Baseball has often been described as an individual sport played on teams – quite true I think, and something that separates it from the likes of basketball and football (both kinds). I think that element is very much on display in this episode of Ace of Diamond, and indeed it’s that aspect of baseball that helps to make it such a natural subject for the likes of manga, anime and mainstream movies. Yet the flipside of that is that teams very much have their own identity, and success or failure usually comes down to your teammates rather than yourself. That contrast is one of the most interesting things about the game.
My favorite part of this episode was the way it almost played like a chess match between Miyuki and Yashiro’s skipper Raizou. Their cat-and-mouse is an element of baseball and it’s a blast to watch here, though it’s obviously turned way up for dramatic effect. It never seemed to me that Furuya was a good matchup against this team, and he’s incredibly high-maintenance to begin with – no matter the opponent trying to marshal his erratic talent and keep him focused is a full-time job. Given all that, it was inevitable that from the start this game was going to be a showcase for all of Miyuki’s precocious cleverness.
Against a high-fastball pitcher like Furuya, there’s really no substitute for simple bat speed. You can’t teach it (though swinging a bat heavier than you are from the time you’re a grade-schooler helps), but you can teach guys who have it how to use it – and clearly, a baseball lifer like Raizou knows a thing or two about how to combat velocity. “Swing from above” makes perfect sense – watch guys swing-and-miss on good fastballs even in the majors and they’re almost always swinging below the ball. It’s easier said than done of course, but Furuya is still a high schooler and Yashiro is loaded with gifted hitters, free-swingers all of them – and of course Raichi is the most gifted. I don’t see Furuya having any answers for Raichi, but we’ll see that put to the test next week.
Raizou has obviously put a lot of thought into this game. Put Raichi in the leadoff spot because Furuya loses some zip pitching from the stretch, make sure his sluggers know how to attack the fastball, but adopt the Akikawa strategy with the weaker hitters in his lineup. Miyuki has an answer at every turn – put Furuya in the stretch and even use the slide-step with no one on-base against that approach, just to tame his power and get the ball into the strike zone. Of course those pitches are hittable, and even the bottom-feeders on Yashiro are clearly better than the Akikawa boys. I suppose Furuya will probably last his three innings, but it’s going to be a slugfest right from the beginning.
For how long, then, can Raizou sit on his ace, Sanada? As smart as he is this could be a tactical error based on cockiness, because it’s obvious no one else on his pitching staff can contain what Seidou brings, and with four pitchers to call on Kataoka may be able to keep Yashiro from their usual offensive explosion. Sanada is one of the big mysteries of the series – why he’s used the way he is, specifically, and there’s obviously unusual circumstances behind this guy that we haven’t been told yet. I’m keen to see Furuya switched out already (I’m sorry, he just bores me) but this is still quite a compelling matchup. Yashiro is so resolutely hostile to the propriety of Japanese baseball – scruffy, aggressive, irreverent – that I can’t help but root for them on some level. And how can you not love a cleanup (or leadoff) hitter whose catch phrase is “I want meat”?