This episode of Diamond no Ace was a painful one, but it certainly wasn’t surprising. The handwriting has been on the wall for a while that Eijun’s appearance in this game was going to be a disaster, and indeed that’s exactly what happened. But it must be said that Kataoka didn’t exactly set his first-year up for success here – in fact, if he’d intentionally arranged events to put Eijun in the worst possible position he could hardly have done a finer job.
As Ochiai (I loved the way he refers to the first-year pitchers with “ippiki”, the counter for small animals like cats and mice) looks on, Katoka finally gives Eijun the ball in the seventh inning. He does so with Yakushi’s Ace and spiritual leader, Sanada, just having taken over on the mound and fired up his team. He does so with the heart of Yakushi’s feared batting order coming up. And he does so after just having crushed Eijun’s spirit by telling him he’s now a relief pitcher. With coaches like that, who needs opponents?
To say this is a tough spot would be an understatement. Eijun has been denied a chance to be a starter without ever having been given a chance to start a game – a chance Furuya has been given repeatedly (and to his considerable credit, taken full advantage of). Anyone could see – and the likes of Miyuki and Haruichi certainly did – that Eijun was way too worked up when he took the mound. He didn’t do his usual routine of warning the fielders they’d be busy, and he looked like he could have bitten a bat (a metal one) in half. Simply put, he wanted too badly to do too much – certainly understandable for a 15 (or 16, whatever he is) year-old kid. So the results – including Raichi’s monster home run – aren’t remotely surprising.
All that would be explanation enough, but the fact that Eijun’s woes seemed to stem from being unable to throw inside suggests he’s having some PTSD from the beaning in the Inashiro game (which was always a worry). Maybe it’s just bad control, or maybe he’s gun-shy about a repeat – but either way, he doesn’t have the crutch of Furuya’s overpowering fastball to lean on. If Eijun throws over the heart of the plate, he’s screwed – he has to pitch basically the way Sanada does to succeed. The only real positive moment here comes after the homer, when Miyuki breaks the tension by joking about what a great hit it was. And for a moment, it almost seems as if Eijun is back to being himself again – but that feeling is short-lived, unfortunately. His command is non-existent and the carnage continues.
With only six episodes left for this run, it’ll be interesting to see where Daiya no A takes Eijun’s story from here. I don’t think he’s been served well by either Kataoka or Miyuki (this is the second time Miyuki has recognized before the first pitch that Eijun was too tense and done nothing about it), but he’s clearly on the verge of a major setback – and his new coach (in theory) seems only too ready to give up on him. That Furuya is the ace for the fall tournament is a given at this point, but where does that leave Eijun? It seems that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – the first thing he has to do is right the ship and prove he can continue to excel as a relief pitcher while biding his time, and waiting to fight for that #1 jersey another day.