Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hara's Dumb Coaching Move of the Weekend

Several games were cancelled due to the typhoon this weekend, but the Hiroshima - Yomiuri series went uninterrupted due to the cover on that monstrosity they call "Tokyo Dome".

I caught some of the game on TV before the station switched to other programming (what's the point of showing a baseball game if you're only going to show part of it?), and Yomiuri's manager, Hara, made himself look stupid in the bottom of the 7th when his team was up to bat.

Hiroshima had just leveled the game at two all in the top of the 7th, and Yomiuri answered with a single by leadoff hitter, Tani. He was then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Suzuki, and then Hiroshima opted to get to Abe by intentionally walking Ogasawara. It seemed like the idea of walking a player in order to get to Abe rattled rookie Hiroshima right-hander, Miyazaki, because he proceeded to walk Abe as well on four straight pitches (to give him credit, his first two pitches were close).

Perhaps Hara was influenced by Hiroshima skipper Marty Brown's bold decision to leave his rookie middle-reliever in the game at this point. Abe hits exceptionally well against right-handed pitchers, so some coaches may have opted for a lefty in the matchup with Abe. Either way, you had to like the position Hara's guys were in: bases loaded, one out, veteran Nioka up to bat next, and an obviously rattled pitcher being left on the mound to clean up the mess that he was largely responsible for.

And that is when Hara made his own bold (read: moronic) move. With Nioka already making his way over to the batter's box, Hara emerged from the dugout and made a hitting change. In a situation that looked quite embarrassing for Nioka, Ozeki was brought in to pinch-hit. Ozeki is a decent hitter to be sure, but for some strange reason Hara thought that this pressure-packed situation would be the perfect opportunity for him to have his first at-bat of the season.

Oops.

Ozeki fouled off the first pitch, but Miyazaki was apparently able to calm down during the brief delay caused by the Yomiuri personnel change. Ozeki ended up striking out rather feebly on a check-swing third strike.

Hollins then grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning with the bases juiced.

Of course, Hara would have been a hero had Ozeki done so little as to fly out to deep right field. However, it almost seemed as though he regretted the decision immediately after he made it. With Nioka sporting a very stern and disgruntled face in the dugout, the ramifications of his decision started to dawn on Hara. Even before Ozeki pulled the first pitch foul, Hara was showing the camera that he had not taken all of the factors into consideration (you have to love those long, drawn-out close-ups that the outfield cameras are able to grab). You could almost hear his mind saying, "Wait, has Ozeki even played yet this season?" or, "Was it Nioka I just yanked from the game or some bit player like Odajima?" or, "If Ozeki strikes out, how many outs are there?"

Hiroshima ended up winning the game with a pair of runs in the 9th.

This loss, coupled with the Chunichi win over Hanshin, has now dropped Yomiuri to second place in the Central league (based on winning percentage).

Central League
Chunichi: 43 wins; 34 losses; 2 ties; 0 game behind
Yomiuri: 46 wins; 37 losses; 0 ties; 0 games behind
Yokohama: 39 wins; 35 losses; 1 tie; 2.5 games behind
Hanshin: 36 wins; 40 losses; 2 ties; 6.5 games behind
Tokyo: 34 wins; 42 losses; 0 ties; 8.5 games behind
Hiroshima: 30 wins; 48 losses; 1 tie; 13.5 games behind

Pacific League
Nippon Ham: 48 wins; 32 losses; 4 ties; 0 games behind
Lotte: 41 wins; 34 losses; 6 ties; 4.5 games behind
Softbank: 43 wins; 37 losses; 3 ties; 5 games behind
Seibu: 40 wins; 40 losses; 2 ties; 8 games behind
Rakuten: 35 wins; 44 losses; 2 ties; 12.5 games behind
Orix: 35 wins; 47 losses; 3 ties; 14 games behind


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