The first thing any team has to do is take care of winning the games they’re supposed to win. But just as with every other collection of academic sports teams, a tier system definitely exists in Japanese high school baseball. You have the power teams, and the other teams – and results like this are what happens when the two collide. Maimon’s coach, Chiba-san, tries to play on this with his “They’re underestimating us!” mantra, but the truth is there’s really no making up the massive difference in talent that exists here.
One important facet of that is that the game doesn’t tell us (or Kataoka) a whole lot about where his team stands at the start of the qualifying for Summer Koushien. That starts with Furuya, who carries so much of the weight of the team’s hopes on his shoulders. He has a “poker face” as Miyuki quite rightly describes it, but he tips off his nervousness by muffing Miyuki’s tosses back to the mound. He’s nervous, of course – any first-year would be nervous – but Maimon isn’t the opponent to take advantage of that.
What we end up with a scenario where Furuya doesn’t throw a single strike – at least on-screen – yet runs into no trouble at all. Never having seen velocity anything like this and awed by the moment, the Maimon hitters bail him out with their inability to lay off the high fastball. In awe of the occasion and scared of the pitcher – it’s a bad combination, and Furuya’s highly successful four innings don’t mean a whole lot apart from having gotten him his first experience in a Koushien game under very little pressure. In fact by the middle of the fifth inning, Seidou already has a 12-0 lead.
Kataoka’s decision at this point is quite interesting. If Seidou holds a 10-run lead after the completion of the fifth (or subsequent) inning the game is over, of course – and he declares that even in a short game, Seidou is “cycling its pitchers” that summer. He doesn’t call for Kawakami, though – he gives Sawamura the ball. I think it’s a very shrewd move, because not only does he get Sawamura his first real action as well as Furuya, but he does so where he doesn’t have to entrust a game to him (and he clearly doesn’t trust Eijun yet) while still giving Eijun the chance to feel the accomplishment of getting the final out. I also think there’s a measure of reward for Eijun’s relentless energy and optimism too, which the others mock but Kataoka respects in his own way.
There’s even more to this, though. Miyuki is right that Furuya can’t be effective against better teams throwing this way – a decent team will force him to throw strikes. But a really elite team presents even bigger problems – they’ll be used to impressive velocity, and Furuya won’t be able to overpower them even if he does throw strikes. The whole premise behind Eijun’s inclusion here is that he’s a wild-card – no one knows what kind of impact he might have, including Kataoka. If he can start to find out in a low-pressure situation, that can only help him down the road – when he may very well need to turn to Sawamura when Furuya’s formidable but more predictable gifts prove ineffective (as they surely will sooner or later). Next week promises us Sawamura’s first action, against a team trying to salvage a measure of their pride and extend the game – and it might be a stiffer test than the one Furuya faced, because Eijun will be facing a cornered opponent with nothing left to lose.