prevent a run from scoring on a single.
Marines veteran Tomoya Satozaki drove a low 1-1 forkball from Junichi Kawahara toward left-center.
"I saw the ball and thought, 'This is not good,'" Oshima told The Daily Yomiuri on Sunday. "All I could do was try and run it down."
With his back to the plate, Oshima hauled it in to prevent the Marines from ending the Series on Saturday. Oshima, who entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth, still managed to go 2-for-2 with a walk.
"I was a little suprised [not to be starting] but they threw a lefty," said Oshima, who improved to .312 against southpaws in 109 at-bats.