The string of losses that inaugurated this season is still fresh in many folks' minds (including mine). It was embarrassing. I started drinking a lot more when I went to watch the games. The beer vendors (mostly 'bi-ru ooji', or 'beer prince') were delighted, but I was pretty sure that the misery wasn't about to end anytime soon.
I was kind of right. That was April, and now it's July. It took a while, but the patience appears to have paid off.
The names remain the same. We still shuffle through a makeshift bullpen of catchers, starters, middle relievers and closers. We still have only one solid starting pitcher (we love you, Greisinger!). We still are without our best relief pitchers (add Takatsu to that list because he just broke his toe getting out of the bath. No, I'm not kidding). We still are in the first half of a rebuilding year in which our young 3rd baseman played right field last year, and our equally young 2nd baseman was wielding little more than a cotton swab when he took to the plate. We still had a player-manager who almost never played (he has since retired from the half of his job that involved actually throwing, catching, and swinging at a baseball. Apparently you can actually do that if you have the right job and the right connections. I would love to retire from the part of my job that involves marking essays until four in the morning. Maybe all I need to do is ask).
But then things started to ripen. We made it through the interleague portion of the season without too many reasons to hang our heads. Against the stronger Pacific league teams we mustered a nearly .500 record, and the bats started to come alive a bit.
And now we are in that short stretch (about one month) of league games that lead up to the All-Star series. The first couple of weeks have been quite nice.
We started off with a double versus second place Chunichi Dragons. Sweep.
Then it was off to Koshien for a three game series with the Hanshin Tigers. OK, so 2 out of 3 isn't bad (especially when you consider that they dominated us this season up until July).
This past weekend it was a home series versus first place Yomiuri. Sweep.
It was beautiful. I cried a little.
A little background: Yomiuri entered the series 16 games over .500, and they led the next best team in home runs by more than 30 dingers. Their lineup is stacked. The top half of their lineup reads something like this: Takahashi BA .330, HR 20; Tani .338, 8; Ogasawara .327, 19; Abe .311, 19. They're basically the shadow Pacific league All-Star team (that's where they poach most of their best players from), and the most annoying part is that their cadre of goofy-looking starters has finally starting living up to their salaries (after years of Comedy Central-quality pitching).
Lowly Tokyo somehow outscored Yomiuri 28-11 in the series. We hit 9 home runs, and we outhit them 46 - 22. Much of the credit goes to our starters. Greisinger, as expected, pitched a strong opening game. But the big story of the series was Tateyama who pitched eight innings of two hit, no run ball in the second game! Veteran Ishii came in and did fairly well in the third game.
Tokyo has been hitting .287 (pitchers included) as a team since the interleague season ended--that's much better than the .267 that they've compiled during the first half of the season (for the record, Yomiuri is hitting .284 for the season).
The remarkable thing is that everything is basically the same as before. We still have the same people doing the same things. They're just doing them slightly better. Riggs, Ishii (Hirotoshi, not Kazuhisa), Gonzalez, and Kawashima are still injured.
I would like to make it perfectly clear that Aoki, Ramirez, and Miyamoto are still golden (said like how Mr. Buonincontro says it). It's just that these other guys that are finally getting it done.
Iihara, the guy who moved in to cover the gaping hole left by Iwamura at third base (he now plays for Tampa Bay), is still committing a ridiculous number of errors, but his bat is now starting to make a difference. Tanaka (our second baseman) doesn't commit many errors, but you would have been excused for mistaking him for a pitcher when looking at his batting average earlier this season. His average is now up in the .260 neck of the woods, and it looks like it could keep heading north. The steady jump in his average means that he has been hitting well up in the .290's recently, and Ramirez is no doubt loving having the extra guy on base when he comes up to swing.
At least one of our catchers (and possibly two) has figured out how to hit. Fukukawa (who is unfortunately not the youngest of the bunch) has hit five home runs in the last six games he has started. Miyade has also been a solid contributor from first base. He seems less tentative at the plate this season, and he's had quite a few rbi's as of late. He's a little slow moving laterally in the dirt, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt because he played outfield last year.
Back to the pitchers: Tateyama has been very strong recently, and Matsuoka (third season) pitched a solid game versus Hanshin on July 5th. Middle relievers Takai, Yoshikawa, and Endou are getting things done, and Kida seems to want the ball in the clutch.
So after winning 7 of our last 8 games, we now stand one game behind Hanshin and fourth place in the Central league. More importantly, we're only six games behind third place (and that coveted playoff berth) now.
I promise not to be too optimistic from here on out, but the Yomiuri sweep seemed to be a sign (hence this long post). After the culmination of the sweep in game three yesterday afternoon, I was actually waiting for a huge earthquake to hit. That didn't happen, so I felt that I would be safe posting about it here.