The Koushien itself (and this final play-in game) may be in August, but playoff baseball is everywhere at the moment. The World Series is just about to begin, and the Hanshin Tigers have just beaten the
Empire Yomiuri Giants (Yomiuri and the St. Louis Cardinals eliminated on the same day? Score!) to advance to the finals of the NPB playoffs for the first time since 2005, trying to break the “Curse of the Colonel” and try and win their first title in 29 years. It’s an exciting time to be a baseball fan, and this run of Diamond no Ace could hardly be airing at a more appropriate time.
I really loved the character-driven dynamics of the Yashiro matchup, but this Inashiro game is probably the best in Ace of Diamond’s repertoire in purely baseball terms. It’s tense and exciting, evenly-matched, and playing out with a refreshing amount of realism. Watching Narumiya and Furuya duel is interesting because they’re so different – Furuya the fireballing rookie phenom, going all-out on every pitch, and Narumiya the battle-hardened (though only a second-year, and a somewhat emotionally fragile one at that) veteran who’s pacing himself as a hedge against the heat and pressure.
What we see happen in the fourth inning of this game is very true-to-life. The second trip through a talented batting order often tells a very different story, and young pitchers often see the wheels come off when they get into trouble. There’s nothing fancy about the way Inashiro flips the scoreboard with their 2-run fourth – a leadoff walk, a sacrifice, a gritty single on a tough pitch by their best hitter, and a clean double off the wall when Furuya really starts laboring. It’s how good teams roll, and how young pitchers struggle. Even with Narumiya’s gift of getting himself gunned down at third (never make the first or third out at third base – one of the mast basic baseball commandments there is) – Furuya sees his day on the mound end after 4 innings and 68 pitches.
That’s not that happened in that half-inning, though. Ryousuke tweaks his ankle again – it’s why he can’t reach Harada’s seeing-eye single – and though he makes the relay throw to nail Narumiya it seems only a matter of time before he gives way to his little brother (perhaps Kuramochi will finally out him for the good of the team). Furuya is once again going to be kept in the game for his bat – he gets a double in the top of the fifth, in-fact – so it seems likely we’re going to see all three first-years in action together in a meaningful game for the first time.
It’s Tanba’s game now, but Eijun is going to get his chance soon enough – and in-fact, you can already see how he’s making the transition from the club’s comic relief to a genuine emotional leader. The truth is that guys like that somehow get a little extra out of their teammates when they take the mound – seeing a guy who lives and dies with every pitch even if he isn’t playing makes you want want to run through brick walls for him when he takes the mound. That’s one of the qualities of a true ace, and it’s one of the things that separates Eijun and Furuya at this point.
Meanwhile we’re seeing a real lesson in game management from Narumiya, who’s shown surprising maturity (when he’s not running the bases, anyway) – he’s playing the long game here, planning on going nine innings. But Kataoka is shrewdly using this to light a fire under the other members of the Seido lineup, and they’re a strong enough group that soon (maybe right now) Narumiya is going to have to give up on the fancy stuff and go all out himself if he’s going to survive.