We all know where this drama is headed, so there’s a very strong impulse to wish things would just get there already. Eijun is going to pitch in this game sooner or later, and that’s when things are going to peak – but buildup is what it is, and that means we need to work our way through at least a couple of episodes focused on the relatively uninteresting Tanba. At least they’re good for some interesting baseball geekery, if not so much for the character drama.
One thing seems pretty clear to me, and that’s the fact that Tanba is no ace. You can make all you want of his being a third-year who’s paid his dues, and I have no issue with Kataoka letting him wear the #1 jersey. But in a real sense, he really doesn’t fit any of the definitions. He’s not an overpowering pitcher with dominating stuff. He’s mentally fragile, always doing battle with his sub-par self-confidence. It’s the areas were Tanba comes up short of the traditional ace role (and his injury) that’s forced Seidou to rely on a pitcher relay to survive when in truth, every coach would rather try and do it the way Inashiro is doing it.
That said, Furuya was likely done and Tanba entering the game was probably the only move Kataoka could make – there was no way Eijun was going five innings and Kawakami can’t be relied upon in any way, shape or form – he’s less dominant and less confident than Tanba. It’s the usual Tanba – very good curveball but a shaky fastball, and Inashiro is a well-coached team. They’re sitting on the fastball from the beginning because they know Tanba’s track record to to serve up a few meatballs in every appearance. One of those meatballs leads to a home run, but Miyuki is smart enough to realize that if Tanba is going to have any chance, he needs to establish the fastball (and the inside corner) at least a little to make his breaking pitches more effective.
No question Tanba dodged a big-time bullet by working out of a bases-loaded jam, though he dug that hole for himself with two walks and a hit-batsman. The key moment in the inning was the failed sacrifice by the 9th batter, one of those fascinating strategic conundrums in baseball. It’s a classic bunt situation – runners on first and second and nobody out with the ninth batter up. But do you really want to give a free out to a pitcher who hasn’t managed to get one on his own? Miyuki was happy to give up the sacrifice for that out – but when the poor bunt leads to the lead runner being gunned down at third, it’s a bonus. That was an early Christmas present from Inashiro, tied up with a pretty bow.
Given the dramatic imperatives of the situation, it seems that Tanba is going to settle down and keep Seidou in the game without allowing much further damage. The score needs to be close when Eijun enters, and Tanba needs some closure for his personal journey. But there remains the question of how Seidou is going to scratch out three more runs against Mei, who’s been sandbagging it and saving his strength for key moments. For now it seems the focus is going to shift to the Kominato drama, as the leg injury looks like it will finally force Ryonousuke out (as suspected, likely outed by Kuramochi), finally giving the chibi-Kominato a chance to show what he can do with the glove as well as the bat.