I must confess things took rather a different turn in this episode than I expected, though it was certainly a fascinating and tense one. Rather than a full-on focus on Eijun and Chris, they were merely the sideshow – the real story was Furuya. And not even so much Furuya, but what his struggles (at long last) say about the two men who currently have an uncomfortable partnership as coach of the team.
As for Eijun, no, he didn’t get to pitch, and he still hasn’t overcome his aversion to throwing inside. And it turns out Chris was asked to help by Miyuki, which I suppose is to Miyuki’s credit – if you’re an incompetent leader and mentor, at least have the sense to bail when you’re in over your head. I still think he’s a jerk and if he’d been on my team when I was playing youth baseball I’m pretty sure he would have gotten a few Louisville Sluggers shoved up his ass (though I doubt even that would shut his big yapper), but he’s not so proud as to think he was making any headway with Eijun.
We’ll see if the good cop/bad cop approach works with Eijun, now that the good cop has finally made his appearance. Rather than trying to force Eijun to confront this head-on and continually belittling him, Chris is taking a subtler approach – get him focused on learning other things and take his mind off the problem. It’s of course true that an inside pitch is really only effective when you have the ability to also paint the outside corner and keep the hitter guessing (unless you can get by on pure velocity like Furuya), so in addition to taking some of the pressure off, this training will be good for Eijun in the long-term.
As for Furuya, at long-last he gets a taste of humiliation – though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it gives him any humility. Multiple walks and four runs in the first inning (the 4th an inherited baserunner allowed to score by Kawakami) against a weak-sister opponent means a quick hook and a trip to left field. The warning signs were there in the bullpen, though Miyuki missed them – often when a power pitcher feels too strong, he’ll overthrow his fastball. And as Tanba says, the real measure of an ace isn’t how he pitches on his good days, but how he pitches on his bad days. Kawakami comes in and saves the day, and Seidou rallies to stave off an embarrassing upset. But it’s a “win” in name only.
Here’s where it gets really intriguing. Ochiai-kantoku (I’m still wondering if his having the exact same name as a Japanese Hall-of-Famer is significant) clearly disapproves of Kataoka’s decision – “you’ve got to let the boys get in trouble and figure it out”. And when Kataoka goes ballistic after the game, screaming his lungs out and then sending the team on an endless run, he thinks it’s “old-fashioned” – which is exactly what I was thinking too. But it’s when he lingers to speak with Miyuki and Furuya afterwards that the ante is really upped. He tells them that he wouldn’t have pulled Furuya, and that he “never changes out the ace”. Effectively he’s sowing the seeds of dissent here, whether that’s his intention or not.
I’m not sure what the game is here – as I’ve said I’m skeptical that Kataoka is really leaving, and this secret arrangement is rather silly. But what I’m hoping is that this isn’t being set up as a black-and-white morality play to vindicate everything Kataoka does, because frankly, he’s a lousy coach. He is old-fashioned, he’s a terrible communicator, and slow to adjust. There are big problems with Ochiai’s philosophy too, and this business of undercutting the existing coach (even if he is a lame duck) is distasteful. But I do think he’s right that there’s more to developing players than Kataoka’s old-school BS, and that identifying and exploiting great talent is a crucial aspect of a high school coach’s job. There are two sides to this, and to be honest I don’t like either guy very much – but I sure as hell don’t want to see Ochiai used as a device to set Kataoka up as some kind of hero. Because believe me, he’s not…