Preamble: These observations are a companion to Kaz Nagatsuka's Japan Times writeup.
Well, add this one to my list of failed predictions. After suggesting that Yu Darvish's presence alone was enough for a Nippon Ham game one win, the Seibu Lions took a cue from the World Series champions with a come-from-behind extra inning win.
My pick was looking pretty good into the fifth inning, as Darvish retired the first 13 Lions he faced. He was clearly amped up, working off a barrage of fastballs early in the game and topping out at 154-155 kmph (96 mph). But despite that, this was an oddly unfulfilling Darvish game to watch. He didn't really settle into a groove with any of his breaking pitches, and his command seemed to deteriorate a little after Jose Fernandez broke up the no-hitter in the fifth. He also lost a few kmph off his fastball as the game wore on, from 154 to a still-excellent 149-150 kmph (93 mph). These are trite criticisms; Darvish struck out seven, walked none, allowed only one run, and left the game with the lead. He just didn't quite perform at his amazingly high peak, and I find myself hoping that this won't be his last start this season.
In the bottom halves of the innings, Seibu starter Hideaki Wakui kept his Lions in the game, but was unimpressive overall. Nippon Ham only managed a two runs and a couple of strings of singles; I put that down to the Fighters' slap-hitting lineup and the limited-flight ball more than anything Wakui did. He featured his fastball and slider and generally worked low in the zone, but allowed frequent contact and left his bullpen with a jam in the sixth inning. That he was lifted with no outs in the fifth, after throwing 85 pitches, is indicative of how Wakui has fallen from acedom. A few years ago, Wakui was an bullpen-saving workhorse, frequently working into the late innings and occasionally throwing 150 pitches or more. He's a good pitcher and it doesn't look like anything's physically wrong with him, he's just looked uninspired this season. This was another one of those games.
Screwball managerial move of the game: Nippon Ham's Masataka Nashida pulling star centerfielder Yoshio Itoi in the seventh inning for young Kenshi Sugiya. That was a head-scratcher.
And one final observation from this game is that I significantly overlooked Seibu's lineup. They clearly have many more threats than Nippon Ham. I particularly enjoyed Fernandez's approach against Darvish, which resulted in two opposite-field singles (along with two more later against Nippon Ham's relievers).