That may have been the most consistently interesting episode of Daiya no A yet – it was certainly in the top five. There were fascinating things happening all over the place with any number of characters, and no head-desk moments whatsoever. But it ended with a vintage cliffhanger – and worse yet, the preview suggests that it’s one that won’t even be resolved next week.
Leading off, we have Kataoka changing up the lineup at last. He drops Maezono to 5th and puts his best hitter, Haruichi, in the 3-hole (which the Japanese refer to as “cleanup” along with the 4th spot, which is the only cleanup in Western parlance). The timing is interesting given that Maezono had a huge hit in the Teitou game, but this seems like a smart move all-around. Kataoka also inserts Kanemaru into the lineup at long last, so it’ll be interesting to see how he responds – obviously, the early returns are positive.
I think the way ‘Zono responds to this move is indicative of why he’s the real captain of this team. He’s not able to totally suppress his disappointment, but the first thing he does is praise Haruchin, telling him he deserves the spot. Then he keeps his head in the game and stays focuses on his practice routine, which leads to a hit in his first at-bat. He’s also observing Eijun all the time, making note of his development as a pitcher. You know, the kinds of things a leader does.
It’s all about Eijun in the end, of course, and his development is indeed at an exciting stage. As Maezono says Eijun has learned pitch progression – he’s come to understand the way mixing up inside and outside pitches in an at-bat sets up the hitter. Knowing it and executing it are different things of course, but Eijun – first in warmups and then in the game – does seem to have overcome the worst of his yips. Of course, the first inside pitch he throws plunks the hitter but it’s happily on a well-padded spot, and he doesn’t seem too freaked out by it.
Unfortunately that HBP (on a 1-2 count) is followed up by a walk, and Eijun is in early trouble (though after his team has staked him to a 5-run lead). I like the Nanamori coach’s reasoning in not bunting – “the pitcher is self-destructing, so why give him a free out?” – which we see too rarely in “book”-obsessed Japanese baseball. That leads to “Giant“, the cleanup hitter, batting with runners on 2nd and 3rd after a nubber ends up effectively being a sacrifice anyway. And to the best moment of the episode, and maybe the entire series for Eijun as a pitcher.
Giant is practically standing on the plate, with no expectation of anything but an outside pitch. This is a pivotal moment in every sense, both for the game and for the series. Miyuki sort of flunks the test in that even though he knows what’s going on, he’s scared to call for an inside pitch. But Eijun passes it with flying colors, because he does exactly what he should do – he shakes off his catcher (which is exceedingly rare in high school ball, never mind in Japan). It’s a glorious, first-pump (I actually did) moment for him because it not only shows obvious courage, but also that Eijun is truly growing as a pitcher. He understands the situation, understands the psychology both for he and the batter, and knows exactly what he needs to do.
Sadly, that’s the noxious cliffhanger on which the episode ends – and worse, the entire preview is given over to scenes from Inashiro’s game with Ugumori. I haven’t shaken my sense that this is a trap game for Inashiro, and that they might lose. Mei isn’t pitching (like Furuya, he’s in left) and there’s enough focus on Ugumori’s ace, Umemiya Seiichi (Morikubo Showtaro) to suggest he’s going to be an important character. And let me add for the record – how weird is it to hear Honda Gorou voicing a pitcher who isn’t Honda Gorou? That just seems wrong to me on every level…