Summary: Nippon Ham wins 6-3 in 10 innings.
Yesterday, the old saying held true: it ain't over 'til it's over. I went to bed after the eighth inning of the Nippon Ham-Orix game. Having watched Yu Darvish and Hiroshi Kisanuki battle to 3-1 Fighters lead, I figured it was a safe bet that Orix wouldn't make a comeback, considering that they had only managed two hits over the first eight innings.
I would have lost that bet. With two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Mike Hessman came up as a pinch hitter and singled on the first pitch he saw, scoring Makoto Moriyama from second and advancing Shingo Nonaka from first to third. Aarom Baldiris followed up with another single, tying the game at 3-3.
After catcher Fumihito Suzuki ended the Orix rally with a flyout, relief ace Mamoru Kishida opened the 10th with two quick strikeouts, before walking Eiichi Koyano. Atsunori Inaba reached on a Baldiris error, then Kazuya Murata singled, setting up a bases loaded situation for Sho Nakata, who cleared 'em with a triple. 6-3, Nippon Ham.
Orix went down in order in bottom of the 10th, and that's how it ended.
That was what I missed. What I saw was a pretty good pitching matchup between Kisanuki and Darvish. Kisanuki had the Fighters' number the first two trips through the lineup, limiting them to three hits and no runs. All the damage came in the seventh, when he clearly looked fatigued, but was was to some extent let down by a couple of unfortunate plays in the field.
The first was came against Inaba, who opened the inning with a bouncer down the first base line. Seung-Yeop Lee casually jogged over to it, veering into foul territory, snagged the ball, and stepped on first. Foul ball. It seemed harmless enough, but he looked like it would have been an easy out had he kept his feet in fair territory. A few pitches later, Inaba scored Ham's first run with a solo home run.
The second came after Yoshihisa Hirano came in to relieve Kisanuki. With two outs and a runner on second, Hirano induced a soft fly to right-center from Kensuke Tanaka. It looked like an easy out off the bat, but Orix's outfield had Tanaka played so shallow it went for a run-scoring double that gave Nippon Ham a 3-1 lead.
Darvish was his usual self, which is to say he was quite a bit different from his last appearance, against Softbank a week ago. Darvish used his "slow" delivery this week, the one where he pauses at the top of his kick. Contrast that to last week, when he pitched with somewhat of an abbreviated delivery and was a bit quicker to the plate.
Darvish also went with a slightly different arsenal against Orix. Most of his breaking stuff was of the downward-breaking variety, curveballs, forkballs, changeups and softer, downward-breaking sliders, as opposed to the primarily fastball/horizontal slider repertoire he attacked Softbank with last week. A bit surprising was that Darvish just wasn't getting strikes called on fastballs off the outside corner. There were a couple of borderline calls that would have resulted in strikeouts had they gone his way.
After the first three innings, I seriously thought Darvish had a chance to no-hit the Buffaloes' listless offense. As it turned out, he held them to two hits through the first eight innings, allowing only two hard-hit balls, one of them a long foul by T-Okada. Orix did of course have that rally in the ninth, which seems to be the trend with them - no offense the first two times through the order, then a late threat. Perhaps their advance scouting and game preparation has yet to come together.