So, by the time we reached Day 10, I was exhausted from lack of sleep, the opening day sunburns were finally wearing off, and I cared less about the stats and more about the teams. We were after all in the block finals.
Arriving late, I had to settle for the 1st Base Alps section. Which wasn't bad necessarily if not for the fact I was in direct sun. Ugh.
But I was in the Shin-Minato section as they faced off against Toyoudai Himeji. I was shocked before when their oen-dan stretched all the way from the oen-dan section almost all the way to home plate. It was as if the whole town had come down there. And with 37,000-ish in the town (as their Wiki entry of 2003 says), it's quite possible that half made the trip!
That morning was no different. Looking down the 1st base side, the light blue extended down just as far. After winning their first ever game, and now playing a well-known squad for a spot in the best 8, it had better been.
But ace Futadani perhaps let the moment get to him early. A wild pitch scores the first run, and a good squeeze bunt gave Himeji a 2-0 lead.
Shin-Minato then tried to get to work. A leadoff triple cut the deficit in half, and it seemed that they might yet have another late-inning burst ahead of them. But a one-out walk by Sawada was cut down trying to steal 2nd. Which was a shame as Hayashi would double to right-center. This after Futadani had held Himeji scoreless.
The loss of that moment seemed to be a turning point, as Futadani fell apart in the top of the 8th to the tune of 9 runs. They had no other pitcher, so he had to stand out there and take it all.
The next game was between Kousei Gakuin and Tokushima Shougyou. The game started off as a complete disaster. Pitchers weren't really effective, there were fielding blunders on both sides which included a ball flicked in the outfield away from other fielders, and a whiff on a ball that causes an inside-the-park HR. At the end of the 3rd inning, the score was 6-5 Kousei. There on, the game settled down, and in fact no more runs were scored.
After that game, it was off to the 3rd base oen-dan because Kanzei was up next against Meihou. I really couldn't believe that Kanzei was on the verge of a Best 8 appearance given that I had left them for dead when their opening round draw was Kyukoku.
Kanzei dominated the opening stages of the game, building a 6-0 lead. But there were cracks - cracks that I hoped wouldn't be a repeat of the collapses during the Dass era (sorry Dass, guess we have to call it something).
First, 2 walks and a single to the bottom 3rd of the order in the 5th loads the bases with nobody out. But a K looking and a 1-2-3 double play negates the threat. Then an error in the 7th leads to a bases-loaded 2-out situation, but another K looking ends that too. 2 singles in the 8th got Mizuhara into trouble again, but he spins out of that one.
And if that wasn't enough to get me riled up, 2 singles to start the 9th, and then a base hit after the CF loses the ball on the catch after colliding with the wall loads the bases yet again with no one out. It's as if the baseball gods were trying to tell me Kanzei was destined to be the ultimate bad-luck team.
Thankfully, Mizuhara didn't read up on recent history and he retired the next 3 batters to end the game 7-1.
And ending the first set of block final games was Chiben Gakuen against Yokohama. Fortunately for me Yokohama was in the same section as I refuse to root for Chiben Gakuen as I am a Tenri fan (despite the headaches the seem to give me year after year). Also fortunate was that I had got a digital SLR with an extra lens so I could zoom in to spot Otosaka Tomo's dad (which I did). I got a quick chance to talk to him right before the game started, and while we didn't talk for long, I was really happy to have met him.
Early on, it was the Tomo show. He led off the 1st, 3rd and 5th innings, got on base each time and scored each time.
By the 9th inning, it was a 4-1 game and Yokohama was on their way to the Best 8...
And then it all blew up in their faces.
Ace Yanagi started giving up hard hits all over. Urano and Aoyama hit hard singles through the infield. Nakamichi and Onoyama drove balls to deep center which were caught. By this time, I know there was someone in the bullpen warming up. Yet Watanabe-kantoku stuck with his ace.
Another hard single up the middle and a hit-by-pitch meant the score was 4-2 with the bases loaded and 2 down.
I think had it not been 2 outs, Watanabe-kantoku would have send in someone from the bullpen. Yet perhaps without thinking about how those outs were recorded, he kept him in.
That's when PH Yoshimura singled to right tying the game. A final 4-pitch walk to Sumitani to load the bases yet again finally pulled the plug on Yanagi's night.
But what was even more bizarre was what happened next. #10 Souma comes in, throws a wild pitch, then gives up a 2-run double and is immediately pulled. #17 Mukai follows, walks a batter, gives up a triple and a single before being yanked. Finally #11 Yamauchi retires Onoyama to end the inning.
Final damage? 13 batters, 8 runs on 7 hits, and one stunned oen-dan (which included myself).
Day 11 got me to the stadium early so I could get a good seat in the Narashino oen-dan. They'd need all the help they could get against Kanzawa's flame-throwing ace Kamata.
And yet when the lineup was announced, it was #8 Arihara who was taking the mound! I had to flip through my books to figure out what was going on. He hadn't pitched before in the tournament, and I began to wonder if there was something wrong with their ace.
Yet, Kobayashi-kantoku must've known what he was doing because Arihara did one hell of a job against Kanazawa. Fukuyama opened the scoring in the game as his timely hit gave Narashino a 1-0 lead. Arihara couldn't keep the shutout though, and a single to left by top batter Sakurakichi tied the game.
It was really unnerving sitting in the oen-dan as I was cheering about as hard as everyone else and the game was too close for my comfort.
Yet Arihara would make me worry me a bit less as with 2 down he leads a 3-batter rally that culminated with Katagiri's single to left, re-taking the lead.
The game wasn't over, and in the 9th Arihara would walk leadoff batter Ishida, and after a sac bunt Uono singles to right putting the tying run 90 feet away.
That's when Kobayashi-kantoku decided that it was a day for Arihara and sent in #10 Kimura Itsuhiko.
And Kanazawa tried a squeeze bunt! But it was fielded and PR Iwasaki at 3rd was caught! The tag was made and now there were 2 outs with the tying run at 2nd now!
Tanbo grounded to 2nd and that was the game! Narashino was in the Best 8!
With both of my teams into the best 8 now, I retreated to the 1st base side and the shade for the next 3 games - starting with Sakushin Gakuin vs. Hachimian Shougyou.
I don't remember much about the game other than Hachiman being outplayed by Sakushin and falling 6-2.
The afternoon session began with Noshiro Shougyou and Jyosuikan. And to be honest, I'd figure it'd be another yawner as I'd just as well assumed that Jyosuikan would send the Akita team home.
Boy was I wrong. Not only did Noshiro Shougyou open the scoring in the game, but ace Hosaka held the Hiroshima representatives at bay.
Fast forward to the bottom of the 9th and Jyosuikan threatened to end it in regulation. Yasuhara opened the frame with a single and advanced to 2nd. When P Hamada doubled to the wall, the 3B coach sent him home. But a perfect relay from Yoshino to Hatakeyama to Hirakawa cut him down at home, eventually sending the game into extras.
And in the 10th, it happened again. This time, a leadoff double by Kanao looks to be stranded there after 2 outs are recorded. But Kimura singles to right and they send him home once again. This time, RF Yamada makes a strong throw and guns him down continuing the deadlock.
Surely, cutting down 2 runners at home should give momentum to Noshiro Shougyou, and indeed finally in the 12th, an untimely error by SS Monden gives them a 2-1 lead!
But as my video states here, I figured something might be up. And sure enough it was.
Monden, who made the error the last half inning to give up the lead, works a walk. Then with one down, Kanao singles to left. Monden presses the initiative by stealing 3rd (though it was really close) and when a grounder to the right side is charged at by 1B Okada past 1st base, Monden holds up. But there's no one covering 1st and Okada instead of running towards the batter-runner Shimazaki, he doubles back to 1st! Monden seizes the opportunity and dashes home! Okada fires the throw home, and it beats him, but Hirakawa can't hold on to it, and the game is tied!
There's still 2 outs though and all Hosaka needed was one more to keep the game going.
Uda hits a grounder to Hosaka, but he can't field it cleanly and it deflects to short!
The dagger was finally put in when a grounder by Kimura dribbles past a diving Ogawa into left.
So 7 of our 8 teams were set. And they then had the draw for the Best 8 (remember that they do draws for the Best 8 and Best 4 matchups). And when they came out, I was non-plussed.
First, Kanzei had to draw against Jyosuikan in an all-Chuugoku matchup. But worst of all was that Narashino would face the winner of the final game... Chiben Wakayama vs. Nichidai-san.
REALLY? REALLY???????? Do the baseball gods hate me that much?
I continued to think about that as I watched Chiben Wakayama fall behind 5-0 in the first 2 innings.
But if there was one thing I could depend upon, it was Nichidai-san's ace Yoshinaga being wild. Sure enough, 2 walks in the 5th made it a 5-2 game. Then a 2-out walk in the 7th, and a fielding misplay at the LF wall made it a 5-4 game. That'd be as close as they would get as Suganuma shut the door with a solo HR in the bottom of the 8th.
Great. Just great. My Narashino was going to face Nichidai-san.
And then I remembered that they had a hotel list for all the teams outside the stadium.
I jotted down the hotel and was going to dash back when I ran into several people from the Narashino oen-dan. I figured perhaps I could convey the message to them instead.
Turned out they were just HS baseball fans who were cheering for Narashino. I managed to talk to them for a bit, ate dinner, but then rushed back to Osaka to find the hotel. I seriously considered going there and somehow giving a message telling them to be patient against Yoshinaga...
But I chickened out. I figured I'd be a crazy gaijin. And while a crazy American gaijin wouldn't be out of the ordinary, a crazy, koukouyakyuu-baka gaijin would be unbelievable.
So yeah. I never went there. I wish I did.
Day 12With 2 games per day, it would be over quickly, but I would still have to be at the stadium early for the 8 AM start... Ugh.
Game 1 of the quarterfinals was Kousei Gakuin versus Touyoudai Himeji. Sure, Himeji beat Shin-Minato earlier, but man there just wasn't anything compelling about them. Fortunately, they had an easier matchup in the boys from Aomori.
The game opened with leadoff batter Sawa for Kousei tripling off of the top of the padding in center... then getting stranded. It then went at light speed as Himeji would swing away early in the count, and while Kousei was a little more patient, it was just.
The teams would trade runs in the middle of the game, but Himeji almost got the lead back in the 5th. A single followed by not 1 but 2 runs by ace Akita put the go-ahead run 90 feet away. But cleanup batter Masuda grounds into the 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
Then in the 7th, a wild pitch by Hara helps score the go-ahead run for Kousei. Himeji wouldn't get another chance thereafter.
Next was was my boys from Okayama, Kanzei. They'd face off against their neighbors to the west, Jyosuikan.
When the lineups were announced, it seemed Jyosuikan's manager was looking to all areas for help. 3B Shimazaki was starting on the mound.
Early on, it seemed to work. But come the 2nd inning, a walk and a hit batter both come around to score - and the experiment was over. But it wasn't ace Hamada, but rather #11 Sakamoto who took the hill. He held down the fort as his team went on the comeback trail.
That started in the 4th as a 2-out error by SS Sejima would score 1, then one inning later Kanao would hit a timely single to left to tie the game up. And in fact, it would be the end for Mizuhara as he would shift to SS and 3B Katada would take the hill.
By this time, ace Hamada had taken the mound for Jyosuikan and it was now a 5-inning game.
And that's when the wheels fell off.
Shimazaki first commits an error on Fukui's leadoff grounder, then gets charged another error when Fukui on 3rd decoys him making his throw to 1st late and wide. It all goes terribly downhill from there as Kanzei scores 4 in the frame to take a 6-2 lead. Reliever Katada would make that lead stick, as Kanzei cruised to a 8-3 win and a spot in the Best 4! Hooray!
This was the day I was dreading in some ways. This was the day Narashino would go into battle against vaunted Sanko. But before that was the other battle of well-known but not necessarily powerhouse teams: Sakushin Gakuin versus Chiben Gakuen. We already know where my loyalties lie here.
But Chiben continued their momentum from the Yokohama game, breaking out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st. Starting pitcher #10 Ono though makes a pickoff error, helping Sakushin pull within 1 just a half-inning later. An inning after that, they almost bat around, scoring 3 and forcing ace Aoyama to the mound.
Before I continue, let me state that it is a balancing at that managers have to do when they have one main ace. You have to play 5-6 games to win Koushien, and sometimes you're unsure if your ace can make it all the way through. So do you pitch him until his arm falls off, or do you try to rest him hoping your relief corps is good enough to get you through?
Because as Aoyama entered the game... he shut down the Sakushin offense.
Meanwhile, Chiben worked on their 2-run deficit, getting one back immediately in the 3rd without the benefit of a hit (Aoyama walk, Nakamichi HBP, WP by Ootani, sac fly by Onoyama).
Then an error by Itazaki which would have ended the inning in the 5th, instead leads to a run as the following batter Yokohama singles to left.
Ootani would then be relieved by Oogaki in the 6th. That lasted all of 2 batters. A double and a sac bunt were the results. 1B Iino would then be sent to the mound. But a wild pitch to Urano would complete the comeback for Chiben Gakuen as they would take the 6-5 lead. And there was no relief in sight for the offense it seemed against Aoyama.
But remember that discussion I had regarding ace pitchers that many managers face? Yeah, that was answered in the top of the 9th as Aoyama just ran out of gas.
Two singles through the right side and another to center immediately tied the game up. 2 batters later, Naitou hit a sac fly to give Sakushin the 7-6 lead.
This time around there would be no comeback for the boys from Nara.
Before the fated matchup between my team and Deanna's team, there was the matter of the Best 4 draws...
AW C'MON!!!!! NOT AGAIN!!!!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME????????
As if the insult of the first draw wasn't enough, the Best 4 draw had Sakushin Gakuin versus Kousei Gakuin...
Which meant that Kanzei would have to face the winner of the Narashino-Sanko game!!!!!! ARE YOU SERIOUS?????!!!!! WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS??????
While this did mean that if Narashino could win their game, I'd have a team guaranteed in the finals, it also meant that there was no possibility that I would have a team guaranteed to win the tournament.
I couldn't worry about that because it was game time...
Narashino sent out ace Arihara to face the Sanko squad. And Narashino had a great opportunity to score first. Bottom 1, a walk by Miyauchi, a subsequent steal and sac bunt put a runner at 3rd with just one down.
But they try to immediately bank the run on a squeeze. Fujii fails on the attempt and Miyauchi is run down...
And wouldn't you know it, the bottom of the order for Sanko gets to Arihara in the 2nd as Yoshinaga and Shimizu bring in 3 runs.
Now Narashino was behind the 8-ball. Could they be patient during the times Yoshinaga went wild?
Fast forward to the bottom of the 3rd. Koyama singles to lead off the inning and Miyauchi works a walk. Nakamura bunts the runners along and there's a good scoring chance.
But it's frittered away as Fujii swings on the 1-1 pitch and pops out to 2nd. Matsuyama then strikes out looking to end the inning.
An inning later, a leadoff double by Katagiri and a sac bunt once again provide an opportunity. But neither Minagawa nor Arihara can drive him home.
Yet again, in the 5th Miyauchi works a one-out walk and steals his 2nd base of the game. But Nakagawa is impatient, flying the 1-0 pitch to left. Fujii goes to 3-1 then hits a swinging bunt down the 3rd base line and then he steals 2nd. Once again though, new cleanup batter Saitou (#16) can't lay off the pitches, falls behind and grounds out to 2nd.
Katagiri would get things started in the 6th with a single. He'd get himself to 2nd on a SB, but alas would be stranded.
By this time I'm yelling from the oen-dan (in English) that for heaven's sake be patient. But by this time it was too late. We had reached the latter third of the game, and Narashino had gotten desperate. And that's where Yoshinaga would love to have them. He retired the last 9 batters for Narashino shutting them out 5-0.
And that meant (to me anyways) that the winner of the Kanzei v. Nichidai-san game would be the 93rd Natsu Koushien champion....