January 6, 2006
Battle of Champions
Chiba Lotte Marines @ Chicago White Sox, Game 2read the series preview.
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Game 2 | White Sox 5, Marines 4 | Box | Series tied, 1-1
Iguchi single-handedly tied up the Battle of Champions series with a ninth-inning grand slam off Chiba Lotte closer Masahide Kobayashi. With one swing of the bat, Iguchi erased Chiba's 4-1 lead and rescued the White Sox from what would have been a 2-0 series deficit.
Mark Buehrle pitched well for Chicago, and until the seventh inning had outpitched Marines starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi (no relation). Buehrle logged eight frames total, allowing eight hits, three runs, no walks, and fanning five before Iguchi's grand slam unhooked him from a loss.
The Marines overturned Chicago's 1-0 lead in the seventh, thanks to doubles by Benny Agbayani and Toshiaki Imae. Imae's rope to left-center bounced to the wall, and a clean relay from shortstop Juan Uribe nearly nailed the slow-footed Tomoya Satozaki at the plate. Dustin Hermanson (1-0) pitched the top of the ninth and Matt Franco's RBI double gave Chiba Lotte the ill-fated 4-1 advantage.
Needing just three outs to win, Hiroyuki Kobayashi took the mound. He had pounded the strike zone for the first eight innings, evidenced by six punchouts, one walk and 74 strikes on just 94 pitches. A.J. Pierzynski led off the ninth with a seven-pitch at-bat, working the count full before flipping a soft fly ball to right. Based on what followed, his persistence might have emptied Hiroyuki Kobayashi's tank.
Joe Crede promptly doubled to the right field gap. Timo Perez followed with a pinch-hit single--past diving first baseman Kazuya Fukuura--that advanced Crede to third with one out. But a four-pitch walk to Scott Podsednik loaded the bases and convinced Chiba manager Bobby Valentine to summon the bullpen for the first time in the series.
Masahide Kobayashi (0-1) would face Iguchi as his first and only batter.
Aaron Rowand, who made two tremendous catches in Game 1, continued his fielding clinic in center. Pacing backwards on a deep drive by Imae and later Agbayani, Rowand appeared to make the same leaping catch twice, scaling the wall in the second and fourth innings.
Prior to his mid-game groove, Hiroyuki Kobayashi struggled early. He conceded five solid hits through three innings, but a timely combination of luck and defense bailed him out of serious trouble. In the bottom of the first with White Sox at the corners, Imae sprawled, dived, and snagged a bloop foul near the Chicago dugout--the runners were later stranded. A double, single, and Uribe's groundout plated the game's first run in the second. An inning later, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko hit balls that each fell just a yardstick short of home runs. Quite easily, Chicago could have seized a sizable lead.
The White Sox lost another opportunity in the fifth inning, when Dye's double hopped over the left field fence. Had the ball stayed in play, Iguchi would have scored easily from first base.
Dye was 3-for-4--with two of the game's nine doubles--and stood on deck when Iguchi hit the shot heard 'round the world.
Iguchi played eight years for the Pacific League's Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and was a four-time All-Star in Japan. The Hawks granted Iguchi his release after the 2004 season so he could pursue his goal to play in North America. Unbounded by the lengthy posting system--which requires major league teams to bid on the rights to negotiate with a Japanese player--Iguchi signed with Chicago last January for two years and $4.95 million. The team also holds a 2008 option.
Iguchi has a history of big-game home runs. In the 2003 Nippon Series, he hit one in Games 6 and 7 as the Hawks won both games and the Japanese title. In the American League Division Series against Boston's David Wells, Iguchi connected for another three-run home run that eventually won Game 2 for Chicago.
But none compares to the enormity of the Game 2 grand slam that vanquished Chiba Lotte's series lead. Had Chicago dropped Game 2, they'd be forced to win four of the next five games--all while adjusting to sushi, jet lag, and foreign turf.
The Marines are headed home, and so is Tadahito Iguchi.
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