Drayer: Mariners get first taste of Japan baseball with 6-4 win over Yomiuri Giants
TOKYO – The sights and sounds of the baseball day were anything but usual for the Mariners on Sunday at the Tokyo Dome, where they took on the Yomiuri Giants in the first of two exhibition games leading up to their season opener against the A’s Wednesday night (or early Wednesday morning back in Seattle).
When the team arrived at the Tokyo Dome, the Giants were holding batting practice, which in Japan is a two-cage event. Two pitchers throw to two hitters in side-by-side gold batting cages on the field. The hitting is not just limited to the in-play area, as batters hit into a net behind the cages at home plate as well.
While the Mariners worked out with just one hitting cage on the field, they did utilize the batting practice catchers the Giants provided in addition to the ball boys in the outfield, who recovered any baseballs the players did not go after and deposited them into a small cart.
The show during batting practice was once again Ichiro. Fans arrived at the park two hours early to watch batting practice and lined the lower rows of the stadium the entire time. They oohed and ahhhed every time a ball was hit in Ichiro’s direction, and much like he did on Sunday morning home games last year at Safeco Field, Ichiro put on a little show from time to time, going for behind-the-back catches much to the crowd’s delight.
Throughout batting practice and the game, it appeared safety was of the utmost importance. Whistles were blown when it looked like a ball could leave the field of play – fair or foul. Announcements of “Please watch out for foul balls” were made during the game every time a foul ball went into the stands. An announcement about what to do in the case of an earthquake (stay in the Tokyo Dome, it is very safe) was made multiple times throughout the game.
While there was safety in the dome from a potentially shaking earth, walking the concourse was a different hazard altogether. While the announced crowd of 46,315 was about 9,000 shy of capacity, every seat with the exception of the suite level appeared to be taken, and standing room only areas behind the lower bowl were lined up 4-5 deep. Concession lines were long and the smoking room, a glassed-in enclosure in the middle of the main concourse, was full. Different sights and sounds at every turn.
When the game started, the home team fans took over, quiet when the Mariners not named Ichiro (who went 0 for 3) were batting, loud when it was their guys’ turn to step to the plate. The cheering section in right field featured trumpets, drums and three large flags that were waved in unison when the ‘band’ struck up. The fans had individual cheers and songs for each player and they were in as full voice, if not more, in inning nine as they were in the first.
“These fans really bring it every night. It is fun to play here,” said Mariners center fielder Mitch Haniger, who played in a three-week Japan Series last November.
“I feel very fortunate and lucky to be here and see it. It was pretty amazing. It was awesome,” said first baseman Jay Bruce, who continued his hot hitting with his third home run of the spring.
While enjoying the spectacle, Haniger, Bruce and the rest of the team were able to get their work in during a 6-4 win. Haniger, Bruce and Dee Gordon all homered, and Domingo Santana, who leads the Mariners in hits this spring, went 3 for 5.
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Mike Leake gave up three runs on six hits and two walks and struck out four, and he looked very Mike Leake-like in his five innings, allowing a ton of baserunners but escaping most of the trouble. A changeup that leaked out over the plate left the field of play courtesy of Yomiuri shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, and it was a pitch Leake wouldn’t mind having back.
“It was right down the middle,” Leake admitted. “It was a mistake, but he was there ready. It was the pitch I wanted, just not where I wanted it.”
Relievers Cory Gearrin, Zac Rosscup and Hunter Strickland, the latter of whom was pitching in a game for the first time since being sidelined with back problems March 4, combined to throw three scoreless innings.
“Hunter threw the ball well today,” said manager Scott Servais, who has Strickland tabbed to start the season as the Mariners’ closer/late-inning leverage pitcher. “He certainly had a lot of life on his fastball, his breaking pitch has been outstanding, he’s executing his pitches. It’s great to see. He hasn’t been out there for a while but he looks healthy. It’s great to have him today and heading into the series against Oakland.”
Just one more tuneup before two games against Oakland that count. Felix Hernandez takes the hill on Monday night (3:05 a.m. Monday Pacific time) against the Giants.