Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Yesterday's final game of the Central League climax series (equivalent to LCS in MLB, though a pennant winner is still the league champion even if they would miss a ticket to head to Japan Series as there is no division group in NPB) is definitely the game which gave one of the worst experience I have had since I first got absorbed into baseball world. This is NEVER a well-familiar "Don't bunt, Don't squeeze, Don't bunt" rebuke post you can find out elsewhere while talking about NPB. Here starts my rant.
The game was Game 7, a death knell game for both teams. One which wins heads to Japan Series, and the other which loses will watch Japan Series on TV. Both the Giants starter D.J. Houlton and the Dragons starter Zyunki Ito started on three days rest. Remember NPB teams conventionally follow six-man rotation, which means there are usually five days between their assignments for starting. I should also note solely for fairness that both team's ace starter have been injured and not available on the series.
So how awful were both managers on this game? Let me first rail against the Giants manager Tatsunori Hara. My first rant is on his decision to start Houlton on three days rest. Starters who are forced to start on shorter rest clearly deteriorate his performance on that day. How worse do they get? It would be somewhere from .7 to 1.2 runs per 9 IP! It's equivalent to making a legitimate 2nd rotation guy to below average, or average to near replacement. It's really a severe dip, but he treated them as if they have little or no talent lost even used on two days shorter break than his usual routine. Actually he also started Utsumi, a .530 starter, yesterday on three days rest, and found that Utsumi was far from his normal shape and got knocked out, only lasted on 4 1/3. What happened today? Houlton was too inconsistent from the beginning of the game, barely got out of the jam. Not to mention he is never a good starter! He's just an average. And even if the Dragons' order was stacked with lots of righties, you can easily figure that he has no platoon advantage from the way he attacks opposing hitters. And they in fact had another starter of average caliber on Dicky Gonzalez. Why didn't he get a chance to start this game? It totally makes no sense.
Then occurred many more hilarious moves in succession. In the bottom of the 2nd, no out, and the Giants just scored two runs to lead the game and still had two runners on the bases, 1st and 2nd, Hara decided to leave Houlton in to do a sacrifice bunt. As I said previous two paragraphs, you should pull him out of the game as soon as possible, especially if you have a good chance to score more runs, as Houlton is no longer a good piece of their pitching relay and this is really a death knell game, the game where you should be desperate to be a winner. Also the Giants carry historically best bullpen this season and all they have to do is go into late in the game being ahead by a couple of runs. Nonetheless you still keep Houlton in the game? Huh. And then in the bottom of the 3rd with bases loaded and two outs, Hara still let again Houlton come to the plate. Houlton was pulled out of the hill finally in the bottom of the 5th via a pinch hitter, when the Giants already led on 4-0 and there were two outs and no runner on the bases. What a botched waste of pinch-hitting.
With Houlton finally removed from the game, the Giants were going to preserve four runs lead with their bragging bullpen going forward. The next pitcher Hara send to the mound was, however, Hirokazu Sawamura, one of their starters who threw 108 pitches just two days ago! How awful a move it was, I did't know off the top of my head while watching the game. I can't get how any manager, a professional baseball manager, executes such a enigmatic move on the very very crucial match. I would like to be informed if there is anyone who gets a good grasp of this strategy and his insights, if any. Sawamura allowed two hits and gave up a run to be replaced at the beginning of the next inning.
These string of hilarious moves only disclose half of the story. I haven't articulated the other half on this post yet.
The Dragons manager, Morimichi Takagi also forced their starters Ito, never good, a common back of the rotation guy, to start the game on three days rest. The Dragons also had another starter available in this game as Yudai Ohno has taken four days break since starting on opening game of the series. Actually, Ohno is near one run per game better as he's .530 or such while Ito is awful, .420 or so and threw no more 10 innings this year. So why was Ito appointed as the starter on the game? Yeah, as inferred from an announcer's piece of information, it's solely because Ito pitched well enough on his last appearance to have brought them a win. That's his only one criterion on deciding who should serve as a starter. And the result? In the bottom of the 2nd, he got severe attack to be beat four successive hits to open the inning and knocked out easily, three runs surrendered in an instant and the Dragons could never come up with the opponents the rest of the game. Ohno on the other hand pitched last three innings, but who cares at that point?
My rant still continues. In the 2nd inning above, the Dragons were driven to find themselves on bases loaded and no out. If I were the skipper I won't hesitate at all to bring Asao, one of the best reliever in the league and reigning MVP winner, in to face Terauchi (horrible hitter), Houlton, Chono (damn good), all right-handed hitters. Can you get the reason? Remember the game is a death knell and all you have to do is to win the game by whatever approach you take. And once the game is over, the next game (an opening game of Japan Series) will be played on five days later so you never have to care about pitchers' fatigue level seriously. And what you're encountering right now is exactly the low LI, high boLI situation. So basically what you only care about is a run(s). Even if that run came from a lead-off homer or a go-ahead single in the top of the 9th, a run is a run is a run. Once the game is over, it's irrelevant where that run came from in the game. So why not just use your best reliever to minimize the damage as little as possible to set the table for their offense knocking runs later in the game? Are you itching to mention comfort and adjustment factor? Nope! He's the single only Rich Gossage I've ever seen in NPB (that's the reason he won MVP last year as a non-closing reliever).
Actually, the last assertion is not what I was quite disappointed at to see the manager didn't go that way; I suspect no more than three people out of half a million Japanese baseball fans could think it that way while having a good comprehension of the logic behind it. However, when ever was Asao brought into the game? None. Because at no point did the Dragons lead the game yesterday, exactly the same reason as he had been confined in the pen for three consecutive games. And despite winning three straight games to open the series and getting the right to heading to Japan Series almost in their hands, they weren't able to win not a single game thereafter and sadly found that their 2012 baseball season came to an end. See you 71 years old magical tactician next April.