As soon as I saw this week’s episode title (“Emergency”) this was one of the possibilities I considered that it might refer to. Ultimately this is the story of the duel between Eijun and Furuya for the ace number, and while the third-years have been admirably represented in the drama, it can’t really be a story about those two years watching from the bench as Tanba tries to establish himself as a true ace. That’s a good series, but it’s not Ace of Diamond.
Make no mistake, though, even if it was doing so in order to tear him down, Tanba was definitely built up. I wouldn’t exactly call him sympathetic, but he was certainly relatable – a guy with good but not great talent who could never quite overcome his own lack of confidence. It’s the nature of this sort of series that he should be struck down just as he seemed on the verge of doing so, but that’s exactly what that errant (I’ll assume that’s what it was, though we were conspicuously shown the Shuhoku pitcher thinking nasty thoughts before he threw it) fastball did. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tanba as a pitcher, but his role for now is likely to provide the team with inspiration to keep their season going long enough to make him relevant again as a player.
The team is naturally devastated in the wake of the injury, a broken jaw (wonky CR translation of “chin” notwithstanding) – but life, as in baseball, must go on. The third-years have been treating this as their personal crusade, but now it’s time for them to step up and be leaders – and that means leading the youngsters who are now their only chance of making it to Koushien. Tanba is given the ace number in absentia by Kataoka – surely the right thing to do in terms of morale – but Kawakami is now the de facto ace. So far I’ve seen nothing in him to indicate he’s up to the challenge either in terms of raw stuff or mental makeup, but there’s no more time for him to grow into the role – it’s now or never, and he has two more talented kids queuing up behind him.
The race is on, now, to get those kids ready in time for Koushien prelims (in this series, prelims are pretty much the main event now) because at heart I think everyone knows they’re the only ones who can carry the team until Tanba comes back. They’re more talented than Kawakami and sometimes athletes can be so young and clueless that they don’t know enough to be scared when the big moment comes – a phase that’s already passed Kawakami by. Kataoka sends Yuki and Isashiki into the bullpen to practice as pitchers, but rather than seriously considering them as options this seems to serve two purposes – to light a fire under the three younger pitchers, and to get the two of them out of their silent funk and acting as the leaders they’re supposed to be. I’ll be surprised if either guy throws a pitch in anger when it really counts.
What does prepping the peachfuzz brigade boil down to? In Chris’ hands, as usual there isn’t much pitching to begin with. It’s strength training, ball-handling training, fielding drills – and hitting the books, because failing finals means re-taking them and missing practice. It seems almost quaint to see important student-athletes portrayed as actually having to pass their courses in order to play, but this still seems to be somewhat more common in Japan than in America. It also keeps the two of them from having to think too much about the reality of the situation – that they might be asked to shot down a strong opponent in order to get their team to Koushien. One day at a time.
The interesting question for me is this: assuming Kawakami really isn’t up to the challenge, which one of the diaper dandies is most likely to succeed under fire? Superficially it would seem to be Furuya – if nothing else he can rear back and throw as hard as he can, and that’s damn hard. But Eijun has an “X” factor that Furuya doesn’t – he (like one tireless terrier on a borrowed racing bike) is unpredictable. Not even he knows what his pitches are going to do, and he seems to have a somewhat more developed competitive toughness and better stamina. Furuya certainly needs to learn to throw a breaking pitch (perhaps the split-finger) with consistency, and Eijun needs to be able to locate his pitches wherever Miyuki asks for them. If either one of them manages to develop that much, they stand to be the best pitching option for Seidou once the real games start.