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Yokohama Breaks Down Wall, Defeats the Undefeatable

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Yokohama Breaks Down Wall, Defeats the Undefeatable
Inter-league play has not been kind to the Yokohama BayStars. In fact, Yokohama has finished dead last the past three years running, unable to surpass 6 wins each year. Well, they finally broke down that 6-win barrier with a victory over the 2011 Inter-league champions Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

The first four "cards" of Inter-league play saw the BayStars at .500, 3 wins, 3 losses and 2 ties against the Lions, Marines, Fighters, and Eagles. They were holding their own, staying in the middle of the pack. The fifth and sixth cards were winless in four games against the Hawks and Buffaloes. Yokohama finished the first round of Inter-league 3 and 7 (2 ties). This was worse than their .368 winning percentage on the season through the first of June.

So, the 'Stars returned home to Yokohama to take on the Marines and Lions for two games apiece, and they took 3 out of 4 of them! Not only that, but the struggling Hanshin Tigers fell below them in the Central League standings, Hanshin having an even worse time against the Pacific League than the BayStars. Things were starting to look good again as Yokohama rose their Inter-league record to 6 and 8 (2 ties). We may get past .500!

But it wasn't meant to be. Up to Sendai for a loss and tie. Then to Sapporo for a pair of tough 1-run losses. We seemed to be constantly one hit away from turning things around.

During this losing streak, the press started referring to the 6-Win Wall. That is, Yokohama has not been able to surpass 6 wins for the past three years running in Inter-league. A loss and a tie to the Buffaloes after returning home from this skid didn't help matters. Here we are, going into the last two game series of Inter-league, unable to get that elusive seventh win in the last six tries. And to make matters worse, it's against the 2011 Inter-league champions, the Hawks.

Now, the first time around we were this close to becoming the first team to defeat the Hawks. The date was Saturday, May 28. The place was Yahoo! Dome. Yokohama had a 4-1 lead going to the bottom of the 7th inning. Kentaro Takasaki had allowed a few hits and a solo home run (to Alex Cabrera) through the first six innings. But he ran out of gas in the seventh inning, allowing the second Hawk run on three consecutive hits to start the inning off. Shinji Ohhara came in and allowed just one hit and one more run to score. So we were holding onto a razor thin 1-run lead going to the 8th inning.

After Terrmel Sledge added an insurance solo home run to start off the 8th inning for Yokohama, Shintaro Ejiri, the over worked work horse of Yokohama's bull pen, got former BayStar Seiichi Uchikawa to ground out (for the fourth time that game) to start off the bottom of the 8th. Then things turned sour. Ejiri gave up two consecutive hits and a walk to load the bases. Third baseman and number 7 hitting Nobuhiro Matsuda then popped out to short for out number two, and it looked like we might get out of this. But it wasn't meant to be. Takayuki Shinohara came in to pitch and pinch hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka singled in two runs to tie the ball game up at 5-5. Hiroki Sanada replaced Shinohara on the mound, and pinch hitter Hidenori Tanoue delivered a single up the middle to score the go-ahead run, SoftBank was now up 6-5. In just two innings we go from 3 runs up to 1 run down, and that's where it ended.

Today's (Saturday, June 18) game against the Hawks had some similarities. Kentaro Takasaki was matched up against Hawk ace Toshiya Sugiuchi. Yokohama scored first in both games, 1 run in this game, 2 runs in the previous game. But this one looked to be a lot harder to overcome when SoftBank turned the game around in the 5th inning this time around. And they did it with pitcher Sugiuchi's bat.

Whereas Takasaki ran out of gas in the 7th last time, he clearly was struggling in the 5th this time. He had only allowed two base hits through the first four innings, but starting from #5 batter Matsunaka, the Hawks had three consecutive hits to start off the 5th, loading the bases with nobody out. Takasaki did manage to get Katsuki Yamazaki to pop out to short in shallow left field for the first out, Matsunaka having no chance to touch up. With the pitcher Sugiuchi coming up, it looked like we might get out of the inning unscathed. But, hey, this is the BayStars. Sugiuchi ripped the ball into the right-center field gap, clearing the bases and jogging into second base easily. Just like that, SoftBank took a 3-1 lead.

After getting Munenori Kawasaki looking at strike three, Takasaki allowed Sugiuchi to score from second on a single to left by Yuichi Honda. Hawks up 4-1. Fortunately, that's all the Hawks got that inning and for the remainder of the game.

Now, this has been the point were Yokohama has traditionally been incapable of getting men around the bases. It seems that they continually score early in games (I'm going to have to do a study on that), but despite getting men on base late in the game, are unable to get them around. Today seemed to be an exception to that rule.

Shuichi Murata drove in a run in the 6th inning to cut the lead in half, 2-4. With two down and nobody on in the bottom of the 7th, pinch hitter Ikki Shimura singled to left, then late hire Norihiro Nakamura hit his second home run of the season, swinging and flicking his bat in one fluid motion, knowing that the ball was going into the left field stands. Just like that, we had a tie ball game! It looks like Sugiuchi was in there just an inning too long.

Then in the bottom of the 8th inning, with one down Murata stroked his third hit of the night (2 for 3 with a walk). Sledge had struggled all game with runners in front of him, but came through this time with a 2-run home run to right-center, 勝ち越し ("taking the lead")! That was Sledge's 10th home run of the season, and proved to be the game winner.

So, what do we have here? We have our 7th win of Inter-league play, finally getting over that 6-game wall that has been standing in our way the past three seasons. While we missed the chance to be the first Central League team to defeat the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, we are the fourth, after Hanshin, Yakult, and Chunichi. With Lotte having lost today, that puts Yokohama in 10th place in the Inter-league standings with a chance of even overtaking Hanshin with a Yokohama win and Hanshin loss tomorrow.

Am I starting to hope too much?

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Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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