Sunday, November 13, 2011
Under the radar
Lunch at a Korean-style restaurant in Fengyuan 豐原. The bibimbap (lower left) 비빔밥 (石鍋拌飯) was very spicy, but also really good.
Everybody and their grandmother in Taiwan knows of Wang Chien-Ming 王建民. His recent appearance playing for the national team against a group of players from the major leagues generated a good deal of publicity. Wang made a successful comeback this past season after having spent a couple of years on the disabled list, and many Taiwanese are looking forward to him returning to his past form (and past glories) in 2012 with the Washington Nationals. However, while Wang is considered the "Pride of Taiwan", only the more serious baseball fans here are aware of another Taiwanese player who has considerably more success than Wang in recent years. The person I'm referring to is Chen Wei-Yin 陳偉殷, of the Chūnichi Dragons 中日ドラゴンズ of the Central League セントラル・リーグ in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball 日本野球機構『プロ野球』. Chen has been a dominant pitcher with the Dragons since 2008, and though his record this year was only 8-10, his ERA was an excellent 2.68. Chūnichi won the CL pennant in 2011, and is facing the Pacific League パシフィック・リーグ champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 福岡ソフトバンクホークス in the Japan Series 日本選手権シリーズ. Chen was given the honor of starting the first game yesterday for the Dragons, and the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売 had this to say about his performance:
"Chunichi starter Chen Wei-yin went deep into the game, while Kazuhiro Wada 和田一浩 and Masaaki Koike 小池正晃 went deep over the wall, lifting the Dragons to victory in Saturday's Japan Series opener in Fukuoka 福岡.
Koike homered with two outs in the top of the 10th inning, lifting the Central League champions to a 2-1 victory over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Game 1...
Chen, who allowed a run in eight innings, was holding the short end of the stick until Wada homered to tie it in the top of the seventh against Hawks lefty Tsuyoshi Wada 和田毅. It was the Dragons' first hit of the game.
'We didn't even have one hit. As many times as I've seen [Wada], I wonder if I've ever seen him throw his fastball harder,' said Kazuhiro Wada, who battled the Hawks lefty for years in the PL.
'But in that inning, I felt he was tiring and I hit a fat pitch. It's a big park, so I didn't think it would get out. It's a good thing it did.
'Chen did such a great job under pressure, holding them to a run. The guys knew we had to get him a run somehow.'
The homer was Wada's sixth in Japan Series play, while Chen's 11 strikeouts were the most in a Series game by a Dragon since 1954, when Shigeru Sugishita 杉下茂 struck out 12 in Game 1...
Hawks cleanup hitter Nobuhiro Matsuda 松田宣浩 and Yūya Hasegawa 長谷川勇也 cracked open a scoreless pitching duel in the bottom of the fourth inning off Chen, who allowed four hits and two walks.
Matsuda singled with one out and stole second. With one out and runners on first and second, Hasegawa lined a pitch to center to easily score Matsuda."
Thanks in large part to Chen's efforts, the Dragons are off to a good start in the series. I'm pulling for Chūnichi to go all the way this year, in large part because they are my favorite Japanese baseball team. When I first traveled to Japan back in 1989, I immediately identified with the Dragons as they were wearing uniforms virtually identical to those of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of my two favorite teams from childhood (the other being the then-California Angels). The team changed its uniform style later on, but I moved closer to Chūnichi in later years - literally. Studying Japanese at a school in Okazaki 岡崎 in Aichi Prefecture 愛知県, and then later managing a small English school in Yokkaichi 四日市 in Mie Prefecture 三重県 meant that I was close enough to the Dragons' home city of Nagoya 名古屋 to see a couple of games at their home stadium, Nagoya Dome ナゴヤドーム.
And then there is Hiromitsu Ochiai 落合博満, the current manager of the Dragons. He was my favorite player back when he was still active, not only due to his considerable talent, but also because of his individualistic approach to the game, as Robert Whiting illustrated in his classic book comparing American and Japanese cultures through the shared medium of baseball, You Gotta Have Wa. When his playing days ended, Ochiai was hired to manage Chūnichi, and has been just as successful in his new role as field manager, guiding the team to five pennants (including this year) and a Japan Series championship in 2007 (the Dragons' first since 1954). For reasons that are still not entirely clear, a couple of months ago Chūnichi's ownership announced that Ochiai was going to step down at the end of the season. It would be great to see one of the legends of Japanese baseball go out in style.